Avoiding Iron Deficiency: How to Raise Ferritin Levels

Over 50% of all anemia cases worldwide are caused by iron deficiency. Anemia results from a depletion of bodily iron reserves that are activated when there is an impaired intake of iron through the diet. The body stores iron in the form of ferritin and hemosiderin, with the former being larger in proportion and far more essential. Irrespective of your dietary and lifestyle preferences, it’s essential to understand how to raise ferritin levels to avoid complications from iron deficiency. On average, women are more prone to iron deficiency and suboptimal ferritin levels due to menstrual bleeding and related factors. However, this risk of iron deficiency is reduced following menopause. 

‘Does low ferritin make you tired?’ is a common question posed by the general population, and especially athletes. As vigorous exercise causes consistent damage to muscles, ferritin deposits are quickly depleted to rebuild these structures. It is also important for highly active individuals to know how to raise ferritin levels quickly to keep up with their performance expectations. Read on as we discuss the nature of ferritin, the risks of iron deficiency, its symptoms, and the factors that can help you attain optimal ferritin levels. 

 hemosiderin vs ferritin

Bodily Iron Deposits: Hemosiderin vs. Ferritin

  • While the most prevalent form of iron in the body is hemoglobin, the body also stores iron in different molecules called hemosiderin and ferritin.
  • Hemosiderin is not the body’s go-to storage option, as it is usually caused by a partial or improper metabolism of ferritin. Hemosiderin is stored as small granules within cells.
  • On the other hand, ferritin is more stable, and the go-to iron storage protein for the body. 
  • It is commonly stored in the liver and in specialized immune cells called reticuloendothelial cells. 
  • These cells release iron to supplement any shortfalls the body might encounter while producing hemoglobin.
  • Depleted ferritin levels due to low iron intake usually leads to iron deficiency without anemia. 
  • Optimal ferritin levels can be assessed easily by conducting simple blood tests that include an iron panel and an anemia panel.

Dietary Iron: Haem vs. Non-Haem

The first step to learning how to increase ferritin levels is by understanding what foods contain substantial amounts of iron, so that your body can attain optimal ferritin levels. Dietary sources contain two varieties of iron called haem and non-haem iron. Here’s what these terms entail: 

  • Haem Iron: Animal food sources such as meat and seafood contain the blood proteins of animals along with muscle and fat. Hemoglobin from animal products is easily absorbed by the body and is called haem iron. It is considered the best source of iron to prevent conditions like anemia and running iron deficiency. The best sources of haem iron include: 
    • Salmon
    • Oyster & clams
    • Beef
    • Pork 
    • Veal 
    • Chicken & turkey 
    • Organ meat 
  • Non-haem Iron: Non-haem iron primarily comes from plant-based sources. Non-haem iron is not easy for the body to absorb, and it requires other essential nutrients like vitamins to be absorbed effectively. A majority of human iron intake comes from non-haem iron sources. Incorporating adequate amounts of non-haem sources is important to avoid iron deficiency and bruising that results from the condition. Good sources of non-haem iron are: 
    • Green leafy vegetables like spinach
    • Lentils & pulses 
    • Fortified cereals
    • Dry fruits  

ferritin supplement

People at Risk of Developing Iron Deficiency

  • Specific populations have shown a higher prevalence of iron deficiency. If unchecked, it can lead to anemia, a disease affecting every 7th person on the planet. 
  • Children in their growing years, pre-menopausal women, pregnant women, and athletes have a higher risk of developing iron deficiency. 
  • These populations have a higher iron demand due to the special needs and physiological processes of their bodies. 
  • Studies also show that vegetarians and vegans have a higher risk of developing iron deficiency due to the majority consumption of non-haem iron. 
  • While plant-based diets might have adequate iron, non-haem iron is not as efficiently absorbed as haem iron. It is essential to consume up to two times the recommended amount if you’re on a plant-based diet. 
  • Figuring out how to increase ferritin levels is especially important for these populations due to an increased predisposition to developing suboptimal ferritin levels.

Symptoms of Iron Deficiency

Here are some common iron deficiency symptoms to watch out for:

  • Fatigue & tiredness 
  • Brittle nails 
  • Easy bruising (Also called iron deficiency bruising)
  • Pale skin 
  • Impaired attention span 
  • Rapid heart rate 
  • Swollen/Red tongue 
  • Brittle nails 
  • Hair loss 
  • Headache & dizziness 
  • A craving to eat dirt

how to increase ferritin levels

Factors Affecting Iron Absorption & How to Raise Ferritin Levels

Ferritin levels are directly replenished by the dietary intake of iron. Several nutritional components determine the amount of iron your body can absorb from food. Understanding this is integral to increase ferritin levels quickly when your blood reports suggest you don’t have optimal ferritin levels in your body. Here are the main contributing factors that directly affect iron absorption, both positively and negatively: 

Factors that Boost Iron Absorption

  • Vitamin A: An enhanced intake of vitamin A has shown a considerable increase in the absorption of iron. This is especially true in the case of fortified cereals, where vitamin A enhanced iron’s accessibility to the body by over 100%. Squash, carrots, tomatoes, kale, and spinach are some of the best sources of vitamin A. 
  • Vitamin C: Vitamin C has shown that it enhances iron absorption, especially the non-haem kind. Vitamin C catalyzes a reaction that promotes the storage of iron in a more accessible form for the body. Citrus fruits, chilies, and green leafy vegetables are good sources of vitamin C. 
  • Lean Meat: Lean meat is a great source of haem iron and can aid in helping you attain optimal ferritin levels sooner. If you’re wondering how to increase ferritin levels, haem iron is a sure-shot way to do it. Incorporating meat into at least one meal a day has shown rising ferritin levels in several people. Chicken breast, tuna, and low-fat beef are good examples of lean meat. 

Factors that Hamper Iron Absorption

  • Calcium: Studies have pointed out that calcium can hinder iron absorption and reduce iron absorption by over 60% in a given meal. Since both nutrients are equally important to maintain good health, it is important to not have calcium-laden foods with your meal or with ferritin supplements. Calcium-rich foods include dairy products like cheese, milk, and yogurt.
  • Polyphenols & Tannins: Beverages like tea and coffee are rich in polyphenols and tannins. These compounds have been shown to affect iron absorption by reducing the iron available for absorption in the diet. It is important to avoid consuming these beverages during meals and consume them during times between meals instead. 
  • Phytic Acid: This is a plant component that is commonly found in legumes, soybeans, whole grains, and certain nuts. While phytic acid affects iron absorption from the diet, it can be easily counteracted by consuming enough vitamin A & C. 

how to increase ferritin levels quickly

Ferritin Levels

To prevent conditions like iron deficiency and bruising, it’s important to know ideal levels of ferritin in the body. The reference range is as follows: 

  • Optimal ferritin levels for males: 20 to 250 ng/mL
  • Optimal ferritin levels for females: 12 to 263 ng/mL
  • Optimal ferritin levels for athletes: 60 to 300 ng/ mL
  • Optimal ferritin levels for children: 7 to 140 ng/mL

optimal ferritin levels for females

Recommended Daily Intake (RDA) for Iron

Supplementing existing ferritin stores with adequate amounts of dietary iron is essential to know how to raise ferritin levels. Here’s the recommended daily iron intake based on age and necessity: 

  • Men & Postmenopausal Women: 8mg/day 
  • Premenopausal Woman & Athletes: 18mg/day 
  • Children: 15mg/day 

Iron is an essential nutrient that performs a variety of functions in the body. Some of these are critical for survival, like the transport of oxygen, forming muscle structure, maintaining cellular integrity, and aiding in cognitive development. Ignoring iron intake in the diet can lead to depleted ferritin stores, which can eventually present as iron deficiency anemia. It is essential to have enough iron based on your sex, age and activity levels to lead a healthy life. Get in touch with your doctor to know more about ferritin and the right tests to know your ferritin levels.