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Low Iron and Ferritin—Causes and Symptoms

Low Iron and Ferritin

Can low iron be the cause of your fatigue, brain fog, and other symptoms? I will talk about that, how to find out if you have low iron, and what to do about it. 

My name is Dr. Tom Rofrano from the Natural Medicine Clinic in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. I’ve had the opportunity to see over 100,000 patient visits over the last 35 years. Many of whom have had thyroid and gut issues. 

A common issue that I see is deficiencies, commonly iron deficiency. What are the symptoms of low iron or low ferritin: lack of concentration, fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, hair loss, decreased thyroid function, and oftentimes, digestive symptoms including IBS. There are many other symptoms as well. For kids decreased growth and development, ADHD, and anxiety.

Testing for Iron Deficiency

In testing for it, you don’t want to just check iron. You want your doctor to look at serum iron, total iron-binding capacity (TIBC), percent saturation and ferritin. Ferritin is a storage protein that can reflect your body’s stores of iron. Iron level is just a brief view in your serum and ferritin reflects your body’s stores. The ferritin lab ranges are 10 to 150 ng/ml for females and 20 to 400 for males, which is a huge range. I like to see optimal ferritin levels in the 60 to 90 ng/ml range. 

A woman at the level of 20 can have major symptoms even though you’re considered within the normal range. Then we look at other things as well. You don’t want to just look at iron levels. You also want to check at the minimum, a CBC, comprehensive metabolic panel, thyroid TSH, T3, T4, lipids. I also like to check several other factors including B12, folic acid, vitamin D and magnesium. You want to get a more complete picture. 

If you want a more complete list, on page 104 of my book I give a comprehensive health panel, which has 27 different items. You can look at that if you’d like. But at the minimum, I would do those listed above.

Causes of Low Iron

What are the most common causes of low iron? Decreased intake, increased blood loss due to menstruation in women, internal bleeding as in an ulcer, or decreased absorption. I also see gluten sensitivity and other food reactions with people who are iron deficient. 

Infections including gut infections, parasites, yeast, and bacteria can cause malabsorption. Leaky gut is another cause of malabsorption. It’s usually not just one thing but often multiple things are involved. 

Just to give an example:  a 37-year-old woman came to me with symptoms of fatigue, weakness, and shortness of breath. She was too exhausted to even exercise. She also had digestive symptoms of nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. 

She had seen doctors including another functional medicine doctor. He did more testing, found her ferritin level was low as well as vitamin D. He treated for those, but she was still feeling terrible. When she came in, I did more comprehensive testing and found she had gluten sensitivity and other food reactions. She had infections including yeast, intestinal bacteria, and H-Pylori, a stomach bacteria that was causing the heartburn, nausea and abdominal pain.

Iron Deficiency Treatment Needs More Than Just Iron

She also had leaky gut and other things as well, including multiple deficiencies, not just iron. So what are the solutions for that? Just taking iron on your own is not typically the best solution. You need to make sure you’re taking the right kind. I prefer iron glycinate. It’s highly absorbable and is designed not to cause constipation or gut reactions. 

You also need to take the right amount. I use 29 milligrams of iron glycinate. For this patient, her ferritin was at 17 so I prescribed two pills twice a day because one just wasn’t enough. You do the right amount depending on what your levels are. Taking vitamin C is helpful to take with that because it helps increase absorption. If you have low iron, most commonly you have other deficiencies as well. It’s rarely just iron.

As I said, she was also low in vitamin D plus many other nutrients that we checked. I will typically recommend Functional Five™, which is a multivitamin, fish oil, vitamin D, magnesium, and probiotics which help with absorption and gut health. B12 and folic acid are common deficiencies I see as well as digestive enzymes. In her case, she needed stomach enzymes, including HCL. It helps absorb iron from foods and helps you break down your foods and absorb them better. 

Diet for Low Iron and Low Ferritin

On top of that, I will use the FreeDiet®, because most people I see who are iron deficient are also gluten sensitive, which contributes to malabsorption. I put our patients on the FreeDiet®, which is not only free of gluten but gluten, grains, sugar, yeast, dairy eggs, soy, legumes, nightshades, and processed foods. These are the foods most commonly responsible for inflammation, leaky gut, and other chronic health issues.

If you’d like a free copy of the FreeDiet® phase 1 food chart, you can click here.

I put her on the FreeDiet® along with supplements and in four weeks her ferritin went from 17 to 89 ng/ml. Equally as great was that most of her symptoms resolved. She had more energy. Her digestive issues cleared up, the nausea was gone, and her brain fog lifted. She was able to start exercising again!

It’s amazing what can happen when you find out the underlying causes and are provided the right solutions. It’s also important to follow up. So you test. You find out your deficiencies. You take iron for a while according to protocol. then you want to get retested. 

When your levels are good, it doesn’t necessarily mean you stop taking the iron. Your physician can adjust the dosage accordingly or you may be able to stop taking it. It depends on a lot of factors. You want to follow up to make sure that you are consistently on the right track.

Contact Us

If you would like help personally, call us at 561-627-5800 or email us at info@nmcwellness.com. We would love to help.

Improve Energy & Brain Function with Iron

Having the proper iron level is so vital to your health and energy!

Neurological symptoms of low iron include:

  • lack of concentration
  • fatigue
  • irritability
  • mood swings
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • dizziness
  • foggy thinking
  • headaches
  • slowed growth & development
  • behavioral problems in children

Other symptoms of low iron include:

  • weakness
  • restless legs
  • coldness in hands and feet
  • low sex drive
  • pale skin
  • arrythmias
  • chest pain
  • heart murmur
  • enlarged heart
  • shortness of breath
  • hair loss

Recently, I saw a 10-year-old girl who was diagnosed with ADHD. Her symptoms were irritability, impulsiveness, mood swings, anger, hyperactivity, restlessness, headaches and sometimes fatigue.

She had seen her pediatrician and a psychiatrist.  Apparently, her blood tests were “normal” and she was prescribed ADHD medication as well as counseling.

The first thing I did was order more complete lab testing including Ferritin (stored iron). As it turns out, her level was 19 ng/ml, which was within the lab normal range 10-143 but way below optimal levels of 70-120.  You can have many symptoms as Ferritin levels drop below 50.

After putting her on a personalized nutrition program which included our  iron supplement, just six weeks later her symptoms were gone and she had been able to go off her ADHD medication.

It’s important to note that, taking iron is not the answer for everything, and you can actually have too much iron which can cause a whole host of other problems. So I would not recommend just taking iron without first getting a blood test to see if and how much you need.

You want to have your Ferritin level checked, which measures how much iron is stored in your body. This is the most accurate measure of whether you have optimal iron levels.

Another patient I saw, a woman in her early 40’s, was experiencing hair loss and low energy.  And if you are a female with hair loss, you know that depression and anxiety about this can soon follow.

Her doctor couldn’t find anything wrong and prescribed Rogaine.  She did not want to take this or any other medication so she came in for a more holistic approach.  After thorough lab testing, we found that her Ferritin level was only 10.  Again, within her “normal” lab ranges of 10-232 but way below optimal levels of 60-90.

I put her on a comprehensive, personalized nutrition program which included the FreeDiet™ and our iron supplement and within two months, no more hair loss and she was feeling great!

Be aware, many iron supplements on the market are not well absorbed, can cause stomach irritation & constipation, and contain aluminum dyes.

I have found a highly absorbable, non-constipating iron that is well tolerated by most everyone; and the cost is just pennies a day. Click here to take a look.

So, make sure you have the proper iron levels; a simple solution for more energy and better brain function!

If you have any questions or would like your or a family member’s Ferritin level checked, email us at info@nmcwellness.com  or call us  at 561-627-5800. We would be happy to help.

Yours for Vibrant Health,

Dr. Tom Rofrano

 

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    Content on this website is based upon the opinions of Thomas Rofrano, D.C. and is not considered medical advice. It is designed to be a sharing of knowledge and information from the research and experience of Dr. Rofrano and his community. Dr. Rofrano encourages you to make your health care decisions based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified health care professional. Dr. Rofrano is a chiropractic physician and offers physical and nutritional support and guidance to those seeking alternative or complementary care to traditional medicine. His care is not meant to replace that from your primary doctor and specialists but rather to help you on your path to achieving life-long vibrant health.

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