What’s your risk factor?
Ferritin is considered an iron-storage protein that keeps the iron in a dissolvable and usable state, which also makes the iron non-toxic to cells around it. A blood test for ferritin measures the iron that is readily available for use. Optimal levels in women should be close to 70 and 100 for men. Women with heavy menstrual bleeding are more susceptible to low iron levels, which makes it one of the top must-have blood tests. The following groups are those that are most at risk for becoming deficient:
- pregnant women
- marathon runners
- people who take aspirin
- individuals with parasitic infections
- women with a heavy menstrual cycle
- ulcerative colitis
- Hypothyroid patients
- Crohn’s disease
- gastrointestinal cancers
- other conditions that cause blood loss or malabsorption
Too much iron?
On the flip side, abnormally high levels of ferritin can increase the risk of heart disease in both men and women because of the tendency to increase inflammation. If your ferritin is too high (above 110 in women or 170 in men, which is more common with men or post-menopausal women), you should speak to your doctor about the possibility of donating blood;
How to get your levels up: If your iron is too low, use a supplement of iron citrate. This form is non-constipating (one of the most common complaints with iron supplements). In addition, I recommend taking your iron with 1,000 mg of vitamin C, which promotes the absorption of iron in the digestive tract.
If you find after a few months of supplementation your energy still hasn’t hit an upswing, you may want to look at items that decrease absorption of iron. For example, excessive consumption of caffeine and alcohol can affect iron absorption in intestines. Even calcium interferes with iron absorption, so be sure to separate these two supplements by at least four hours or more. Instead, take your iron at lunchtime and your calcium before bed. This schedule works even if you are on thyroid medication and take it in the morning, since both iron and calcium will reduce the effectiveness of your medication if they are taken to close together. Low stomach acid is also a major cause of continually low iron that fails to respond to supplementation. You can complete the stomach acid challenge to identify, and also correct, this imbalance. Next, swap your non stick pan for an iron skillet or cast iron pot, which can boost the iron content of foods. Incorporating natural sources of iron from lentils, quinoa and black beans can also help get your engines going again. Lastly, it may take months to get your ferritin levels up, so diligence is key.
Photo: Robert S. Donovan