female scientist holding a blood vial

What Are Normal Blood Iron Levels?

If you have symptoms of low iron, such as low energy levels and pale skin, then your doctor may want to test your iron levels. It is important to find out if you have low iron levels to adjust your diet and take supplements if needed. Below, we share everything you need to know about normal iron levels and what to do if your levels are low.

How do iron levels impact the body?

Iron is important because it supports the function of hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is responsible for transporting oxygen in the blood. Low iron levels will result in low hemoglobin, which can cause symptoms like fatigue, pale skin, and heart palpitations.

Iron influences energy levels and cognitive function since it carries oxygen to the muscles and brain. For this reason, low iron levels can also cause brain fog, poor focus, and irritability.

Many foods contain iron, such as red meat, dark chocolate, white beans, cooked spinach, lentils, and oysters. Not all iron-containing foods are well absorbed by the body, however. Consuming iron with foods that contain vitamin C can help to increase iron absorption. Foods containing vitamin C include strawberries, oranges, and bell peppers.

What are normal iron levels?

Normal iron levels are based on several different values, including:

  • Iron: 60 – 170 mcg/dL
  • Total iron-binding capacity (TIBC): 240–450 mcg/dL
male scientist holding a blood vial
  • Transferrin saturation: 20 – 50%

Blood iron levels can fluctuate quickly due to supplements, inflammation, infections, and other factors, so multiple types of tests may be used to determine if your blood iron level are normal for your age and sex.

Certain foods and medications can also influence iron test results, so if tests seem abnormal, you may need to be retested to confirm results.

What does testing iron levels involve?

Iron levels can be checked using blood tests. There are a couple of different types of iron tests, including:

  • Ferritin measures how much iron is stored in the body.
blood vials and syringes
  • Serum iron tests the amount of iron in the blood.
  • Transferrin tests look for transferrin, a protein that moves iron around in the body.
  • Total iron-binding capacity (TIBC) measures how well iron attaches to transferrin and the other proteins in the blood.

You can easily have an iron test performed in your doctor’s office. You can even test yourself using a DIY kit at home. However, self-diagnoses are not usually recommended. DIY iron tests are convenient, but they are not always accurate, and you will still need a doctor’s guidance for a diagnosis and treatment plan.

How much iron do you need per day?

Daily iron intake levels vary depending on age and gender. For adult men, it is recommended that daily iron intake is around 8mg. The recommended iron intake for adult women is 18 mg from 19 to 50 years of age and 8 mg for 50 years. Iron recommendations are much higher (27 mg) for pregnant women since iron is important for pregnancy and fetal development.

If your doctor thinks you may have iron deficiency anemia, they may order additional tests to determine the levels of key blood components, including:

  • Hematocrit: The percentage of blood made up of red blood cells. Normal hematocrit is 35.5 – 44.9 percent for women and 38.3 – 48.6 percent for men.
  • Ferritin: A protein that helps with iron storage in the body. Low ferritin usually occurs with iron levels as well.
  • Hemoglobin: Low levels of this oxygen-transporting protein indicate anemia. A normal hemoglobin range is 13.2 – 16.6 g/dL for men and 11.6 – 15 g/dL for women.

What treatment options are available for abnormal iron levels?

Your treatment will depend on your diagnosis.

  • Low iron levels will typically require iron supplementation and/or diet changes.
  • Higher iron levels warrant cutting iron out of your diet or stopping use of iron supplements if you have been using these.

How do high iron levels affect the body?

If you have been found to have high iron levels, you can develop hemochromatosis or iron overload which occur when the body stores too much iron.

Too much iron is dangerous because it can cause issues with major organs, including the heart, liver, and pancreas. Early diagnosis and treatment of iron overload are essential in preventing organ damage.

Complications of iron overload include:

  • Heart failure
  • Arrhythmia
  • Enlarged liver
  • Scarring of the liver
  • Liver failure
  • Liver cancer
  • Arthritis
  • Diabetes

How do low iron levels affect the body?

If you have low iron levels, then it may lead to iron deficiency anemia. Your body needs iron to make hemoglobin, which is responsible for transporting oxygen in the blood. Without enough hemoglobin, your body and tissues become poorly oxygenated and cause a wide range of symptoms.

Iron deficiency symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Pale skin
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Brittle nails
  • Headaches

Low iron levels can occur for many reasons, including inadequate iron intake and blood loss. Your doctor may recommend taking an iron supplement if your iron levels are low. Pregnant women are advised to increase their iron intake to compensate for increased iron needs throughout pregnancy.

Low iron levels are sometimes genetic, such as in individuals with celiac disease. Celiac disease makes it difficult for the body to absorb enough iron through the intestines.

Final thoughts

If you think you may have abnormal iron levels, it is important to seek professional help. If you want to take an iron test at home, then it is important to use a professional medical service rather than a DIY test kit. Blood testing can help determine if you have normal iron levels for your age and gender. Treating an iron deficiency or iron overload requires the help of a trained professional to prevent dangerous side effects. Talk with your doctor about getting tested today.

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