Ferritin is a protein that stores iron and that releases it in a controlled manner. Our ferritin levels reflect the amount of iron the body has stored for future use.
Iron is an important mineral required to make hemoglobin, a protein found in red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body. Iron also plays a role in the transmission of nerve impulses, in the creation of certain hormones, and in the production of energy from nutrients. Frequent blood donors, vegans, women with heavy menstruations, and people with certain medical conditions are at higher risk of iron deficiency.
If a ferritin blood test reveals that your ferritin level is lower than normal, this may indicate that your body’s iron stores are low and that you could have an iron deficiency. Consequently, symptoms may occur as a result of iron deficiency such as weakness, exhaustion, decreased exercise performance, increased heart rate, shortness of breath during exercise, headaches, and dizziness.
Similarly, an excess of iron, known as iron overload or haemochromatosis, can also cause unpleasant symptoms. If left untreated, an excessive iron intake can damage various parts of the body such as the liver, the joints, the pancreas and the heart.
Conditions that are related with increased ferritin levels include liver disease and hemochromatosis (a disorder that leads to cirrhosis and diabetes). Moreover, elevated ferritin levels may appear in chronic liver disease patients and in anorexia patients. Symptoms of excessive levels may include joint pain, abdominal pain, lack of energy and weight loss.
Iron status has an important impact on athletic performance. Iron deficiency can impair muscle and cognitives functions and limit an athlete’s capacity for work, but can also weaken the immune system. Although women athletes, distance runners, vegetarian athletes and regular blood donors are at higher risk of iron deficiency, training at high altitudes can also impact iron status.
The best way to increase your ferritin levels naturally is to consume iron-rich foods, such as red meat and organ meat, poultry, fish, seafood and egg. Iron can also be found in plant-based foods, such as legumes (e.g. lentils, kidney beans), dark green vegetables, cereals, nuts and some dried fruits. Notice that your body absorbs iron from plant sources better when consumed with vitamin C-rich foods such as citrus fruits, strawberries, raw sweet peppers and raw tomatoes.
In conclusion, our ferritin levels impact many aspects of our mental and physical health. In order to make sure that your ferritin levels are balanced and steady, make sure to test your levels and to evaluate how you can make the right changes to rebalance your body and mind.