Unlocking the Power of Optimal Iron Levels: Why Normal Isn't Always Ideal
The ferritin test is a simple blood test, and it is one of the most important tests you should have regularly, especially if you are a menstruating individual.
Ferritin is a storage form of iron and can tell you if your iron stores are low and need to be increased. I often recommend doing a comprehensive iron assessment by also running labs for serum iron, total iron binding capacity and % iron saturation. While it’s a good starting point, if you only check ferritin without the additional three markers then you’re not getting the complete picture and may get stuck in the trap of being told you have "normal" iron while being far from "optimal".
What are the symptoms of low iron?
Iron is important for healthy oxygen transport throughout your body so you can see how vital it really is for your health. Too little iron will result in anemia which basically means that your red blood cells cannot carry enough oxygen to your cells and you start to develop signs of oxygen deficiency.
- Difficulty concentrating
- Poor work productivity
- Cold hands and feet
- Poor short-term memory
- Brain fog
- Pounding in the ears
- Shortness of breath
- Brittle nails
- Restless legs
- Poor wound healing
- Pale skin
- Spoon shaped finger and toenails
- Smooth tongue
- Sores at the corners of the mouth (angular cheilitis)
- Pica (cravings for particular substances like chalk, dirt, or ice)
What causes iron deficiency and low ferritin?
A lifelong history of blood loss due to heavy menstrual bleeding, blood donations, pregnancies, surgeries, accidents, atrophic gastritis, antacid medications, and celiac disease. If you have gut problems that are causing malabsorption of nutrients, then your ferritin levels may be low. Additionally, if someone is a high-level athlete or vegan/vegetarian, they are also at risk for low iron. These lead to excessive loss of iron or poor absorption of iron, leading to low ferritin levels.
What are optimal ferritin levels?
Standard lab ranges are pretty broad currently set at 15-150 ng/ml for adult women and 30-400 ng/ml for adult men. Once ferritin gets below 30, this is considered iron deficiency, despite the fact that the lower end of the laboratory cut-off range is usually 10-20. However, even the ferritin level can be normal, around 50-100, and the patient may still actually be iron deficient. This makes the diagnosis somewhat tricky in certain cases.
Clinically we have found that optimal ferritin levels are >60.
Symptoms like hair loss are common when levels drops below 50 despite still being in the “normal” range.
What should you do if iron/ferritin levels are too low or suboptimal?
- The first thing you should do if your iron levels are less than optimal and you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above is to consult with a medical professional to determine the cause while also ruling out more serious causes like internal bleeding.
- If your iron is determined to be low due to insufficient dietary intake or absorption problems then you may begin to take the following steps to restore your levels once you consult with a licensed medical professional.
- High Quality Iron Supplementation. I recommend a liposomal iron like Ferasom or a heme iron to prevent digestive upset and optimize iron absorption.
- Identify Malabsorption Issues such as celiac disease or inflammatory bowel disease.
- Get Your Thyroid Checked since low thyroid function results in low stomach acid which can negatively affect absorption of vitamins and minerals.
- Consider a Stool Analysis Test like GI Map to rule out infections such as parasites, bacteria or yeasts that can also create poor absorption. In fact, some parasites such as worms feed on iron and b-vitamins resulting in deficiencies.
- Increase Consumption of Iron-Rich Foods
Determine Normal vs Optimal
Ready to take control of your health? Don't wait – book a consultation today to thoroughly assess your iron status and embark on a journey towards optimal well-being. Your health deserves the best, and we're here to help you achieve it. Schedule your consultation now!
The information presented in this blog post is for educational purposes and should not be interpreted as medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, treatment or a diagnosis, consult with a medical professional such as one suggested on this website. Connected Health & Skin Ltd and the author of this page are not liable for the associated risks of using or acting upon the information contained in this article.