Iron Levels are Like Goldilocks, Not Too Much, Not Too Little…Just Right!

iron magnetLike many components of your blood, your Iron level has a window of optimal function, swinging too far in either direction, too much or too little,  creates problems that can leave you feeling tired and achey!  If iron moves far enough in one direction or the other then it ultimately can turn into a diagnosis of iron anemia or iron overload.  How do you know when your iron is inching its way in the wrong direction that could eventually create one of these more serious situations? Is your doctor looking for that and what questions do you ask to find out if she is?!

In the work that I do as a Physical Therapist and Nutritionist, I always have a very keen eye looking for the first signs and symptoms of issues that, if addressed at an early stage, can not only be eliminated but can also prevent potentially serious or chronic conditions down the road.   Iron rising or falling in the blood is something that can easily be found and addressed if someone knows what to look for and when found can potentially avoid serious health issues in the future!


There are several blood values that one thinks would be the measurement to look at when you want to know about that particular nutrient in the blood but actually, when you only look at the value that you are interested in it doesn’t always give you the information you need. This is true for glucose, Vitamin B12 and iron.  In other words, you think you would just measure serum iron because you are wanting to know about  iron (or glucose or Vitamin B12 for that matter).  But serum iron by itself may not tell you that the total iron in your body is actually too low or too high.

There is more to the picture so let’s see what that is!


geritolBack in the days of Geritol we learned that iron poor blood can make you lose your vim and vigor, that your zest for life is kaput! That can be very true since iron is a key component of the  oxygen carrying metalloprotein called hemoglobin which is on each of our red blood cells!  Without iron you don’t have hemoglobin and without hemoglobin you don’t have oxygen and without oxygen — you don’t feel so good! Iron deficiency is one thing but when it advances to the level of affecting your red blood cells now you have iron deficiency anemia.  This MUST be found and fixed before other chronic problems can permanently change!   Pregnant women and menstruating women should know their iron status and particularly so if you experience heavy flow during your period.

Signs and symptoms of iron falling may initially go unnoticed which is why it’s important to ask your doctor to look for it.  As iron continues to fall, typical symptoms can include fatigue, low endurance, weakness, irritability and even shortness of breath or dizziness. Signs to look for are pale skin, tongue, nail beds or inner eyelids, a sore tongue, brittle nails, headaches, elevated heart rate, feeling cold and possibly pica which is a desire to eat unusual non-food substances.  This last sign is something to watch for particularly in young children.

The table below summarizes what values ask your doctor about and how these values change as iron is increasing or decreasing in the blood.


tired man on bench cropToo much iron in the blood presents a problem just as much as too little iron does. In fact, because iron is such a highly oxidative compound, (iron rusts easily, right?), it’s dangerous for our organs to be exposed over time to high levels of iron that can cause heart attacks, liver disease and diabetes. Symptoms to look for include  fatigue, joint or abdominal pain, bronzing of the skin, irregular heart beats and shortness of breath.

Too much iron in the body can come from a hereditary condition called hemochromatosis where iron accumulates in the tissues or from taking in too much iron whether that’s from supplements, iron cookware and even high iron foods.

Because of the damaging effects of iron overload it’s very important to detect high iron levels early on. Treatment in this case is to avoid iron intake, get rid of iron cookware and your doctor would advise you to get periodic blood draws in order to relieve your body of high iron blood.  Genetic testing can be done to discover whether you have the genetic condition of hemochromatosis.


Did you notice that low and high iron have some similar symptoms of fatigue, aches and pains, heart rate irregularity and shortness of breath?  These are also symptoms that can come from a variety of other issues which is why it’s important to include iron changes in the blood as a possibility.

The following table shows you what values to ask your doctor to test for and which values change first when iron is rising or falling.  No need to memorize any of this, just know that if you experience any of the symptoms for iron abnormalities you’ll know what to ask your doctor to test for besides serum iron!


Ferritin an iron storage value that decreases 1st as iron decreases will increase if iron stores are high in the body
Serum Iron may be normal or decreased may be normal or elevated
Total Iron Binding Capacity (TIBC) will go up as iron goes down, can also be normal will go down as iron goes up, can also be normal
Iron Saturation may be normal in early stages and then low the key marker for high iron and will be high


About Sheila Wagner PT, CN, BCHN

Sheila’s cutting edge ability to uncover hidden source(s) of health issues when no one else has is the first piece to her step wise approach in solving your persistent health complaints.

+Sheila Wagner is the ultimate expert assisting people nationwide to finally fix their health through 1:1 consults, group programs, lectures and classes.

Opinions & Feedback:

  1. It’s a great service to explain about iron levels in much more detail than the docs ever do. I’d never heard of the symptoms of low levels of iron. Thanks, Sheila.

  2. Very interesting, thanks Sheila! I often hear of low iron, I have never heard of high iron levels before. So important to look after our bodies – without our health we have so little!

  3. Great summary and great topic Sheila. yes, interesting how both low and high can have similar symptoms which is why testing is imperative! I think everyone should get these tests done and I encourage my clients to have their doctors run them.

    I also find some menopausal women discover that they in fact have an iron overload symptom but were not aware of it when they were younger because of menstruation.

    Nice new look to your site BTW

  4. Sheila,
    This is all news to me. I appreciated the low and high impact information.
    Who would have known.

  5. Wow!! How interesting! Aren’t our bodies just AMAZING! Your love for what you do simply SHINES through everything you do, Sheila! You are definitely living a True Rich life!
    Katherine C. H. E.
    Author, Be True Rich

  6. Thanks for sharing! I’ve never known what to look for or what tests to ask for. It’s amazing how our bodies “talk” to us. Love that you’re telling us what it’s saying!

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