Iron is abbreviated Fe and an essential element required for hemoglobin production. Hemoglobin oxygenates the blood. Without iron, red blood cells cannot reproduce in the body. Iron is found in different parts of the body – blood (called transferrin), muscle, liver (called ferritin) and enzymes in the body. About 65% of the iron in the body is found in the blood.
Interestingly, doctors working with patients who have hair loss have found that adequate iron levels may be tied to the ability to regrow hair.
A serum iron test measures iron levels in the serum component of the blood. A serum iron test is ordered after abnormal results are found in a hemoglobin test or a complete blood count, or when you are showing symptoms of anemia.
Measured in micrograms per deciliter (mcg/dl), normal ranges for serum iron differ depending on an individual’s age and sex. Child-bearing women have the highest requirements for iron because of the monthly loss of blood in their menstrual cycles.
If your results are abnormal, additional tests will determine whether iron is being stored in your liver, not being transported to the right places in your body, or what type of anemia you have.
Normal Ranges for Iron in mcg/dL:
Men: 65-176 mcg per deciliter (mcg/dL)
Women: 50-170 mcg per deciliter (mcg/dL)
Low iron levels can be caused by a number of factors. For example, your diet may not contain enough iron-rich foods such as red meats, liver, blackstrap molasses, beans, spinach and leafy green vegetables, eggs, and apricots. Even a vitamin C deficiency affects the absorption of iron in the diet, and it’s possible that if you’re low in vitamin C, you won’t absorb enough iron from other foods.
If you are a woman in the child-bearing years, then heavy menstrual periods could contribute to low iron levels. That’s because blood is exiting the body at high levels – and taking iron with it.
Some specific causes of low iron might be:
- Acute or chronic blood loss, including from ulcers or bleeding from the GI tract
- Anemia (iron-deficiency, sickle cell, vitamin B6 deficiency, vitamin B12 deficiency, vitamin C deficiency)
- Heavy menstrual bleeding
- Bone marrow conditions
- Kwashiorkor (malnutrition)
- Associated with blood loss during surgery
High levels of iron in the serum are associated with too much iron, vitamin B6 or vitamin B12.
Some specific causes of high iron might be:
• anemia where the blood cells rupture, called hemolytic anemia
• iron overdose, where you have consumed more iron than what your body requires and can successfully deal with
• an overload of iron, where your body is not eliminating iron as it should
• liver health issues such as hemosiderosis, hemochromatosis, liver failure or hepatitis
• too many blood transfusions
• lead poisoning
• use of birth control pills
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