Ferritin is an iron-storing protein found in the red blood cells. The ferritin levels in our blood are related to the amount of iron we have stored in our blood. Low levels of ferritin results in iron-deficiency anemia. High levels of ferritin occur when iron levels increase and can result in toxicity or death when elevations are too high. Two-thirds of iron is found in hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying protein in red blood cells. Men usually have higher levels of ferritin than women.
Heme and nonheme are two types of iron in food. Thirty percent of heme iron, is iron found in hemoglobin, and is found only in meat. Our bodies absorb about 2 to10 percent of nonheme iron, or iron not found in hemoglobin, also found in meat and in plant foods. Since heme iron is absorbed better and faster than nonheme iron, people consuming mostly meat in their diet will have a large amount of heme iron in their blood, increasing their ferritin levels.
Abuse of iron supplements and the overconsumption of iron-enriched foods may cause an elevation in iron and ferritin levels. It usually takes two to three weeks for iron levels in hemoglobin to increase. Iron can accumulate in the blood, since little of it is actually excreted from the body. A person must first consider their dietary heme and nonheme iron intake before self-prescribing iron supplements. Iron deficiencies are uncommon in adult men and postmenopausal woman, and they must be careful when using iron supplements. Iron supplements should not be taken by children.
In some patients with thyroid problems, inflammations occur frequently and ferretin levels will rise. This also happens during times or infection and even cancer. Ferritin will rise to counter the normal binding of tissue during instances of infections and inflammation. Iron can also contribute to the oxidation of bad cholesterol, or LDL, changing the cholesterol into one that can cause more damage to coronary arteries. It does this by making cholesterol more sticky, causing artery-clogging plaque that doesn't allow free blood flow.
Hemochromatosis is a genetic condition where excess amounts of iron can be stored in the heart and liver. Individuals with this condition absorb iron efficiently and quickly, resulting in iron buildup that can cause heart failure and cirrhosis of the liver. Because of this, they are also advised against iron supplementation.
Because of menstruation, premenopausal women have a lower risk of heart disease. After menopause a woman no longer menstruates and iron can accumulate in the blood causing higher risk of coronary disease. Individuals requiring frequent blood transfusions are also at risk of suffering from iron overload and are usually advised against taking iron supplements.