10 Ways High Ferritin (Iron) Levels Impact Your Health

Ferritin is a blood cell protein that contains iron, so testing it is a great indicator of how much iron your body is storing. Ferritin and iron are used interchangeably when discussing this topic.

A lot of docs consider iron a marginally toxic metal, and even though iron is essential, it’s easy to overdue. When ferritin levels are high, it can have a profound negative effect on health and you will likely feel it quickly, especially the inflammatory effects. For example, in someone with existing joint issues + high ferritin levels + consuming a high amount of iron (a supplement or red meat) = increased inflammation in the joints.

10 Ways High Ferritin (Iron) Levels Impact Your Health

#1: An increase in ferritin increases stress because high iron levels are toxic – this is known as toxic stress.

#2: An increase in ferritin increases inflammatory stress – it’s pro-inflammatory.

#3: Excess ferritin has a negative effect on heart, circulatory system, pancreas, sugar handling, joints and connective tissue, kidney function, and red blood cells.

#4: Excess ferritin causes the skin to age faster.

#5: Excess ferritin increases a person’s risk of diabetes. In recent years, increased iron stores have been found to predict the development of type 2 diabetes while iron depletion was protective. Iron regulates insulin action in healthy individuals and in patients with type 2 diabetes.

#6: There is “cross-talk” between iron metabolism and diabetes. Iron levels affect glucose metabolism, and glucose metabolism interrupts on several iron metabolic pathways. If a diabetic, with existing elevated ferritin, eats something with iron it can have a quick negative effect on blood sugar because iron impairs the islet cells of pancreas.

#7: Excess ferritin increases a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease. It increases free radical stress and oxidation. Since iron increases oxidation, it can also have a negative effect on LDL cholesterol (high bad cholesterol).

#8: Iron feeds infections, especially bacterial infections. With all the information about the microbiome, there are profound implications on what iron is negatively doing to the gut bacteria and even causing the pathogenic bacteria to grow. Iron is a big generator and propagator of infection.

#9: The genetic disease associated with high ferritin is called hemochromatosis. If someone has a high ferritin, they should have blood relatives checked for it too.

#10: There is a correlation between high ferritin levels and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

What Is A Normal Ferritin Level?

Most laboratories will accept between 20-380 ng/mL. But what studies are showing, for some 30 years or more, is you certainly want ferritin to be less than 100 ng/mL. As it turns out, the ideal level of ferritin in men is about 40-70 ng/mL and in women about 40-80 ng/mL. A ferritin blood test is different than testing serum iron.

What If Ferritin is Too High?

Unfortunately, when hematologists look at ferritin, if your levels aren’t 1000 or higher, a treatment likely won’t be implemented. Unfortunately, what this means is dangerous ferritin levels of 400 or 500 ng/mL are often ignored, yet it can still be harming the pancreas and other organs.

What Causes Ferritin To Become Too High?

There are multiple reasons ferritin levels might increase. Here are a few:

  1. The most common causes are elevated ferritin levels are obesity, inflammation and daily alcohol consumption.
  2. Ferritin is stored in many types of cells, including liver cells. With liver damage from any cause, ferritin is leaked into the blood; therefore, high ferritin levels are a possible predictor of the severity of liver damage in nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
  3. High ferritin is also associated with insulin resistance and dysregulation. Since ferritin behaves as a protein, high ferritin can be present when there’s inflammation in the body.

How to Decrease Ferritin

The good news is, ferritin is fairly easy to control. Typically, it’s recommended that people donate blood. You can only donate blood every 56 days, but with that single blood donation, you can get a substantial decrease in ferritin. The combination of donating blood and consuming certain minerals can support a healthy ferritin level.

Minerals That Antagonize Iron

Using minerals that are natural antagonists to iron is an effective way to lower excessively high ferritin. Zinc, Copper, Manganese can all antagonize iron. What does antagonize mean? It’s different than binding iron. Rather, they interfere with iron’s function so then it’s eliminated through the liver, gallbladder, and finally the bowels.

You must maintain a specific ratio of antagonist minerals to do this properly and you must measure the ferritin regularly to ensure the ferritin is decreasing at a reasonable level. There is some risk because you don’t want to lower iron too much or you’ll become anemic.

Antagonistic Mineral Ratios

10 mg Zinc

1 mg Copper

5 mg Manganese

It’s recommended to take this dose, with food, 2-4x/day.

NAC (N-acetyl-choline) and glutathione also work on excess iron and can offset some of the pro-inflammatory effects of higher iron.

How to Supplement With Iron

Once a male reaches his full adult height and weight, he doesn’t need additional iron unless he has a diagnosis of iron-deficiency anemia.

When choosing iron, look for organically bound form of iron, which is best absorbed and less likely to cause an upset stomach. Good iron choices include: iron glycinate, amino acid chelated iron, iron as rice chelate, and iron fumarate.

Definitely avoid iron sulfate, thiosulfate, and iron oxide (this is essentially like rust!). They are unabsorbable and/or cause an upset stomach.

By choosing a high quality, organically bound form of iron (vs. low-quality iron sulfate), you can use a much lower dose and end up delivering a lot more iron to the tissue and cells because it’s that much better absorbed.

Vitamin C and Ferritin

Vitamin C improves iron utilization, so if someone has high iron levels, taking vitamin C can further increase the iron absorption. You don’t want this.

Detoxifying Iron from The Body

When iron is removed, it can generate inflammation and have a negative effect on joints, pancreas and other organs when it comes out. To offset some of that oxidative damage (ie: inflammation and negative effects), an antioxidant is essential. Usually that’s done with Vitamin C, but people with high ferritin don’t want to get more vitamin C, so Vitamin E and vitamin E analogues are a good choice for offsetting those negative effects.

Offset the iron damage with 1200-1600 units/day of Vitamin E.

Ferritin and a Hair Mineral Analysis

Relative to the hair mineral analysis (HMA), excess ferritin increases stress reaction in the body by having an over stimulatory effect on the adrenal glands. This type of stress shows up on a hair test as high sodium levels because sodium on a hair test indicates adrenal stress.

There's an antagonist (negative) and protagonist (positive) ratio between iron and copper. Copper is an important mineral tested on a HMA. As a positive, the body can’t incorporate iron into hemoglobin without adequate copper. On the contrary, part of the reason high iron causes joint pain is because excess iron in proportion to copper intake lowers copper levels within tissues. Copper deficient tissues have an effect on heart structure health. Copper is one of the things that gives integrity to tissues of the blood vessels. People taking a lot of iron and lowering copper at the same time can increase risk of aneurysm.

To learn more about having your hair tested, check out our Hair Mineral Analysis.

In Health and Happiness,

Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods



Wang W et al. Serum Ferritin: Past, Present and Future. Biochim Biophys Acta. 2010 Aug; 1800(8):760-769. 

Lonardo A et al. Role of Serum Uric Acid and Ferritin in the Development and Progression of NAFLD. Int J Mol Sci. 2016 Apr; 17(4): 548. 

Fernandez-Real J.M., Lopez-Bermejo A., Ricart W. Cross-talk between iron metabolism and diabetes. Diabetes. 2002;51:2348–2354.   10.2337/diabetes.51.8.2348. 

Adams P, MD. Management of Elevated Serum Ferritin Levels. Gastroenterol Hapatol (NY). 2008 May; 4(5): 333-334. 

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