Iron is a vital mineral that functions to transport oxygen in the blood, produce energy and fight infections in your body. Iron is found in the blood as well as stored in several organs, such as the liver. Although most healthy individuals are able to attain the recommended intake of iron through diet, several medical conditions may cause the levels of iron in the blood as well as the liver to be too high or too low.
Iron in the body can be found attached to hemoglobin, bound to proteins, unbound or stored in the liver, notes the Iron Disorders Institute. Iron attached to hemoglobin is also known as “functional iron” and is the part of your red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the bloodstream. Bound iron is attached to iron transporting proteins in the blood such as lactoferrin and transferrin that transport iron throughout the body. Unbound, or free iron, is not bound to any proteins and can be dangerous to your body if it accumulates.
Ferritin is the stored form of iron in your body. It is stored in your liver, pancreas and heart. Ferritin is stored until it is needed by the body, such as for the production of red blood cells or to fight infections.
A blood test is used to determine the amount of ferritin in your body. The blood test will also measure your hemoglobin, hematocrit, mean corpuscular volume, total iron binding capacity, transferrin saturation and unbound iron binding capacity to help determine the underlying cause of abnormal ferritin levels.
The normal range of ferritin for males is 12 to 300 nanograms per milliliter, ng/mL, and for females it is 12 to 150 ng/mL, according to Lab Tests Online.
Causes of Abnormal Ferritin Levels
Low levels of ferritin can be a result of iron deficiency anemia, heavy menstrual periods, chronic gastrointestinal tract bleeding and certain intestinal disorders that are associated with decreased absorption of nutrients.
High levels of ferritin may be caused by hemochromatosis, cirrhosis, hemolytic anemia and frequent blood transfusions. Ferritin levels may also be raised acutely by inflammation, autoimmune conditions, chronic infections and certain cancers. According to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, or NDDIC, hemochromatosis is the most common cause of high ferritin levels in the body. It may be hereditary or a result of cirrhosis, anemia or other conditions. Hemochromatosis is characterized by the increased absorption and storage of iron by the body. Normally, 10 percent of the iron you eat is absorbed by the body. However, individuals with hemochromatosis may absorb 30 percent of iron, notes the NDDIC.
The University of Maryland Medical Center cautions that you should use iron supplements should only when prescribed by your doctor, due to the risk of side effects, medication interactions or development of hemochromatosis.