Iron deficiency can occur when the iron is lost to the body over a long period of time. This happens when iron-bound in the blood pigment hemoglobin is excreted faster than it can be replaced by a new intake.
Adequate intake of iron in food is very important. Inadequate utilization of it should, therefore, be recognized at an early stage and compensated accordingly.
Why is iron essential for our body?
Iron performs important key functions in the human body: it not only ensures smooth oxygen transport from the lungs to the cells but also plays a crucial role in energy metabolism. Because it is significantly involved in the formation of the cell energy source ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which supplies the body’s cells with energy. A sufficient supply of iron contributes significantly to your performance and health and is therefore of the utmost importance for the human organism.
What causes iron deficiency?
Iron deficiency is the most common deficiency disease worldwide: around two billion people are affected. This high number is explained not least by the various causes that can be responsible for this condition:
- Insufficient intake of ferrous food.
- Excessive prolonged chronic bleeding.
- Diseases that lead to reduced absorption (e.g. Crohn’s disease).
- Menstruation in women.
Certain physical changes can also increase the iron requirement: women need almost 100% more iron during pregnancy. The need is also significantly increased during breastfeeding, in the growth phase of children and with regular blood donors.
What are the symptoms of iron deficiency?
If there is too little iron in the blood, the body tissues cannot get enough oxygen and the energy metabolism only works to a limited extent. Typical symptoms are mainly weaknesses in the body:
- Brittle nails and hair.
- Difficulties swallowing.
- Shortness of breath.
- Learning and concentration difficulties.
- Mental instability.
- Fatigue and listlessness.
How to diagnose iron deficiency?
The first step is a detailed listing of all iron deficiency symptoms. This leads to a suspicion that, in addition to iron deficiency, can also include some other diseases, such as a malfunction of the thyroid gland, cardiovascular disease or another disease.
The experienced doctor or iron Expert provides an iron deficiency or anemia determined by a blood test. There are various laboratory values that can be measured to determine the iron metabolism in the body. A combination of the following laboratory parameters is meaningful:
- Hemoglobin: the amount of red blood pigment in the blood
Normal values: women 12.0 g / dl; Men 13.0 g / dl
- Serum ferritin: Normal values: women 30ng / ml; Men 30ng / ml
- Transferrin saturation: Normal values: women and Men 20%.
- C-reactive protein (CRP): Normal values: women and Men 0.5 mg / dl.
The Hb value indicates the concentration of the red blood pigment (hemoglobin) in the blood. If this value is too low, this is called anemia. However, the determination of the hemoglobin (Hb) value says nothing about the filling status of the iron stores.
The serum ferritin is the central laboratory value as a measure of the filling status of the iron stores. The doctor can use this value to determine whether the iron stores in the body are full, reduced or even used up. If this value is too low, there is an iron deficiency. If there is inflammation due to an infection or an acute or chronic illness, the ferritin value is falsified and can be high even though the iron stores are empty.
The doctor can see whether there is an inflammation from the CRP value. This is the parameter for the C-reactive protein.
The transferrin is the iron transporter in the body. With it, the iron is transported through the bloodstream from cell to cell (e.g. from the intestinal cell, in which the iron is taken from food, into the bone marrow, in order to be available there for the formation of red blood cells).
The transferrin saturation or TSAT shows how much these transport proteins are loaded with iron. Too low transferrin saturation means that the body has too little iron. With increased inflammation values, this can also be the case if the iron stores are well filled. Transferrin saturation is therefore a good laboratory test to find out whether there is an iron deficiency, even if there are inflammatory processes in the body. Transferrin saturation is most meaningful when the blood is drawn on an empty stomach for laboratory tests in the morning.
If the C-reactive protein (CRP) is increased, this is a sign that an inflammatory process is taking place in the body. In this case, the ferritin level is deceptive because it can be normal or high, even though the body has too little iron for metabolism. Then the transferrin saturation provides a more reliable indication of the availability of iron.