Consuming iron-fortified grain improves students’ attention, memory

Determining the efficacy of iron-biofortified pearl millet.

Adolescent students in a rural school in India who consumed an iron-biofortified version of the grain pearl millet exhibited improved attention and memory compared to those who consumed conventional pearl millet, according to Penn State researchers. Image: Getty images monkeybusinessimages
Adolescent students in a rural school in India who consumed an iron-biofortified version of the grain pearl millet exhibited improved attention and memory compared to those who consumed conventional pearl millet, according to Penn State researchers. Image: Getty images monkeybusinessimages

Iron deficiency remains the most prevalent micronutrient deficiency globally, but few studies have examined how iron status relates to cognition in adolescents.

Benefits of consuming iron-fortified grain are well known. An additional benefit discovered by the Penn State scientists, suggesting that the adolescent students in a rural school in India who consumed an iron-biofortified version of the grain pearl millet exhibited improved attention and memory.

Analysts initially watched changes in iron status in understudies who devoured the biofortified pearl millet. They then observed that the subjects performed better on trial of consideration and memory in the wake of devouring the biofortified millet more than a half year.

Co-author Laura Murray-Kolb, associate professor of nutritional sciences and professor-in-charge of the graduate program said, “Iron biofortification of staple food crops is being scaled up, yet it is unknown whether consuming biofortified crops can benefit cognition. Our objective was to determine the efficacy of iron-biofortified pearl millet in improving attention and memory in Indian school-going adolescents.”

“Compared with conventional pearl millet, consumption of biofortified pearl millet resulted in greater improvement in attention and memory. Reaction time on attention tasks was cut in half over a period of six months in those consuming biofortified versus conventional pearl millet.”

The examination was led with 140 Indian boys and girls, aged 12-16, from financially impeded families going to a country all-inclusive school in the Ahmednagar locale of Maharashtra, India. The understudies were requested to eat either iron biofortified or traditional pearl millet. Specialists chose the school in view of its high rates of anemia — a condition normally caused by low iron levels.

The students’ iron levels were measured at baseline and after four and six months. Five measures of cognitive function were obtained at baseline and six months.

Murray-Kolb said, “While these results are promising. More work needs to be done to ensure adolescents, especially in developing countries, are getting proper nutrients.”

“Adolescents aren’t always considered in these types of studies. But they should be. They’re at an age where their brains are still developing, and nutrition is key. Iron deficiency can easily be passed on from generation to generation, especially if these young women with iron deficiencies are getting pregnant and having babies.”

Murray-Kolb said future studies might examine if the pearl millet can also improve academic performance.

“We would be interested in following children into adulthood as they continue to consume the millet, and study long-term results,” she said.

The results were published July 17 in the Journal of Nutrition.

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