Nutrients are substances that are essential for the proper functioning of the human body. Iron is one such nutrient which is required for the production of hemoglobin, which in turn, is a protein that carries oxygen from the lungs to various tissues of the body. The human body has its own regulatory mechanism for keeping the iron levels in check. Ferritin is an intracellular protein that stores a substantial amount of iron. It is found in the liver, spleen, skeletal muscles and bone marrow. This iron-storage protein releases iron as and when the levels of iron in the blood drops below the normal levels. This intracellular protein stores the excess iron thereby preventing an overload of iron. Low ferritin levels in our body are therefore indicative of an iron deficiency. Under normal circumstances, the levels of this intracellular protein must be within the range of 12 to 300 nanograms per milliliter and 12 to 150 nanograms per milliliter respectively. If the levels of this protein are lower or higher than normal, it is usually indicative of an imbalance in the level of iron in our body.
A ferritin test is ordered when the patient exhibits symptoms of an iron deficiency. Headaches, irritability, fatigue, low energy levels and dizziness are some of the symptoms that point towards low levels of this iron-storage protein. Given below is some information on the circumstances under the levels of this protein may be less than normal.
Iron Deficiency: An iron deficiency anemia usually develops gradually when one's dietary intake of iron is poor. When that happens, the body starts using up iron that is stored in the tissues in the form of ferritin. While the levels of iron in blood might remain normal in the initial stages, once the stored iron starts getting depleted one would have to seek medical help.
Iron Absorption: While poor dietary habits is one of the most common causes of an iron deficiency, at times, an iron deficiency might be attributed to the body's inability to assimilate or absorb iron. For instance, digestive health problems such as Crohn's disease or celiac disease could affect the absorption of iron. Vitamin C is known to facilitate absorption of iron which is why a vitamin C deficiency could also be a contributory factor.
Other Medical Conditions: Studies have revealed that long-term digestive tract bleeding, alcohol abuse, hypothyroidism, inadequate absorption of nutrients from the intestines and malnutrition could also be responsible for low levels of iron-storage protein. In case of women, heavy menstrual bleeding can also be responsible for lowering the levels of this iron-storage protein. Autoimmune disorders and restless legs syndrome have also been linked to a ferritin deficiency.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Fatigue, dizziness, weakness, headaches, throbbing, loss of energy, brittle nails, pale color of the eyes, loss of libido, irritability, urge to eat non-food items (pica) or pacophagia (compulsive eating of ice) are some of the most common symptoms that may be experienced by people who have low levels of ferritin. If these symptoms have been persisting for sometime, a complete blood count (CBC) and certain specialized blood tests need to be conducted. If the CBC test reveals a dip in the person's hemoglobin and hematocrit, and the size or the appearance of the red blood cells also seems to be abnormal, doctors might order the ferritin test along with the serum iron test, total iron binding capacity (TIBC) test and transferrin saturation. If the blood tests reveal low levels of the iron-storage protein, timely treatment can be administered to prevent one from becoming anemic. Here are some effective ways of treating a ferritin deficiency.
Increase Dietary Intake of Iron: Consumption of iron-rich foods is the best way to restore the levels of this iron-storage protein back to normal. Consumption of iron-enriched foods such as clams, chicken, lean red meat, oysters, liver, turkey, molasses, tofu, figs, raisins and iron fortified cereals would surely prove beneficial. Though sources of heme iron (animal sources of iron) are more readily absorbed than the non-heme sources (plant sources of iron), if you are a vegetarian you should include iron-rich foods such as pumpkin seeds, beans, leafy green vegetables, soybeans, cooked spinach, chickpeas, oatmeal, sweet potatoes and broccoli to your diet. Since excessive intake of caffeinated drinks can have an adverse effect on the absorption of iron, one must cut down on the intake of such drinks. Since vitamin C aids in the absorption of iron, consumption of iron-enriched foods along with foods that contain vitamin C will greatly assist in elevating the levels of this intracellular protein.
Iron Supplementation: If making the aforementioned dietary modifications is not giving the desired result, you could also take iron supplements. It would, however, be best to consult a doctor to find out the appropriate dosage required to correct the imbalance. It would be best to take ferrous iron salts as they have high elemental iron content. Elemental iron basically means the amount of iron in the pill that is absorbed by the body. Ferrous sulfate, ferrous gluconate and ferrous fumarate figure in the list of iron salts that contain the highest amount of elemental iron. The dosage, however, will depend on the condition of the patient. One must always adhere to the prescribed dosage. Under no circumstances, should one change the dosage.
Poor dietary habits emerge as one of the most common contributory factors for low levels of this protein, however, severe blood loss or an underlying medical condition could also be responsible for lowering the levels. If blood tests reveal abnormal levels of the iron-storage protein, one must get a thorough medical checkup done. While dietary modification and iron supplementation may surely help to a great extent, in some cases the treatment of an underlying medical condition may be required to elevate the levels of ferritin in blood.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.