A substantial amount of iron which is stored in the human body is bound to an intracellular protein called ferritin. In this article, we would be looking into the causes as well as treatment for low ferritin levels in children as well as adults.
Ferritin is an intracellular protein that plays a vital role in storing iron and facilitating its release as per the body’s requirements. The parts of the body where ferritin is found include the liver, spleen, bone marrow and the skeletal muscles. Ferritin plays a vital role in regulating the levels of iron in the body. Whenever the levels of iron are low, the iron which is bound to ferritin is released into the bloodstream. On the other hand, iron that may be in excess is stored by this protein, and is released later, as and when needed.
At times, the level of serum iron may be well within the normal range, whereas ferritin levels may be below the normal range. Under such circumstances, one may become highly susceptible to an iron deficiency anemia. This is the reason why doctors usually order a ferritin test when one has been experiencing low energy levels, headache, dizziness, irritability and various other distressing symptoms that may be associated with iron deficiency anemia. Thus, any kind of imbalance in the ferritin levels must be treated at the earliest.
Low Ferritin Treatment Options
As mentioned earlier, most of the storage iron in the body is present in the form of ferritin. Ferritin helps in regulating the amount of iron that is available to the body, which is why, low ferritin levels are indicative of improper rate of iron absorption, and an increased risk of iron deficiency anemia. Wondering how to treat low ferritin levels? Scroll down to know more on the diagnosis as well as the treatment for low ferritin levels.
Diagnostic Tests: Serum iron test, ferritin test, TIBC (total iron binding capacity) and UIBC (unsaturated iron binding capacity) are some of the diagnostic tests that are usually conducted in order to ascertain the levels of iron in the body. Out of these, the ferritin test helps in ascertaining the total iron storage capacity of the body. Under normal circumstances, ferritin levels in men must be within the range of 12 to 300 nanograms per milliliter, whereas for females, the normal ferritin levels must lie within 12 to 150 nanograms per milliliter. If the test results reveal low ferritin levels, then doctors would need to investigate further so as to identify the reasons for low ferritin levels.
Identifying the Underlying Cause: When one’s diet is deficient in iron, ferritin which is a protein to which most of the storage iron is bound, gets used up at a fast rate. While an inadequate intake of iron rich foods is a common cause of low ferritin levels, certain medical conditions could also affect the levels of ferritin. Some of the common causes of low ferritin include liver problems, inflammatory bowel disease, gastric bleeding or a sluggish thyroid gland. Gastrointestinal problems that prevent proper absorption of nutrients could also cause low ferritin levels. In case of women, heavy menstrual bleeding could also cause low ferritin. Thus, a proper medical checkup must be conducted in order to ascertain the underlying cause. Once the underlying cause has been identified, doctors can recommend drug therapy, surgery or any other effective treatment option for treating such an underlying medical condition. Treatment of the actual cause of an iron deficiency would certainly help in correcting the imbalance in the serum ferritin levels.
Improving One’s Dietary Habits: As mentioned earlier, the iron stores of the body get depleted at a fast rate if one’s diet doesn’t fulfill the body’s needs for iron. Iron is an essential component of hemoglobin, which in turn, is a key component of the red blood cells. Hemoglobin acts as the carrier of life giving oxygen, which is why, a person suffering from low hemoglobin is most likely to suffer from fatigue, low energy levels and various other health problems. The best way to correct the imbalance of storage iron in the body is to follow a diet that is rich in foods containing iron. Red meat, oysters, liver, shrimp, crab and sea food are some of the sources of heme iron (animal sources of iron) that have a high absorption rate. Including these to one’s diet can certainly help in replenishing the depleted iron stores. Green leafy vegetables, lentils, chickpeas, soybeans, oatmeal, whole grain breads, tofu, wheat germ, pumpkin seeds, raisins and dried fruits are some of the dietary sources of non-heme iron (iron from plant sources) that can also be included in one’s diet.
Iron Supplementation/Infusion: In case of patients diagnosed with very low ferritin levels, treatment often includes iron supplementation. Iron supplements that contain the highest amount of elemental iron may be prescribed by the doctors. The term ‘elemental iron’ refers to the amount of iron in the pill that the body actually absorbs. It is believed that ferrous iron salts such as ferrous sulfate, ferrous gluconate and ferrous fumarate contain the highest amount of elemental iron. However, use of iron pills can also give rise to certain side effects, and one must therefore, take them as per the dosage prescribed by the doctor. In severe cases, where the patient seems to be facing difficulty in absorbing iron due to certain medical conditions, doctors may even recommend intravenous iron infusion for treating low ferritin levels.
Though the human body has its own way of regulating the amount of iron, the process of iron absorption can get adversely affected due to a variety of factors. It is believed that foods that contain polyphenols or oxalic acid may inhibit the absorption of iron. Excessive intake of calcium may also affect the absorption of iron, which is why, one must not take iron pills with milk. On the other hand, consumption of foods rich in vitamin C is believed to enhance the absorption of iron. So, if your blood tests reveal low ferritin levels, then make the necessary lifestyle related changes, and follow the doctor’s guidelines in order to restore the ferritin levels back to normal.