Ferritin is a protein which stores iron in your cells and tissues. Usually, the body incorporates iron into haemoglobin to be transported around the body, but when it has a surplus, it stores the remaining iron in ferritin for later use. Measuring ferritin levels gives us a good indication of the amount of iron stored in your body.
What might a low result mean?
Low levels of ferritin can indicate anaemia which can be caused by excessive or chronic bleeding (menstruating women are at increased risk of low iron), poor absorption of iron in the gut due to an inflammatory bowel condition, or too little iron in the diet.
Often, at the beginning of iron deficiency anaemia, your ferritin levels may be low but your iron levels are normal; this is because in early anaemia, your body will deplete the iron stores first, whilst iron levels will still be sufficient.
What might a high result mean?
Raised levels of ferritin can be found in individuals with an inherited iron overload syndrome called haemochromatosis, in which a genetic mutation causes the intestines to uncontrollably absorb iron at very high levels. As the body has no way of getting rid of excess iron, iron continues to rise which can lead to organ damage, diabetes and other chronic conditions.
Ferritin is found in the liver, so sometimes liver damage can cause an elevated ferritin level. It is also an inflammation marker which means it can be elevated if you have an inflammatory condition like rheumatoid arthritis, or an infection of some kind.
How might I improve my result?
Low ferritin levels can often be improved by changes to your diet. Red meat, dark green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale, fortified cereals and breads as well as pulses (beans, peas and lentils) are all excellent dietary sources of iron. To help improve your absorption of iron, eat iron-rich foods alongside a good source of vitamin C - such as orange or lemon juice. Iron supplements are also widely available; talk to your pharmacist about which one is right for you. Where appropriate, our doctors will advise you see your GP.
If our doctors suspect iron overload they will advise you to see your doctor. Otherwise, if you have high levels of iron in your blood, reducing your intake of iron-rich foods such as red meat, avoiding using iron cookware and avoiding consuming vitamin C with foods that are rich in iron (as vitamin C increases iron absorption) can help iron levels. If you are supplementing with iron it may be a good idea to reduce your dose as high levels of iron can be damaging. Our doctors will advise. Another surprising way to reduce iron levels is to donate blood regularly, as this gets rid of excess iron in the body.