Blood Health

Transferrin saturation (Iron Saturation)

Optimal Result: 15 - 55 %.

Aka: Iron Saturation, Serum Transferrin Saturation, Transferrin Saturation, Transferrin Iron Saturation, Serum Iron to TIBC Ratio

Transferrin is a protein that binds to iron and carries it through the blood. Transferrin saturation, abbreviated TS and measured as a percentage, is the ratio of serum iron and total iron-binding capacity (TIBC). TS is a more useful indicator of iron status than just iron or TIBC alone. In iron deficiency, the iron level is low but the TIBC is increased, thus transferrin saturation becomes very low. In iron overload states, such as hemochromatosis, the iron level will be high and the TIBC will be low or normal, causing transferrin saturation to increase. It is customary to test for transferrin saturation when evaluating a person’s nutritional status or liver function. Transferrin saturation levels may also be used in the diagnoses of anemia.

The most common symptoms of anemia include:

- Chronic fatigue / tiredness

- Dizziness

- Weakness

- Headaches

- Pale skin

When a healthcare professional suspects that a person may have iron overload or when a person has a family history of hemochromatosis, iron and TIBC may be ordered along with a transferrin saturation test. Symptoms of iron overload will vary from person to person and tend to worsen over time; they may include:

- Join pain

- Fatigue, weakness

- Weight loss

- Lack of energy         

- Abdominal pain

- Loss of sex drive

- Loss of hair

- Heart problems

What does it mean if your Transferrin saturation (Iron Saturation) result is too low?

Low transferrin saturation indicates you are likely to be suffering from iron deficiency. In iron deficiency, iron is low and fewer transferrin binding sites are used to the saturation of these binding sites is low.

Causes of iron deficiency can include:

- Insufficient dietary iron intake

- Inadequate iron absorption in the stomach

- Increased need for iron, for example, during pregnancy

- Any condition that causes chronic blood loss, for example heavy periods in menstruating women.

Treatment for iron deficiency anaemia usually involves taking iron supplements and changing your diet as well as treating any underlying cause. Foods rich in iron include red meat, pork, poultry and seafood.

The body is less able to absorb the iron found in plant based foods such as spinach, lentils, beans, and so supplementation is often required for vegetarian and vegan diets.

What does it mean if your Transferrin saturation (Iron Saturation) result is too high?

Transferrin saturation is increased when excess amounts of iron are present, as in iron overload or poisoning (hemochromatosis).    

A high transferrin saturation results indicates you have too much iron in your body. In iron overload, the transferrin saturation is usually increased from around 30% to over 90%. Potential causes include excessive intake, possibly from iron supplements or multivitamins.

In some instances, it could also indicate genetic condition called hemochromatosis. This is an inherited disease in which the body absorbs too much iron, even on a normal diet. This disorder is most common in people from northern europe and is one of the more common genetic disorders.

Symptoms of iron overload include:

- Joint pain

- Fatigue

- Weakness and lack of energy

- Weight loss

- Abdominal pain

- Loss of sex drive

- Loss of body hair

Treatments to reduce levels of iron are available, but the disease must be investigated and treated by a doctor.

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