Ferritin is the main protein that stores iron in the body. The amount of ferritin found in the blood indicates how much iron is stored in the body. If you have low levels of ferritin (ferritin deficiency), it indicates that you do not have enough iron in your body. When there is not enough iron in our body, hemoglobin production is reduced. The main task of hemoglobin is to transport oxygen to all tissues and organs. Eating iron-rich foods and taking iron supplements can help you increase ferritin levels.
A simple blood test is sufficient to determine the level of ferritin in the blood. Normal ferritin levels are 12-300 ng/ml in males and 12-150 ng/ml in females.
Ferritin deficiency is directly related to iron deficiency. Ferritin releases some of its stored iron when blood levels get low, thus maintaining a steady supply of iron. This fills the gap on days when you don’t get enough iron, but if your consumption is consistently low, or you have a medical condition that depletes more iron than normal, your ferritin levels will drop and you’ll be at risk for iron deficiency anemia.
Causes of Low Ferritin
Ferritin deficiency may be caused due to heavy menstrual bleeding, iron deficiency anemia, bleeding in digestive tract organs (such as ulcer bleeding), and problems affecting the absorption of iron.
Bleeding as a result of an open wound or internal bleeding can cause ferritin deficiency. This type of blood loss can usually be seen in traumatic injuries, menstrual bleeding and stomach bleeding. Especially women are more sensitive to iron deficiency during menstruation. Kidney or bladder tumors, peptic ulcer, colorectal cancer, or myoma can also cause bleeding that results in ferritin deficiency. In addition, long-term use of aspirin and the use of anti-inflammatory drugs may cause internal bleeding.
Low Iron Consumption
Diets containing low iron, malnutrition, drinking alcohol and smoking can lead to ferritin deficiency. Although 10-20 mg of iron is taken from various foods daily, the body can only use 1 mg of this amount. For this reason, when you have low levels of iron, you should consume iron-rich foods such as meat, eggs and dairy products. Young people, pregnant women and people who have lost blood should get more iron.
Some digestive system problems can cause malabsorption of iron. Small intestinal diseases, the use of certain medications, and surgical operations can reduce iron absorption and lead to ferritin deficiency.
Symptoms of Low Ferritin
Iron and ferritin deficiency causes the production of red blood cells to decrease. If the level of red blood cells decreases, the energy needed for the body can not be supplied and this leads to chronic fatigue.
Breathlessness and Dizziness
If you have ferritin deficiency, you may have breathlessness, dizziness, and headaches.
The skin appears pale because the red blood cells that give the natural brightness and the pinkish color to the skin are less produced because of iron deficiency due to ferritin deficiency.
Loss of Appetite
Ferritin deficiency causes loss of appetite. Loss of appetite, which leads to malnutrition, can cause headaches, fatigue, and hair and skin to appear unhealthy.
Pica, which is an eating disorder that causes abnormal appetite for chalk or inedible things like ash and mud, can be seen due to ferritin deficiency. After the treatment of ferritin deficiency, such eating disorders cease to exist.
How to Increase Ferritin Levels
1. Iron Rich Foods
Eating a variety of foods from all food groups can prevent ferritin deficiency. Some good iron-rich foods are liver, red meat, shrimp, tofu, spinach, almonds, dates, lentils, fortified breakfast cereals, almonds, oysters and asparagus.
Choosing the right kind of iron from foods is important if you want to increase your ferritin levels. Heme iron from meats such as fish, poultry and beef, is absorbed two or three times better than the type of iron found in plants. Beans, spinach and soy contain iron, but these plant foods provide non-heme iron that is absorbed less efficiently by the body.
2. Vitamin C
In order to increase ferritin levels, you should consume enough vitamin C, because iron can’t be fully absorbed by the body without the help of vitamin C.
- Eat foods rich in vitamin C like papaya, oranges, lemon, grapefruit, bell peppers, broccoli, tomatoes and spinach.
- You can also take vitamin C supplements after consulting your doctor.
3. Avoid Iron Blockers
If you have a low ferritin level, you must avoid eating foods that can block your body’s ability to absorb iron. Iron-blocking foods include tea, coffee, colas, beer, wine and calcium rich foods like dairy products.
- Over-the-counter antacids and calcium supplements have also iron-blocking properties.
4. Iron Supplements
If your ferritin levels are very low, talk to your doctor about taking iron supplements. Your doctor can prescribe iron tablets to help increase your iron levels quickly. These are commonly taken on an empty stomach each day with vitamin C, because it improves absorption.
- Choose a supplement that contains ferrous iron, which is easier for your body to absorb.
- Iron supplements often cause constipation, so your doctor may recommend a stool softener. You may also notice that your stool is darker, even black. This is a harmless side effect.
5. Check Other Causes
Certain medications and other underlying conditions can decrease iron absorption and lead to low ferritin. Some of these are:
- Common medications such as contraceptives and antibiotics
- Gluten intolerance, inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome
- Surgeries such as gastric bypass and bowel resection
Talk to your doctor if you have any of these conditions or have had any surgical procedures on your stomach or intestines.