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[Student Editor's Column]Iron's Effects on Teen Brains

Sally Oh /10. Irvine High

"Healthy brain wiring in adults depend(s) on having good iron levels in your teenage years."


Researchers at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) have discovered that iron deficiency in adolescence may affect brain structure in adulthood.

In the study UCLA neurology professor Paul Thompson and his colleagues continuously measured transferrin levels in adolescents until they reached young adulthood. Transferrin is a protein that transports iron through the body and brain. They found that transferrin concentrations which indicate iron deficiencies affected how a youth's brain macrostructure and microstructure differed at physical maturity.

The study emphasized the importance of the teenage years in brain development.

"Adolescence is a period of high vulnerability to brain insults and the brain is still very actively developing … we found that healthy brain wiring in adults depended on having good iron levels in your teenage years" stated Thompson. "This connection was a lot stronger than we expected especially as we were looking at people who were young and healthy-none of them would be considered iron-deficient."

Thompson went on to explain the structural implications of iron deficiency.

"You wouldn't think the iron in our diet would affect the brain so much in our teen years" stated Thompson. "But it turns out that it matters very much. Because myelin speeds your brain's communications and iron is vital for making myelin poor iron levels in childhood erode your brain reserves which you need later in life to protect against aging and Alzheimer's."

Iron can be readily found as medical prescriptions and dietary supplements and has already been proven to cause cognitive problems in deficiency; it is the most common nutritional deficiency worldwide. However an excess of iron can also cause neurodegenerative diseases and damage to the brain; unusually high concentrations of iron have been found in the brains of Alzheimer's Parkinson's and Huntington's patients.

Most students expressed surprise at the effects of iron deficiency.

"I was kind of shocked- I hadn't known too little or too much iron could make that huge of a difference" said Jessica Kim a sophomore at Irvine High School. "I guess I'd start watching out for iron in my diet a bit more now that I know about the degenerative effects and cognitive problems it can cause or prevent."

Some also felt concern over what solutions there could be to the question of iron in one's diet.

"I think we should be more selective about the foods we eat but it's not like we know how much iron is in a product or how to measure our intake that specifically" said Steve Park a sophomore at Woodbridge High School. "The solution I guess is to look out for these kinds of aspects? I think just knowing about iron deficiencies can help a lot of teens."


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