Any parent, teacher, Girl Scout leader, athletic coach, or adult who works with children or teenagers would agree that the biggest challenge in managing a group is getting the kids’ full and undivided attention. As a lacrosse coach, I have years of experience teaching skills to hundreds of girls on and off the field. To get their attention, I use a variety of techniques - my last resort being an ear-piercing blow on my whistle. It never occurred to me that a nutritional deficiency could be causing my girls’ lack of focus, until now.
The November 2014 Singapore Medical Journal published results from a randomized control trial among 200 female students. Divided randomly and equally into case and control groups, the case group was treated with 50 milligrams of ferrous sulfate twice a week for 16 weeks. Researchers compared both groups' data on attention and iron status and found that the case group’s attention scores improved by a whopping 90%! How can a simple iron supplement impact girls’ attention span so drastically?
It turns out that iron deficiency is the most prevalent nutritional deficiency globally. According to the Centers for Disease Control, iron deficiency and anemia (a decrease in hemoglobin in the blood caused by an iron deficiency) affect 9 percent of adolescent girls and women of childbearing age in the U.S. This is attributed primarily to menstruation which depletes the body’s iron. But what does this have to do with paying attention?
Iron (as part of the protein hemoglobin) carries oxygen from our lungs throughout our bodies. It helps our muscles, and our brains, store and use oxygen. Also, iron is essential for producing the chemicals that transmit nerve signals. Scientists think that girls’ reduced attention spans could be the result of inadequate iron levels in the brain.
If your daughter’s periods are heavy or if you don’t think she is eating adequate amounts of protein, then you should consult with her physician. A blood test may be warranted. If she is iron deficient, increasing intake of iron-rich foods is always the first choice. If dietary changes alone fail to do the trick or if she is anemic, then an iron supplement may be necessary. But always consult with a physician before embarking on an iron supplement regimen.
My next lacrosse team meeting will include a short and sweet lecture on the importance of eating a balanced diet that includes iron-rich foods. Maybe, this season, I will be able to keep that obnoxious whistle in my pocket.