Author Liwen Y. Ho

My Struggle with Iron Deficiency

Something that’s been on my mind recently is the word ferritin. I’d only learned this word about a month ago when I finally dragged my behind to the doctor’s for a check-up and a blood test (my last one was 7 years ago). Just to let you know, I am extremely afraid of needles. I actually blacked out once after getting a vaccine, and the times I’ve had to get my blood drawn, the technicians always took one look at my face and had me lie down in case I fainted. Lol. So for me to actually request my doctor to order a blood test for me meant I was not feeling well at all. In other words, I was pretty desperate.

I’d been struggling with bad brain fog where I wouldn’t be able to remember words, which is not a great scenario for a writer who uses words all day long! I also had breathlessness, restless legs, and felt exhausted all the time. My hair was falling out more than usual. I’d find a lot more on the bathroom counter and in the sink after I brushed my teeth. And the skin on my hands and feet was dry and cracked. I had chalked up the brain fog to #2020, but when the other symptoms appeared, I knew it was something more. I told my doctor I wondered if I was anemic, so she ordered some blood tests for me, one of which was for my ferritin level.

I somehow got through the blood draw (thank God for the kind and patient tech who used a hot compress to help find my vein!) and got the results later on that day. Everything was as expected, except for my ferritin level. The normal range is between 12 – 30mcg/L. Mine was 14. This is still considered normal and didn’t raise any red flags with my doctor, but the reality of the matter was that I felt anything but normal. That’s when I decided to do my own research online.

I came across this blog post that was a huge lightbulb moment for me: https://maryannjacobsen.com/ferritin-blood-test-women/

In it, the author shares how ferritin is the body’s iron reserves; it’s like the body’s savings account for iron. The iron that’s circulating in your red blood cells throughout the body is like the checking account. So you could technically have normal iron levels in your body according to your CBC (complete blood count) results, but still be iron deficient if your ferritin level is below 30mcg/L. When ferritin dips below 12mcg/L, that’s when you have iron deficiency anemia.

What people don’t realize is that symptoms of iron deficiency—all the ones I’d had—can start showing when your ferritin is below 70mcg/L. But doctors tend to not address low ferritin until you’re anemic. But trust me, you do not want to wait until your level is below 12mcg/L to do something about it! It was a harrowing couple of weeks for me when my symptoms got really bad and I considered going to urgent care and demanding an iron infusion. My needle phobia won out though and I instead did more research and found the Iron Protocol group on Facebook. This group has been a LIFESAVER.

Through the group’s detailed and thorough guides which were carefully researched and put together by the founder Caitlyn, I knew how much iron supplements to take (based on your weight), when to take them (in the morning on an empty stomach and again an hour after lunch), and with the right combination of other supplements (vitamin C and a probiotic containing Lactobacillus plantarum). I’ve been following the protocol for a month now and I’m feeling a lot better. I can breathe better, the restless legs are gone, my hair isn’t falling out as much, and my brain is less foggy. I still deal with fatigue, but I expect to feel even better the longer I continue the iron supplements.

It can take months and sometimes even years, depending on how long you’ve been deficient, to get your ferritin levels up to 125mcg/L for 6 months, which is the minimum level they should be at. I’m thankful that I caught my iron deficiency fairly early and am starting to see some success so quickly. There are other people in the Facebook group who have been struggling for years and are on a more difficult journey than I am. This is one of the reasons why I feel so strongly about sharing my experience.

If you have any of the symptoms below, I urge you to ask your doctor for a blood test and ask specifically to check on your ferritin level. Many doctors unfortunately do not know much about iron deficiency or the importance of your ferritin level. I have to give credit to my doctor for ordering the test for me.

If you have any questions about iron deficiency or ferritin, let me know! I’m happy to share more about what I’ve learned with you.

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Sarah Tham

Thanks for sharing! You inspire me to learn more about this.

Cruise Nation

Great content! Keep up the good work!

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