Have you suspected that you were iron deficient?
Maybe you’ve had your ferritin tested and started using an iron supplement thinking it was safe?
There’s a lot of misinformation out there on hypothyroidism.
I won’t deny that.
The idea that you can test your blood ferritin levels to diagnose iron-deficiency is a not just a BIG one.
It’s misinformation like this that can lead to serious health complications, and even kill you over time.
I’ve seen many thyroid advocacy websites claim that thyroid sufferers should always get their ferritin tested.
Then, they claim that if you don’t fall within a specific test range you should start blindly supplementing iron until you do.
This is a big mistake.
Or how about the ones that tell you to supplement iron based on symptoms alone?
I see it all the time…
“Common symptoms of iron-deficiency include chronic fatigue, hair loss, irregular heart rhythm…”
What you might find interesting is that these are also symptoms caused by iron toxicity (too much iron).
They are also well known symptoms caused by hypothyroidism.
So, if you’re supplementing iron based on symptoms alone… that’s like playing Russian roulette with your health.
The Truth About Hypothyroidism and Ferritin Labs
If you follow much of the misinformation out there, I’m sure you’ve heard that a ferritin test can tell you if you’re iron-deficient.
I’ve had plenty of clients take iron supplements based on ferritin labs alone.
Then, after we test their true iron status, we often find they are not deficient at all.
Some have been building up toxic levels of iron for no reason at all.
I’ll show you how to test true iron status (and what it should be) in a minute.
True iron deficiency does exist.
It’s just not all that common.
Typically, iron deficiency anemia occurs due to excessive bleeding, internally or externally.
Women absorb iron much more efficiently than men, so normal menstruation is never a cause of concern, although excessive menstrual bleeding can be.
It’s the same with B12 deficiency anemia.
Many people take large doses or injections of Vitamin B12 because they are fatigued.
They believe they have B12 deficiency anemia.
Yet, the doctors giving out these mega doses of Vitamin B12 are not considering some important research.
I’m referring to the research showing that elevated B12 levels are highly associated with your risk of cancer.
If it’s not iron-deficiency or B12 deficiency, then what could it be?
It’s time for the truth.
Low ferritin (and elevated too) is a common sign of hypothyroidism.
Take a look at this study…
Serum ferritin as a marker of thyroid hormone action on peripheral tissues.
“Similarly, serum ferritin levels increased in all 12 hypothyroid patients with Hashimoto’s disease when euthyroidism was achieved with L-T4 therapy. Administration of 75 micrograms T3 daily for 1 week to 11 euthyroid subjects resulted in a 23-243% (mean +/- SD, 117 +/- 70%) increase in serum ferritin above basal values.”
By giving these patients T4-only thyroid medication, their ferritin levels increased significantly.
When they gave these patients T3-only thyroid medication, their ferritin levels increased even more, by 23-243%.
Endocrinology and thyroid expert, Dr. Broda Barnes was the first to discover that hypothyroidism causes anemia in other ways.
For example, Dr. Barnes’ discovered that the lower one’s body temperature is, the fewer red blood cells are produced within the bone marrow.
Naturally, hypothyroidism suffers have low body temperatures and therefore naturally produce fewer red blood cells.
This too leads to anemia and low ferritin.
There’s also another type of anemia that doesn’t get much attention.
Hemolytic anemia is also common in hypothyroidism. This is where the red blood cells become fragile and break easily due to poor blood quality.
Supplementing iron has also been shown to worsen hemolytic anemia, adding to iron’s potential dangers.
As you can see, low ferritin levels are quite often just another sign of hypothyroidism.
It can easily be corrected with some proper thyroid treatment.
Please keep in mind that in the study referenced above there was a smaller subset of patients whose ferritin didn’t respond well to thyroid hormone.
What they found was these patients were experiencing thyroid hormone resistance, preventing their cells from using the thyroid hormone they were taking.
(Note: Thyroid hormone resistance can be caused by certain parts of the thyroid hormone pathway being blocked, which is covered in more detail in this article on “How We Overcome Hypothyroidism When All Else Fails”.)
Before you start increasing your iron intake due to low ferritin, it’s important that you test your true iron status properly.
I’ll show you how to do this, but first, let’s talk briefly about the dangers of iron supplements.
Iron Supplements and Iron Toxicity
Most people get plenty of iron, often too much.
Yes, iron absorption can be impaired when stomach acid production is inhibited.
But we can’t jump to conclusion without proper testing.
On the other hand, there are many people who are getting toxic levels of iron without even knowing it.
Sure, supplementing iron even in excess will increase your ferritin.
There’s no doubt about that.
But, here’s why excess iron is so dangerous…
When you get too much iron, your body has a very difficult time getting rid of it.
So, it ends up being stored in your organs, such as your liver, heart, and brain.
This puts you at increased risk of:
- Liver disease
- Heart failure
- Neurodegenerative brain diseases
- Vitamin E deficiency
Since your body can’t rid itself of excess iron, it continues to deposit into your organs, which over time can kill you.
While we need iron to live, as with everything, balance is essential.
It’s kind of like exercise…
Exercise can be healthy, but in excess can be deadly too.
Many look at marathon runners as in great shape and super healthy.
Yet, they put such extreme stress on their bodies, that they can literally experience heart failure and drop dead shortly after a race.
Many have raised concerns of iron toxicity simply from the many foods today are fortified with iron.
How to Test Your True Iron Status
Ferritin alone doesn’t tell you everything you need to know, such as how much iron you can actually store in your bloodstream.
For this you need to also test for transferrin saturation.
Transferrin saturation is a lab measurement that accounts for both your blood iron levels and the how much room there is available for you to store more.
So, if your ferritin is normal, and your transferrin saturation is high, then your blood is very saturated in iron, a sign of iron toxicity.
On the other hand, if your ferritin is low and your transferrin saturation is low, then this can be a sign of true iron deficiency. You have both little iron in the blood and you’re not storing much either.
Now, the recommended reference range for transferrin saturation can vary.
Both low ferritin and low transferrin saturation can be a sign of true iron deficiency that should be treated.
But also keep in mind that both low and high iron are dangerous.
Transferrin saturation in the upper or high end of the reference range has been associated with increased cancer rates.
The lower normal transferrin saturation reference range is ideal.
How to Alter Iron Absorption with Foods
When working with clients, I’ve never once recommended an iron supplement, regardless of iron status.
Instead, we use foods to increase or decrease iron absorption.
For example, when consuming an iron rich food, orange juice (vitamin C) can be used to increase the absorption of iron from that food. Coffee (caffeine) on the other hand can be used to block the absorption of iron.
In most cases this isn’t even necessary.
In most cases, using adequate thyroid hormone is an easy way to correct low ferritin.
If that alone doesn’t work, then first consider whether you’re thyroid hormone resistant.
Have you tried supplementing thyroid hormone (T3)?
Have you noticed no difference in body temperature, pulse, etc?
If so, then this should be explored too.
If you’re not using the thyroid hormone you’re taking, then you likely won’t see a change in your ferritin either.
Keeping an eye on your ferritin and transferrin saturation is a good idea.
But jumping to conclusions based on a ferritin lab alone is a big mistake that can put you at high risk for many deadly diseases including cancer.
If you’re going to get tested, you should always do it right.