Can anemia cause depression

Can Anemia Cause Depression? The Surprising link Revealed

Writen By: Faiza Saifur
Reviewed By: Huma Khan
Publish Date: September 3, 2023

A common question, Can anemia cause depression?, arises due to the complex connection between physical health and mental well-being.

Anemia is a condition characterized by a decrease in the number of red blood cells or a decrease in the amount of hemoglobin in the blood. Hemoglobin is responsible for carrying oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body, including the brain.

When the brain doesn’t receive enough oxygen due to anemia, it can lead to a range of symptoms, including fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and changes in mood. These symptoms can be similar to those experienced by individuals with depression. This similarity in symptoms can sometimes make a person wonder “Can anemia cause depression?”. It is challenging to distinguish between anemia-related fatigue and mood changes and those caused by depression.

However, it’s important to note that while anemia can contribute to mood changes and fatigue, it might not be the sole cause. Depression is a complex mental health condition that involves a combination of biological, psychological, and environmental factors. Anemia can worsen depressive symptoms in someone who is already prone to depression, but it’s not necessarily a direct cause of depression.

What is Anemia?

Anemia is a medical condition characterized by a decrease in the number of red blood cells or a decrease in the amount of hemoglobin in the blood. Hemoglobin is a protein found in red blood cells that binds to oxygen in the lungs and carries it to tissues and organs throughout the body. Oxygen is crucial for the body’s energy production and overall functioning.

Types of anemia and their causes:

Iron-deficiency Anemia, which is the most common type of anemia, occurs when the body doesn’t have enough iron to produce adequate amounts of hemoglobin. Iron is essential for the production of red blood cells.


Inadequate dietary intake of iron-rich foods and Poor iron absorption due to certain medical conditions, like celiac disease or inflammatory bowel disease, can cause this type of anemia.

Also, Blood loss from heavy menstrual periods, gastrointestinal bleeding (ulcers, gastritis), or other sources of chronic bleeding is the cause.

Additionally, Increased iron needs occur during periods of rapid growth (such as pregnancy and infancy).

1. Vitamin-deficiency Anemia is due to a lack of Certain vitamins, such as vitamin B12 and folic acid, which are required for the production of healthy red blood cells.  


In the case of vitamin-deficiency anemias, deficiencies in vitamin B12 or folic acid can occur due to factors such as poor dietary intake, absorption issues, or genetic predisposition. 

2. Hemolytic anemia is a type of anemia in which red blood cells are destroyed faster than they can be produced.  


Hemolytic anemia emerges when red blood cells are destroyed faster than they’re produced, with genetic conditions like sickle cell anemia or autoimmune disorders contributing to this phenomenon. 

3. Aplastic anemia is a rare type of anemia that occurs when the bone marrow doesn’t produce enough blood cells, including red blood cells.  


Aplastic anemia, a rare type, stems from bone marrow dysfunction caused by factors like radiation, chemotherapy, certain medications, or viral infections. 

4. Chronic diseases that also cause anemia, such as chronic kidney disease and inflammatory disorders.


Chronic diseases can interfere with the body’s ability to produce red blood cells and thus cause anemia.

Symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of anemia:

The symptoms of anemia can vary depending on the severity but often include fatigue, weakness, pale skin, shortness of breath, dizziness, and cold hands and feet. 

Diagnosis typically involves blood tests to measure the levels of hemoglobin and other blood components. 

Treatment depends on the underlying cause and may involve dietary changes, iron or vitamin supplements, medications, or addressing the root cause of the anemia.

Symptoms of Depression:

Depression symptoms can occur frequently, lasting most of the day and often repeating throughout your life. These symptoms might involve:

  • Feeling sad, empty, or hopeless.
  • Getting easily irritated or frustrated.
  • Losing interest in or joy in things you used to enjoy.
  • Dealing with sleep problems like insomnia or excessive sleep.
  • Battling fatigue and finding even small tasks exhausting.
  • Changes in appetite and weight.
  • Feeling restless or anxious.
  • Slower thinking, speech, or movement.
  • Struggling with feelings of worthlessness or guilt.
  • Difficulty concentrating, making decisions, and remembering.
  • Thoughts of death, suicide, or self-blame.
  • Unexplained physical issues like headaches or pain.

Can anemia cause depression?

There is a potential link between anemia and depression. Research has covered “Can anemia cause depression?” and thus suggested a connection between low iron levels and depressive symptoms. The relationship between anemia and depression is complex and multifaceted, with several mechanisms at play:

Iron is involved in the synthesis of various neurotransmitters, including serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, which play key roles in mood regulation. Insufficient iron levels might impact the balance of these neurotransmitters and contribute to mood disturbances, including depression.

If we talk about the brain’s structure and function,  The basal ganglia, a brain region rich in iron, has been linked not only to movement but also to the processing of emotions. Alterations in iron levels within this region could potentially affect emotional processing and contribute to mood disorders.

When it comes to Inflammation. Anemia, especially in cases of chronic inflammation, can disrupt the body’s immune response. Inflammation has been implicated in the development of depression, and anemia-related inflammation might contribute to depressive symptoms.

Energy Production: 

Iron is essential for the proper functioning of mitochondria, the cellular powerhouses that generate energy. Low iron levels could lead to reduced energy production in brain cells, potentially affecting mood and cognitive function.

Hypoxia and Brain Function

Anemia can result in decreased oxygen delivery to tissues, including the brain. This hypoxia (low oxygen levels) might impact brain function and contribute to mood changes.

The Japanese study highlights a potential association between self-reported depression and iron-deficiency anemia. While the study provides valuable insights, it’s important to note that the relationship between anemia and depression is likely bidirectional and influenced by various factors. Anemia might contribute to depressive symptoms, and at the same time, depression could potentially lead to changes in dietary habits, lifestyle, or physiological factors that affect iron levels.

How to cope with depression caused by anemia?

Now that we have uncovered the question, “Can anemia cause depression?” And found a potential link between anemia and depression. Now let’s dive into the Coping strategies, especially when linked to iron deficiency anemia, that involve effective strategies that can significantly improve your well-being. Managing depression associated with anemia is possible through dietary adjustments, iron supplementation, sleep improvements, light exercise, and seeking professional guidance.

  • When addressing iron deficiency anemia-related depression, beginning with dietary changes is often recommended. Before starting iron supplements, doctors advise enhancing your diet to boost iron levels, unless a blood test indicates a severe deficiency. 
  • Iron-rich foods like red meat, chicken, beans, peas, dark green leafy vegetables, and fortified cereals can provide essential nutrients. Combining these with sources of vitamin C can enhance iron absorption. 
  • Conversely, be mindful of foods such as dairy products, tea, and coffee, which hinder iron absorption.
  • For individuals with iron deficiency anemia, iron supplementation can be pivotal in alleviating depressive symptoms. A study in 2020 highlighted that psychiatric disorders were more common in those with iron deficiency anemia but diminished with iron supplementation. 
  • However, moderation is key, as excessive iron intake can lead to health issues. Before taking supplements, it’s advisable to undergo a blood test to determine iron levels.
  • Prioritizing sleep is paramount for overall well-being. Consistency in sleep schedule and adhering to sleep hygiene practices, such as minimizing caffeine intake and creating a conducive sleeping environment, can greatly improve sleep quality and subsequently aid in managing depression.
  • Engaging in light exercise, while carefully monitored by a healthcare professional, can contribute positively to both mental and physical health.Regular movement enhances circulation, sleep, and overall vitality. Start gently and gradually increase activity, considering potential fatigue or shortness of breath due to anemia.
  • Engaging in psychotherapy can be a valuable coping strategy for managing depression caused by anemia, as it provides a safe and supportive environment where individuals can explore their thoughts, emotions, and concerns related to both the physical symptoms of anemia and the resulting depressive feelings. A skilled psychotherapist can help individuals develop effective coping mechanisms, such as cognitive-behavioral techniques, mindfulness practices, and stress management strategies.  

It’s important to recognize that addressing both physical and mental health conditions can lead to better overall well-being. Consulting a healthcare professional to assess anemia is the first step.

Once identified, taking actions to improve physical health can indirectly benefit mental health. 

Additional support can be obtained through learning more about anemia, seeking nutritional guidance, and engaging with support groups or therapists to facilitate the healing and self-discovery journey. 

By understanding the interconnectedness of different health conditions, you can approach treatment from a more holistic perspective, leading to improved outcomes.

Addressing the Chicken-and-Egg Dilemma

A Two-Way Street

Anemia and depression seem to have a close connection, but it’s a bit like the “chicken and egg” problem – which comes first? Some studies show that people with anemia are more likely to be depressed, while others suggest that people with depression might have a higher risk of anemia.

Breaking the Cycle

Treating Anemia for a better mood

When we treat anemia, we might actually help improve depressive symptoms. For example, if someone’s anemia is causing low energy, treating it can boost energy levels and overall mood. This shows that addressing the physical issue can have positive effects on mental well-being.

Boosting the Mood to Help Anemia

On the flip side, when we address depression, it might also make a difference in anemia. Depression can affect one’s appetite and motivation to take care of oneself, which can impact nutritional intake and contribute to anemia. By improving mental health, we may indirectly support physical health.

In conclusion, the relationship between anemia and depression is complex, and it’s not always clear which one triggers the other. However, the good news is that addressing either issue can positively influence the other. 

Clinical Evidence and Case Studies

Research Studies

Study 1: Anemia and Depression Link

In one study, researchers looked at whether anemia and depression are connected. They found that people with chronic anemia were more likely to experience depressive symptoms. This suggests that anemia might affect mood through changes in brain oxygen levels.

Study 2: Hemoglobin and Mental Health

Another study investigated hemoglobin levels and mental well-being. It discovered a relationship between lower hemoglobin levels and higher depression scores. This hints at the possibility that anemia could impact emotional health.

Study 3: Two-Way Connection.

A different study explored the connection between anemia and depression from both sides. Treating anemia seemed to reduce depression symptoms, and addressing depression also helped manage anemia. This highlights the complex interaction between physical and mental health. 

Real-Life Case Examples

Case Study 1: 

Ana, a 34-year-old woman, struggled with persistent fatigue and feelings of sadness. Upon diagnosis, she was found to have iron-deficiency anemia. As her iron levels improved through supplementation and dietary adjustments, Ana reported a gradual improvement in her mood. While her journey to full recovery was multifaceted, addressing her anemia undeniably played a pivotal role in alleviating her depressive symptoms.

Case Study 2:

Adam, a 45-year-old man, experienced prolonged periods of low energy and a lack of interest in activities he once enjoyed. After a thorough evaluation, Adam’s anemia was linked to an underlying medical condition. As he underwent treatment to manage his anemia, his depressive symptoms began to abate. Adam’s case emphasizes the importance of a comprehensive medical assessment to uncover potential underlying factors contributing to both anemia and depression.

Case Study 3: 

Maria, a 28-year-old woman, battled with inexplicable feelings of sadness and hopelessness. Her medical journey unveiled a deficiency in vitamin B12, contributing to both anemia and depressive symptoms. Through a combination of vitamin supplementation and therapeutic interventions, Maria’s physical health improved along with her emotional well-being. Her story serves as a testament to the interconnectedness of anemia and depression.

So, can anemia cause depression?

These studies suggest that there might be a link between anemia and depression. Although we can’t say one causes the other yet, it’s clear that considering both is important.

Researchers think anemia could affect the brain’s chemicals and oxygen levels, leading to changes in mood. More research is needed to fully understand this connection.

These findings tell us that treating anemia could help with depression and vice versa. Doctors should think about both aspects when helping patients, for better overall results.

By sharing research and real-life examples, we’ve uncovered a possible link between anemia and depression. Remember, addressing both physical health and emotional well-being is crucial for a healthy life. 


Are there any natural remedies to improve anemia and mood?

Eating a diet rich in iron, vitamin B12, and folate can help improve anemia. Engaging in regular physical activity, practicing relaxation techniques, and maintaining a healthy social support system may also positively influence your mood.

Can anemia be treated?

Yes, the treatment depends on the underlying cause of anemia. It might involve dietary changes, taking supplements, or addressing any medical conditions that contribute to the anemia. Treating anemia can potentially improve both your physical and mental well-being.

Can anemia be prevented?

Sometimes anemia is caused by factors like a poor diet or certain diseases. Eating a balanced diet rich in iron and other nutrients, along with managing any underlying health conditions, can help reduce the risk of developing anemia.

Can anemia affect my cognitive abilities?

Yes, anemia could potentially affect cognitive functions like memory and concentration due to reduced oxygen supply to the brain. However, these effects may vary based on the severity and type of anemia.

Can anemia cause other mental health issues besides depression?

There is some evidence to suggest a potential link between anemia and other mental health issues, like anxiety. However, more research is needed to fully understand these connections.

Wrapping up!

To sum it up, we’ve looked into “can anemia cause depression?”. While there’s evidence that suggests a connection between anemia and depression.

Some studies say anemia might make you more likely to feel depressed. This could be because of less oxygen in your body and changes in how your brain works.

But remember, feeling depressed is usually caused by many things, not just anemia.

It’s important to think about all the different factors that can make someone feel depressed. Anemia might be one, but it’s not the only reason. Doctors should consider both physical and mental health when treating people.

In the end, taking care of our bodies and minds is really important. By learning more about how anemia might affect our mood, we can find better ways to take care of ourselves and others.