Most women will struggle with iron at some point during their lifetime. But there are 2 tales when it comes to iron and just like Goldilocks, you want it just right, not too low or too high. The only way to know how much iron you are storing is to test.
Just a heads up if you ask your doctor for an iron test, they may not test for ferritin. Ferritin is the amount of iron your body is storing. Make sure to confirm your doctor has added ferritin to your request form. As many women only find out about iron overload by accident when investigating something else.
The range for ferritin varies from lab to lab and country to country. On average, the reference range is usually below 150 ng/ml, but for me, I’m looking for optimal levels, not common levels and anything in triple digits worries me.
Iron overload can be an inherited condition or an acquired condition. It used to be something that concerned me for post-menopausal women as they are no longer menstruating and no longer have the opportunity to dump excess iron with their menses but these days with modern contraceptives stopping menstruation all together I’m seeing it in younger and younger women.
When looking at the cause of elevated iron it's worth knowing that iron can be absorbed via your digestive system, lungs, and skin. Yes, it is important to look at your diet and your method of cooking eg cast iron cookware, but it's also worth considering your air quality and what you are putting on your skin.
Our lifestyle habits can also enhance iron storage, these factors increase your risk of developing toxic iron levels.
Your body removes excess iron from your blood and stores it in your organs. This is why a serum iron test is not an indication of how much iron you actually have in your body.
Iron can store anywhere but it has a preference for your liver, bones, and brain, next in line would be your spleen, pancreas, thyroid, heart, and pituitary gland.
Physical signs of iron overload include digestive discomfort, irregular heartbeat, blood sugar issues, skin pigmentation, depression, fatigue, low motivation, lack of focus, and other cognitive issues. Plus bone density issues, arthritis, and musculoskeletal pain in general.
Did you know high iron also impacts your hormones? Excess ferritin is associated with increased levels of sex hormone-binding globulin. Or SHBG for short. SHBG's role is to bind to hormones to prevent them from being able to attach to hormone receptors, damping the hormonal response. One study called Iron and Menopause, found a direct correlation between elevated ferritin levels and post-menopausal hot flushes. This was an observation taken from the women involved in the SWAN study and they called for further research directly looking at the role of iron as a risk factor in the development of menopause-related issues.
If you discover elevated ferritin you need to consider these 4 factors and I highly recommend you find yourself an experienced practitioner to guide you through these considerations.
1. Ruling out other potential reasons why you might have elevated ferritin, for example, infections, inflammation, malignancy, liver disease, metabolic diseases, etc.
2. Further investigations to see if the excess iron is damaging other parts of your body such as your liver or your bones.
3. Identifying where the excess iron is coming from eg food, water, air pollution.
4. Consider how to facilitate the lowering and removal of iron from your body.
In the case of elevated ferritin levels, I like to be proactive as it's likely to keep rising over time. You want to optimise your iron level sooner rather than later to help prevent the possibility to iron-related damage to multiple organ systems.
And you really want to retest along the way to check what you doing is working for you.
Another article of interest - Iron and the Menopausal Transition.
If you need a hand optimising your iron levels you may like to book a consultation https://www.menopausenaturalsolutions.com/consultations