Ferritin is an indicator of how much iron is stored in your body.
Low ferritin levels can cause symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath, hair loss, and difficulty exercising.
The level of ferritin in the blood is a reflection of how much iron storage is in the body.If iron levels begin dropping for whatever reason the body releases ferritin into the blood in order to provide the iron that is lacking. Eventually, the ferritin levels may drop which is the first indication of iron deficiency.
The most common symptoms of low ferritin include:
Chronic fatigue or low energy
Inability to tolerate exercise and reduced activity level
Hair loss or lack of hair growth
GI symptoms - bloating, low stomach acid, etc.
With that in mind, the most common causes of low ferritin that I see in my practice include:
Heavy menstrual bleeding
Chronic internal bleeding
When evaluating for the possibility of low iron or ferritin, I recommend getting the following tests:
Total Serum Iron
Total Iron Binding Capacity (TIBC)
Keep in mind that like with many other tests, there is a difference between the "normal" reference range of ferritin and the "optimal" range.
Any level below 15 is "low" and should be addressed. However, people with ferritin levels in the "low normal" range of most laboratories can still be symptomatic. If they are treated they will usually feel better. Remember, a low or suboptimal ferritin level may be the first indicator of iron levels that are beginning to drop. It may take weeks or even months before the other labs become abnormal enough to get the attention of your medical providers. Besides reducing symptoms, why should you correct your ferritin level?
Let's discuss the most obvious:
Low Iron Impairs Thyroid Function
Improves Hair Growth and Stops Hair Loss
Improves Energy Levels
Improves Exercise Tolerance
Improves the Immune System
If you are deficient in one nutrient such as iron, there is a good chance that you may also be deficient in others. That is because the root cause of the low ferritin or iron may also be causing other nutrients to be deficient. Also, some nutrients are required for the normal absorption and metabolism of others. For example, vitamin C is needed to absorb iron. This is something to keep in mind if you find a deficiency of a nutrient such as iron, but correcting it doesn't completely resolve your symptoms. You may need to look for other nutrient deficiencies.
If you decide to take iron supplements in order to increase your ferritin level, there are some things to keep in mind:
Not enough iron is bad, but too much iron is also bad.
Liquid iron is typically better tolerated than capsule/tablets.
B12 deficiency is commonly associated with low ferritin.
Don't take iron within 2-4 hours of taking your thyroid medication.
Extremely low levels may require IV iron infusions.