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When you’re insulin resistant, that is, you’ve got metabolic syndrome, pretty much every chemical in the body is NOT QUITE RIGHT. Some are up. Some are down. Few are actually at physiologically NORMAL levels.
Traditionally the focus is on the big guns.
- And cholesterol
In this series, we take a look at some of the other players.
Who they are, what they’re up to and how they’re part of the state of insulin resistance.
Ferritin in the insulin resistant
In metabolic syndrome, ferritin levels are typically HIGHER, than normal. This increase in ferritin, often goes, hand in hand, inflammation.
So what exactly is ferritin ?
Well, it’s NOT a hormone, it’s a housekeeping protein, produced by cells. It’s job is to keep iron molecules “in their place”.
Iron’s baby sitter
You see, cells need iron. It is used to make, some pretty important proteins work.
The problem with iron, is it is DANGEROUS, if just left hanging around.
This is a side effect of it’s ability to move electrons around, when the electrons fly “away”, in an uncontrolled manner, it can result, in a free radical.
The value of iron
This reactivity is actually what makes iron so valuable, electrons, MAKE THINGS HAPPEN.
But, their reactivity needs to be CHANNELLED.
The proteins that have iron atoms, buried deep inside of them, are designed to use the reactivity, to do some pretty cool chemistry. But, if it just zoots around inside the cell, it can do quite a bit of damage. The ferritin makes sure this doesn’t happen.
So maybe you’re thinking……………..more ferritin inside the cell is a good thing.
Location, location, location….
The problem is the ferritin IS NOT INSIDE the cells.
The ferritin inside the cell is good, but when ferritin levels are being measured, you’re looking at how much ferritin is in the blood i.e. IT’S NOT INSIDE cells.
Which brings us to the issue……
The ferritin is NOT doing a great job, holding onto the iron. And this is because, the cell is not doing a great job holding onto the ferritin.
Trouble with a capital T
Basically, the ferritin in the blood is a sign of a “problem”.
One of the “problems” is believed to be cell damage.
Now we can debate, why so many cells have been damaged. It is likely that the immune system has a hand in the destruction, since ferritin levels typically rise in situations, where there is lots of inflammation.
In fact, ferritin status, is a good proxy for INFLAMMATION.
Measuring your iron status
When there is no inflammation, ferritin is a good proxy for iron status, because under these circumstances, how much ferritin is in the circulation, is proportional to the amount of iron in your body.
Basically, the more iron stores you have, the more ferritin will be in the blood.
The problem in metabolic syndrome is the ferritin IS NOT INSIDE. It’s outside. And a lot of the iron molecules, so carefully stacked inside the ferritin are not along for the ride. They’ve fallen off.
And they’re circulating…………………….. creating “reactions” everywhere they go.
Reactions = DAMAGE
So what gets damaged ? Pretty much everything that an unaccompanied iron molecule bumps into.
In addition to oxidizing things, left, right and centre…….those floating iron atoms, wake up the dead.
So you don’t want high ferritin levels, if you can help it.
Options to lower ferritin
Now, stopping inflammation, is a worthy goal, but the practicalities are not so simple.
So if you cannot directly stop the ferritin from being released, you want to do something about stopping it’s cargo, from floating around, unaccompanied.
First things first…..
Get enough iron. Not too little, not too much. The more iron stores you have, the more iron will spill out, when cells get damaged.
Only supplement when you are REALLY deficient.
If you are already a little “top” heavy, one way to decrease your iron stores, is to regularly donate blood.
It’s a win-win story. You’ll save someone else’s life and improve your body chemistry.
Finally mop up the excess. Remember, the problem is free iron, when the iron is attached to “something”, it’s not that big of a deal. Chemicals that “mop” up iron are called iron chelators.
There quite a few options.
Since I like ‘natural” solutions, I would encourage you to include them in your diet, they are typically found in fruits and vegetables, but there are pharmacological options, you might consider, if the situation warrants them.
NOTE : Ferritin is just one of hundreds of chemicals in the body that are amiss when you’re suffering from metabolic syndrome. You can learn more about some of the other players, in our “Ups and Downs of Insulin Resistance” series.
Serum ferritin is an important inflammatory disease marker, as it is mainly a leakage product from damaged cells. Metallomics (2014) 6 : 748. Douglas B. Kell and Etheresia Pretorius
Cardiovascular benefits of phlebotomy:relationship to changes in hemorheological variables. Perfusion (2014) 29(2):102-16. RE Holsworth, YI Cho, J J Weidman, GD Sloop, and JA St. Cyr.
Iron accumulates inside the human body, especially the brain. Iron and oxygen don’t mix……. the combination leads to rusty parts and serious breakdowns.
When an iron pump in the pancreas runs full steam for too long, beta cells die and diabetes begins. Turning the pump down, is enough to stop diabetes.
Babies fed iron enriched formula, in the absence of iron deficiency, end up performing worse on standardised tests of cognitive performance at the age of 10.