It’s important to know about iron deficiency and iron overload as many physicians are ignorant about this fact, or simply don’t apply their knowledge by recommending regular ferritin testing. This is one test that is essential to nearly everyone. Your iron levels can have a major impact on your health, whether they’re too high or too low, so it’s really important to check and keep track of your levels over time. Iron serves many functions in your body, primarily to bind the hemoglobin molecule and serve as a carrier of oxygen to your tissues. While low amounts of iron can lead to poor health, too much of it can lead to severe health problems. For women, monthly blood loss is a major risk factor for this, obviously, especially if coupled with a diet low in properly iron-rich foods such as red meat and liver. It’s a common problem, and one that is often easily resolved. The problem is it tends to go unrecognized.
Excess iron can also pose many health issues because it builds up in your body and your body has a limited capacity to excrete it. Eating processed foods and multivitamins fortified with iron can lead to iron overload, which can lead to oxidative damage, as well as certain health conditions. This is more common in men than women because men don’t have a menstrual period obviously.
Checking for iron overload is done through a simple blood test called a serum ferritin test. I believe this is one of the most important tests that everyone should have done on a regular basis as part of a preventive, proactive health screen.
The test measures the carrier molecule of iron; a protein found inside cells called ferritin, which stores the iron. If your ferritin levels are low, it means your iron levels are also low.
The healthy range of serum ferritin lies between 20 and 80 ng/ml. Below 20, you are iron deficient, and above 80, you have an iron surplus.
Ferritin levels can go really high. I’ve seen levels over 1,000, but anything over 80 is likely going to be a problem.
The ideal range is 40-60 ng/ml.
Iron Deficiency symptoms
1. You’re exhausted
2. Heavy periods
3. Changes in your skin tone – looking pale or “yellowish” are often signs of low iron
4. Shortness of breath
5. Heart palpitations
6. Restless leg syndrome – About 15% of people with restless leg syndrome have iron deficiency, according to John Hopkins Medicine. The lower the iron levels, the worse the symptoms.
7. Constant headaches – An iron-deficient body will prioritize getting oxygen to your brain before it worries about other tissues, but even then, your noggin will still get less than it ideally should, Dr. Berliner says. In response, the brain’s arteries can swell, causing headaches, according to the National Headache Foundation.
8. Feelings of anxiousness
9. Hair loss and / or brittle nails
10. You follow a vegetarian or vegan diet – All iron is not created equal. Your body absorbs heme iron—which comes from meat, poultry, and fish—two to three times more efficiently than non-heme iron from plants, says nutritionist Rania Batayneh, author of The One One One Diet. You can still get enough iron with careful meal planning. Dark leafy greens, whole grains, and legumes are all rich in iron; pair them with vitamin-C-rich foods like bell peppers, berries, and broccoli to boost your absorption.
What can you do if your iron levels are too low?
Iron deficiency is a common problem, especially for women, so common, in fact, that 5% of women between the ages of 20 and 49 have iron deficiency with anemia and 11% have iron deficiency without anemia. Spoon-shaped fingernails may mean you are iron deficient.
I usually recommend women take an iron supplement in liquid form. Floravit is a great brand found at natural health food stores. Taking 3000mg of vitamin c with iron greatly enhances absorption. Also instead of taking ferrous sulfate, which is an inorganic form of iron, it’s safer to use carbonyl iron.
What Can You Do if Your Iron Levels Are Too High?
Like I said, iron overload is more common in men. fortunately, the solution is relatively simple. Just donate your blood.
List of Top Iron Rich Food Sources
Liver, oysters, bison
Pulses & Beans: Chickpeas, black-eye beans, lentils, green peas, soybean.
Vegetables: Beetroot greens, mint, parsley, turnip greens, broccoli, bok choy, collard greens and Brussels sprouts, Sea vegetables are high iron foods.
Fruits: Apricot, tomatoes, Dried dates, watermelon, raisins
Spices: Almost all spices are high in iron, (especially oregano and basil) but note that you can consume only a small amount of spices and herbs daily.