This is a common concern that we see in practice almost daily. Laboratory testing shows a low, but yet “normal” stored iron (aka ferritin) and it doesn’t seem to move very much after repeat testing. So, what’s the ideal?
The two most common reasons why people have low or deficient blood iron levels have to do with iron leaving the body (eg menstruation) and iron not absorbing into the body. If a woman has heavy periods, iron loss is likely the reason behind low ferritin values. Heavy periods can be a symptom of many conditions ranging from a hormonal imbalance to the presence of uterine fibroids. This can be determined by looking at all gynecological symptoms, hormone level evaluations and pelvic ultra sounds. Once determined, there are many ways to help regulate and improve the rate of flow.
Poor digestion and absorption are probably more common to be the root cause of iron deficiency. Sometimes there are obvious symptoms of poor absorption such as gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, heartburn and reflux. Other times, clues can be extracted from skin concerns such as eczema, acne, rosacea and fungal infections. In less obvious situations, headaches, fatigue, brain fog, joint or muscle pain, anxiety and depression can be the only signs of poor absorption. Inflammation of the lining in the digestive tract makes it very difficult to extract the nutrients from food and transport into the blood. Inflammation occurs for various reasons – food sensitivities or allergies, imbalances in the healthy gut flora , unwanted bacteria and yeast (SIBO, candida), low stomach acid or digestive enzymes and possibly poor or dysfunctional movement of food through the system. The good news is that all of these conditions can be evaluated by laboratory testing and in-house analysis. Once the inflammation is resolved, iron levels will come up at a healthy rate as will the other nutrients that are also probably low.
The quality of supplements can also play a role if neither menstrual nor digestive conditions are found to be the reason for low iron. For more information, please speak with your naturopathic physician for what to look for in a quality supplement.