Iron Deficiency in a Vegan: Cured

Here’s some good news.

In March of 2012, a vegan woman wrote me saying that her serum ferritin levels were 8 ng/ml. The reference range for her laboratory was 10-232 ng/ml. Generally, a healthy level is above 18 ng/ml with levels as low as 12 ng/ml being associated with complete depletion of iron stores.

Instead of supplementing with iron, she:

• Increased beans and spinach from once every two weeks to two to three times a week (yes, she had been eating surprisingly few beans for a vegan)

• Replaced brown rice with quinoa (which has about twice the amount of iron)

• Stopped drinking coffee with meals

• Added a 500 mg vitamin C tablet or an orange to a couple of her high-iron meals a week

She just got her iron tested again and it was 28 ng/ml. A big increase which puts her well above iron deficiency!

As fate would have it, Ginny Messina has also written an article today about iron in vegan diets, Iron Nutrition: Why the Rules are Different for Vegans.

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10 Responses to “Iron Deficiency in a Vegan: Cured”

  1. Bertrand Russell Says:

    Congrats on helping this person. Nice to see you and Ginny coordinating!

  2. Lisa Says:

    maybe kale would have been better than spinach. I thought that even though spinach is very high in iron it’s not absorbed very well???

    either way sounds like it worked out for her :-)

  3. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Lisa,

    It’s calcium that isn’t absorbed well from spinach.

  4. Lisa Says:

    ooops! glad for the clarification cause I really thought it was the iron! thanks for the info!

  5. Ben Says:

    Last time I checked, my ferritin levels were 309 ng/ml. Could it be Iron Overload? What’s the treatment for this condition? I had asked my doctor about that, and she told me there’s no need to be worried.

  6. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Ben,

    Your doctor would know better than I do, but there is a lot of information on line – it’s not a controversial area to my knowledge.

  7. Dan Hackam Says:

    Moderate iron deficiency – as gauged by ferritin – is not necessarily a bad thing. In one large randomized trial, patients with PAD who underwent phlebotomy to lower their ferritin levels actually had half the rate of cancer mortality than the control group. Iron is heavily pro-oxidative, feeds infections, and quantities are far too high in the average North America. Of course if you are a premenopausal female who is fainting, tired and anemic with a low ferritin, then sure, you do need more dietary iron. Let’s also not forget that ferritin is an acute phase reactant.

  8. Gauri Says:

    Is it possible to achieve ferritin level of 50 to 70 ng/mL through diet alone? I’m a premenopausal woman. What’s the ideal level for me?

  9. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Gauri,

    > Is it possible to achieve ferritin level of 50 to 70 ng/mL through diet alone?

    It depends on the person. Many people achieve ferritin levels that high.

    > What’s the ideal level for me?

    I don’t think there’s an “ideal” level. But above 18 ng/ml is considered “not deficient”. Trying for closer to 50 might be a good idea so you don’t dip into the deficiency range.

  10. Gauri Says:

    Jack, thank you for answering my question.

    I’m vegetarian. I’ve lost a lot of hair. I found out from a dermatologist who specialises in hair disorders that ferritin level of at least 50 ng/mL is necessary for regrowth. I want to see if I can get there through diet alone. I have read your post on iron on veganhealth.org.

    Once again thank you for the help.

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