What is ferritin?

What is ferritin?

Written by

Lauren Dobischok
16 May, 2022

Medically checked article All HOMED-IQ content is reviewed by medical specialists

Ferritin is present in your blood as a measure of the amount of iron in your bone marrow and liver. When you do not consume enough iron, your body uses its stock of ferritin to meet its needs. When the supply of ferritin is depleted, your body is unable to make healthy red blood cells and anemia occurs. Anemia is a condition that can cause unpleasant symptoms, such as fatigue, restless legs, and pale skin.

What is ferritin?

Ferritin is a type of protein that stores iron in your body. This protein is found primarily in the bone marrow and liver, but also in the blood in small quantities (Sanquin). Body cells produce more ferritin as the amount of iron in the body increases.

What foods increase ferritin levels?

Increased iron consumption raises ferritin levels. Iron is present in several common foods, such as meat products and fish. With regards to meat, lamb and other red meats contain more iron than chicken or pork. In addition to animal products, certain plant products also contain iron. These include spinach, legumes, nuts, and oats.

Iron can also be distinguished into heme iron and non-heme iron. Animal products predominantly contain heme iron, while non-heme iron is found in plant products (Nutrition Center). Heme iron is more easily absorbed by the body, which is why it can be difficult for people who follow a plant-based diet to get adequate iron intake. Iron is converted in the stomach into ferritin, and vitamin C makes an important contribution to this process. The process of converting iron to ferritin can be disrupted when there is a lack of vitamin C. This is why it is important to also eat citrus fruits and other products that contain a lot of vitamin C in order to maintain ferritin levels.

Why is ferritin important?

Ferritin is essential because it plays an important role in the transport of oxygen through the blood to the body’s cells. Every organ in your body needs oxygen to work properly. Iron is needed to form hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that transports oxygen throughout the body. If your body’s ferritin level is too low, iron deficiency can lead to all kinds of physical complaints, such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Pale skin
  • Restless legs
  • Becoming out of breath easily
  • Dizziness

What is a good ferritin level?

A good ferritin value differs for men and women (Nederlands Huisartsen Genootschap):

Men: 25 – 250 micrograms per liter

Women: 20 – 100 micrograms per liter

This difference has to do with possible pregnancy, menstruation, hormones and breastfeeding.

Could your ferritin level be too high or too low?

Ferritin can be either too high or too low. This means your blood ferritin level is above or below the target values for a healthy ferritin level.

The causes of too little ferritin in your blood

There are several causes of ferritin/iron deficiency:

  • Genetics
  • Menstruation with excessive blood loss
  • Prolonged physical exertion
  • Certain medical conditions
  • Side effect of certain medications
  • A diet that lacks iron

The causes of too much ferritin in your blood

A ferritin value that is too high can be caused by (Sanquin):

  • A medical condition
  • Heredity
  • Being overweight
  • Infection

The health effects of abnormal ferritin levels

Ferritin deficiency can lead to anemia, resulting in unpleasant symptoms like pale skin, fatigue, breathlessness ,and the urge to move due to restless legs. An excess of ferritin may lead to other health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes, or joint pain.

Are there diseases related to ferritin abnormalities?

High ferritin levels are linked to inflammatory conditions such as kidney disease, infections,  liver disease, and obesity. In this case there is no excess iron consumption,, but ferritin levels are still elevated. Cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and certain autoimmune diseases can also be related to lowered ferritin levels.

Why measure your ferritin?

Ferritin allows iron to be stored in your body. By measuring your ferritin level, you find out whether the iron stores in your body are sufficient. With Homed-IQ’s Preventive Health Screening – Extensive, you can measure your ferritin along with other important markers such as HbA1c, Triglycerides which are related to diabetes or heart diseases. This will help you to get an overall insight into your health.

Is Homed-IQ’s ferritin test reliable?

Yes- at Homed-IQ, your test sample – like all of our other home tests – is processed and analyzed in a certified laboratory. The laboratories we work with are also used by hospitals, general practitioners and other medical specialists.

Is this test an alternative to a blood test through a GP?

A blood test via a GP is carried out in exactly the same way as Homed-IQ home health tests. The difference is that you can take the self-test anonymously, from the comfort of your own home and at a time of your choosing.

How does the Homed-IQ ferritin test process work?

You collect the blood sample via a finger prick, then use the supplied transport bag and the return envelope to send your sample to the lab. Your results will be ready within a few days.

What can I do if my ferritin value is too low?

Whether or not you have an iron deficiency, it is always important to eat healthy and consume foods with a high iron content. For example, through a diet that includes:

  • Meat and fish
  • Potatoes and vegetables
  • Legumes and beans
  • Cereals

Alongside an adequate iron-rich diet, it can also help to consume more vitamin C. Vitamin C will support the absorption of iron into the body. Please note that milk products inhibit the absorption of iron, just as red wine and coffee does.

Beyond diet, iron supplements are also freely available at drugstores. Through daily supplementation you can ensure sufficient iron intake and a stable blood hemoglobin value. It is important to always follow the dosage instructions on supplements in order to avoid excessive iron in the blood and elevated ferritin levels.

About the author

Lauren Dobischok

Lauren is a health scientist and science communicator currently living in the Netherlands. Originally from Canada, she completed a Research Master’s in Health Sciences at the Netherlands Institute of Health Sciences at Erasmus University Rotterdam (NIHES) with a specialisation in epidemiology. Prior to her master’s degree, she completed a Bachelor’s degree in Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University. With a background in public health, her goal is to create accurate scientific content that is easy to understand and empowers people to make informed decisions. Within Homed-IQ, Lauren works as a Product Developer and Content Lead, working closely with physicians and scientists on medical devices for Homed-IQ’s new products and written communications.