Ferritin is a protein that stores extra iron for when the body needs it. Low ferritin levels indicate you have low iron stores. A simple test can be performed to see what your ferritin level is if you are experiencing symptoms of low ferritin. A low ferritin level will not always cause symptoms, but when low ferritin symptoms do appear, they usually include the following:
- Minor aches
- Heart palpitations
- Increased pulse
- Loss of energy
- Loss of libido
Causes of Low Ferritin Levels
In order to feel well, it is important that all parts of the body, including the systems of the body, work normally and that we have the proper amounts of all essential minerals and other nutrients our blood and bodies need. Iron is a critical component of the blood and is an essential part of hundreds of proteins that are needed for energy, the synthesis of DNA and for antioxidant enzymes. When you do not have a sufficient amount of iron in your blood, you may develop a condition known as iron deficiency anemia, the most common kind of anemia. Anemia affects your red blood cells, which carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. If your body does not make enough hemoglobin because it doesn’t have enough iron, the result will often be iron deficiency anemia. 
Low ferritin levels are often the precursor to iron deficiency anemia, and there are many causes of low ferritin levels:
- Excessive blood loss (due to heavy menstrual flow, gastrointestinal bleeding, infections, IBD, cancer)
- Malabsorption of iron (healthy absorption is about 10-15% of the iron we consume)
- Insufficient intake of iron in your diet
To improve your ferritin level, you should consume foods rich in iron such as lentils, kidney and lima beans, spinach, beef, dark meat turkey, chicken legs, chicken livers and cereals fortified with iron.
Low Ferritin Levels and Endurance Athletes
Adequate levels of iron in the blood are critical for endurance athletes such as distance runners and cyclists because of iron’s role in binding oxygen, which must circulate throughout the lungs and muscles in the body. Iron is lost through sweat and also through what is called “footstrike hemolysis,” which occurs when blood cells burst due to foot impact with the ground (occurring primarily in distance runners). Endurance athletes with low ferritin levels will suffer from exhaustion, declining performance, heavy legs, tight muscles and increased risk of injury. If you are an endurance athlete, you must have your iron level checked to ensure your body has a sufficient amount of this essential nutrient.
Low Ferritin Levels Following Gastric Bypass Surgery
Iron deficiency (low ferritin levels) is a common complication following gastric bypass surgery because the stomach and the duodenum are both bypassed in surgery to help people lose weight. Because ionic iron is mostly absorbed in the duodenum, gastric bypass patients are prone to develop iron deficiency anemia. Gastric bypass patients must eat foods rich in Heme (absorbed throughout the small intestine) following surgery and have their iron levels checked twice a year. If you have had or are considering having gastric bypass surgery, please ask your doctor about how this surgery affects your ferritin levels.
If you have been told your ferritin levels are low, or if you have been diagnosed with iron deficiency anemia, please view our iron tablets online store, or you can ask about Proferrin® ES at your local drug store. Always consult your doctor before taking any supplements.
1 Sandi Busch. “What Causes Low Ferritin?” Live Strong http://www.livestrong.com/article/97353-causes-low-ferritin/, March 7, 2011.