We’ve just had another mentoring case in which a 40 something female with deficiencies of almost all other minerals but ‘pretty normal ferritin levels’ presented with a range of endocrine problems and arthralgia. Sounds as if iron’s not the problem right? Except that in this case her iron studies also tell us that her transferrin saturation % on last check was 48%. The diagnostic criteria for hereditary haemachromatosis (HH) necessitates elevated ferritin – to indicate that the iron stores are reaching saturation, however, while this becomes evident at relatively young ages in men (20s-40s), who have no specific excretory pathway for iron, is this still appropriate in menstruating female, whose monthly periods may mask the HH tendency with regard to ferritin? I’m guessing you know what my answer is already! 😉
Some would argue that HH, in spite of being an inherited disorder, is only clinically meaningful once the ferritin is elevated ( earlier and more potent elevations are seen in people possessing the C282Y genotype) but again this is very much up for debate in the current scientific literature, with a lot of research concluding that the transferrin saturation (also referred to as the transferrin ratio) being an important prognostic indicator for various chronic diseases including CVD.
When we go back to basics and remember the higher the transferrin percentage the more iron is being delivered to tissues around the body (whether they like/want it or not! so we refer to this as being ‘iron dumping’) and the higher the serum iron, the more unbound iron is in the system – a key source of oxidative stress..it becomes patently clear that these two parameters are important early warning signs of a tendency to iron overload, increased risk of heavy metal toxicity and already active mineral imbalance. So in future keep your eyes open for women with fasting transferrin saturation values that consistently sit above 35% and men, > 40% and if you do see a series of suspicious values – consider the genotype test through mainstream labs.