Iron is a mineral that is essential for life. It is a component of haemoglobin, a protein in our red blood cells that is responsible for transporting oxygen around our body. If we don't have enough iron, our haemoglobin levels fall and we can't get sufficient oxygen to our cells. This can cause symptoms which include fatigue, dizziness, and shortness of breath. Serum iron is a very transient reading and can be influenced by the amount of iron-rich food in your diet in the days before your blood test. For this reason, iron is rarely looked at on its own, and is interpreted alongside other markers in an iron status test.
What might a low result mean?
A low result could mean you've not eaten much iron recently. You may have low iron if you suffer from an inflammatory bowel condition which affects your ability to absorb iron. Whilst low serum iron levels may suggest iron deficiency it is important to look at it in the context of other iron markers, particularly ferritin.
What might a high result mean?
A high result can often be the result of taking too many iron supplements or from eating a recent iron-rich meal. However, a high result could also mean that you have iron overload syndrome (haemochromatosis), an inherited condition where your body stores too much iron. This would usually be accompanied by elevated ferritin and transferrin saturation levels.
How might I improve my result?
Low iron levels can be improved by incorporating more iron into your diet or by taking an iron supplement. Red meat, dark green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale, fortified cereals and breads as well as pulses (beans, peas and lentils) are all good dietary sources of iron. To improve your absorption of iron, eat it alongside a food rich in vitamin C - such as orange or lemon juice.
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 get iron levels down. Another surprising way to reduce iron levels is to donate blood regularly, as this gets rid of excess iron in the body.