I first noticed something was off when I couldn’t maintain my usual pace during my evening power walks. I felt slightly winded, and I couldn’t even keep up with my husband who usually can’t keep up with me! Around that time, there had been instances when I had to hold myself up at the kitchen counter just to get dinner started, and then my husband would have to finish cooking and serve me in bed because I felt so wiped out. It was time to see the doctor! He looked at my ferritin results from my physical earlier in the year. The only reason my ferritin had been tested is because I choose to see a “boutique” doctor. My doctors in the last 2 practices I had gone to had never tested it. Lo and behold, my level was 8! ROCK BOTTOM!
Now mind you, 8 is actually within the lab reference range and therefore had not been flagged. However, lab reference ranges are not synonymous with optimal ranges. My doctor asked if my multi-vitamin contained iron (yes), if I had heavy periods (no), and if I ate meat (yes). So he prescribed Ferocon, a medical food containing iron and intrinsic factor (liver concentrate and various vitamins to help with absorption). After a few weeks I began to feel noticeably better.
Now is a good time to tell you what ferritin is. It is a protein that stores iron and releases it in a controlled fashion. Plasma ferritin indicates how much stored iron you have. Many doctors think that if your iron level is fine then you are fine. But your iron level only tells part of the story. All the while that I had no energy, my blood iron level was normal. But the only reason it was normal was because all of my stored iron was being used up to keep it that way.
I decided to keep taking Ferocon after reading that some doctors recommend a minimum ferritin level of 50 for a feeling of general well-being. My next blood check showed that I was there, so my doctor told me to stop taking it. I had suffered some hair loss (clumps) while taking a certain medication and it didn’t seem to be growing back whatsoever. I knew that ferritin was instrumental in hair growth, and that my level might have fallen again. I went back on Ferocon and decided to keep taking it until my level was around 90. It’s generally agreed upon that hair growth is best supported with a level of 70-90.
It took 1.5 years to reach 90, even after adding more red meat to my diet. Clearly something was keeping me from absorbing iron like a normal person. My GI doctor tested me for h. pylori and Celiac disease. Negative. I eventually asked to be tested for SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) to find out why my thyroid antibodies might have increased. BINGO! I tested positive, and and while I was waiting for the results, I read that the particular bacteria that can live in your small intestine, where in fact there should be none, survives in part on iron!!! So until I deal with the SIBO, I know that I need to stay on Ferocon.
My takeaway for you is that if you are less energetic than normal or your hair is suddenly thinning, ask your doctor to test your ferritin right off the bat….and don’t let him tell you that you’re fine just because your level is within range.