Ferritin: The Hidden Hero of Health

Ferritin: Unveiling the Iron Storage Protein That Matters to Your Health

Iron is an essential mineral for humans to function properly. Therefore, we need to take an adequate amount of iron in our daily diet. The daily requirement of iron is 8 mg per day for men and women aren’t having periods. Women who have periods need more (around 18 mg per day). Iron is absorbed from the intestines into the blood which transports it to the cells of the body to perform various critical functions such as energy production, DNA synthesis, and oxygen transport. 

Ferritin is a warehouse for iron. It holds onto the iron until our body needs it. Whenever iron levels drop, ferritin releases iron to keep everything balanced. The iron levels in the blood need to be tightly controlled as both excess and deficiency may lead to various diseases. Raised ferritin levels in the blood are linked to heart disease and cancer. So, it’s important to keep an eye on your ferritin levels to stay healthy.

Source: The Blood Project 

Functions of Ferritin

Ferritin is found in every cell of the body where it performs important functions such as:

  • Stores iron in the cells and releases it when needed
  • Maintains an optimal level of iron in the blood and prevents fluctuations
  • Protects the body from the harmful effects of iron overload and iron deficiency
  • An important source of iron for the mother and baby during pregnancy
  • Ferritin blood test is used to assess iron stores in the body and to rule out various diseases
Source: iClinq

Hemochromatosis (High Ferritin) 

Source: behance

Hemochromatosis is a condition in which the body absorbs too much iron from food which may cause problems. It is the most common genetic disease in Australia. An estimated 100,000 Australians are living with hemochromatosis.

Types of Hemochromatosis

  1. Primary Hemochromatosis: It is a genetic disease that runs in families. It is quite common in Australia, affecting about 1 in every 200 people of Northern European
  1. Secondary Hemochromatosis: It is caused by consuming excessive amounts of iron in the diet or having repeated blood transfusions.
  1. Neonatal hemochromatosis: It is a very rare disease that causes liver failure in newborn babies. In this condition, the pregnant mother’s immune system produces antibodies that attack the baby’s liver.

Risk factors of Hemochromatosis

  • Mutation in a gene called HFE
  • Family history of Hemochromatosis
  • Northern European
  • Men (Women are at low risk because they lose iron regularly through periods and pregnancy)

Symptoms of Hemochromatosis

  • Feeling tired or weak
  • Weight loss
  • Joint pain
  • Bronze or grey-colored skin
  • Pain in abdomen
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Memory problems

Complications of Hemochromatosis

  • Liver scarring
  • Liver cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Heart failure
  • Erectile dysfunction and loss of sex drive in men
  • Menstrual problems in women

Treatment of Hemochromatosis

  • Phlebotomy: A simple procedure where blood is drawn regularly to lower iron levels.
  • Iron Chelating Drugs: They help remove excess iron from the blood.
  • Exchange Transfusions and IV Immunoglobulins: Used in newborn babies with hemochromatosis.
  • Liver Transplant: In severe cases.

Iron Deficiency Anemia (Low Ferritin)


Source: The Blood Project  

Iron deficiency anemia results from the depletion of iron stores in the body. Iron deficiency leads to decreased production of hemoglobin, an essential component of red blood cells.

In Australia, 12% of women, 8% of children, and 20% of people over 85 years old are anemic. The incidence is higher in native Australians.

According to WHO, the incidence of Iron deficiency anemia in Australia is 25%.

Causes of Iron Deficiency Anemia

Various medical conditions may lead to iron deficiency anemia. These include:

  • Bleeding in your stomach or intestines
  • Heavy periods in women
  • Stomach or intestinal surgery
  • Kidney disease
  • Certain types of cancers, infections, and autoimmune diseases
  • Pregnancy

 Kids are at risk for iron deficiency anemia because more iron is needed to help them grow. Similarly, vegetarians may develop this condition because the iron from plants is not absorbed efficiently by the body.

Symptoms of Iron Deficiency Anemia

  • Feeling very tired
  • Weakness
  • Pale skin
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Headache or feeling dizzy
  • Sore tongue
  • Brittle nails
  • Cravings for ice, dirt
  • Poor appetite in children

Complications of Iron Deficiency Anemia

In severe cases, iron deficiency anemia may cause problems with your heart or complications in your pregnancy. It may also slow down growth in kids.

Treatment of Iron Deficiency Anemia

  • Eating an iron-rich diet including meat, poultry, fish, leafy greens, legumes, and fortified cereals
  • Iron Supplements (They should be taken on an empty stomach to increase absorption but can be taken with foods in case of side effects)

Ferritin Blood Test

Ferritin is an excellent indicator of iron stores in the body. The amount of ferritin in the blood is directly related to the amount of iron stored in the body. So, the ferritin blood test is frequently used to assess iron levels. It is a simple test that involves drawing blood from a vein on the inside of the elbow. The whole procedure may take only a few minutes.

Normal Ferritin Levels

Men: 30-300 micrograms per liter

Women: 15-200 micrograms per liter

Diet to Maintain Balanced Ferritin Levels

The best way to maintain healthy ferritin levels in the body is to take a balanced diet. Make sure to add iron-rich foods such as red meat, poultry, fish, beans, lentils, tofu, spinach, and fortified cereals to your diet.

You can increase iron absorption in your body by adding an adequate amount of vitamin C to the diet. Vitamin C helps the body absorb iron more efficiently. Foods such as citrus fruits, bell peppers, strawberries, and broccoli contain good quantities of vitamin C.

“Consuming foods that are high in vitamin C at the same meal with iron-rich plant foods boosts the bioavailability of iron,” says Devon Peart, Registered Dietician at Cleveland Clinic. “This means you absorb more of it,” She adds.

Supplements to Maintain Ferritin Levels

You may take iron supplements e.g. ferrous sulphate, to maintain ferritin levels in the body. But, remember supplements are not a substitute for a balanced diet. These supplements come in different forms like tablets, capsules, or liquids. They may cause a few side effects e.g. stomach upset or constipation so it’s better to take them with food if you experience any of these. Always consult a qualified health professional before starting any supplement to avoid problems.

Lifestyle changes to optimize ferritin levels

  • Take regular exercise
  • Get enough sleep
  • Quit smoking
  • Limit alcohol intake
  • Avoid foods that decrease iron absorption, such as tea, coffee, and calcium supplements
  • Try stress-relieving activities like yoga, mindfulness, and meditation


Ferritin is an important protein that stores iron in our bodies. It helps to maintain iron levels in the body and protects us from problems caused by having too much or too little iron. Blood ferritin levels are frequently tested to assess the amount of iron stored in the body.

In hemochromatosis, too much iron can cause serious issues like liver failure, heart failure, and diabetes. On the other hand, a deficiency of ferritin can lead to iron deficiency anemia which may cause heart failure or growth problems in children.

It is important to eat iron-rich foods and supplements to maintain ferritin stores in your body. Living a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise and enough sleep can also help. Don’t hesitate to talk to a doctor if you experience any symptoms mentioned in this article.


 Written for TouchBio by: Dr. Danial A 




Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published