Iron is an essential element for good health. Having either low and high iron is not a good thing.
Iron lab results
Serum Iron is free iron in the bloodstream. This is the most variable marker, going up after a meal with iron or iron supplement, and dropping rapidly afterward.
Iron % saturation is the amount of iron bond to it’s carrier protein. Think of it as the delivery vehicle on the way to the warehouse.
Ferritin is the storage form of iron. Now we’re talking about the warehouse. NOTE that ferritin is also a marker of inflammation so can be confused with high iron.
Basically low iron is caused by blood loss such as menstruation, acute hemorrhage, or microscopic loss from the bowel. There are more reasons for low iron, but really these are by far the bulk of the cases.
Or low iron is from poor absorption in the gut…
There are two pathways for iron absorption. One is the “ionic” pathway and requires stomach acid to convert the ferrous form of iron to ferric. This is inflammatory and why standard iron supplements upset the tummy. Taking vitamin C with iron supplements helps the absorption and calms inflammation. Typical supplements are ferrous sulfate / gluconate or iron chelates such as Iron Protein Plus (from Life Extension) which is a bit better tolerated. About 90% of dietary iron is normally absorbed this way.
The second pathway is the “heme” pathway and does not require stomach acid. Proferrin is a unique patented oral iron supplement that utilizes this pathway. For patients who don’t absorb iron well from diet or ionic supplements, this is the preferred supplement. Patients with low stomach acid include elderly, those on stomach acid blocking medications, those with low thyroid or autoimmune conditions causing low stomach acid.
High iron is usually caused by a genetic tendency to store iron too well. The classic form is Hemochromatosis. There are two other variations that are not well known, Iron Avidity and Dysmetabolic Iron Overload Syndrome. Iron studies for each condition are outlined below: