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What Is Iron Saturation?

Iron saturation is the amount of iron in a person's bloodstream.
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  • Written By: Lakshmi Sandhana
  • Edited By: PJP Schroeder
  • Last Modified Date: 09 November 2014
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The amount of iron present in the bloodstream is an important indication of the health of the body. There are certain tests a person can take to determine if they have high or low levels of iron in his or her system. One such test measures the iron saturation in the body, which is an indicator used to gauge the amount of total body iron. It also gives an idea of how well the body transports and binds with this very essential nutrient. Abnormalities in the iron saturation level may be indicative of conditions like anemia, liver cirrhosis, and diabetes.

If a person's iron levels are too high or too low, there will be a number of signs and symptoms. Anyone experiencing a sore tongue, dizziness, and chronic fatigue may have low iron levels. Those with conditions like lessened libido, joint pain, and abdominal pain may have too much iron in the blood. Sometimes, patients may suffer from iron poisoning bought about by overdosing on iron tablets. In every case, an iron saturation test is needed to determine the state of health.

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The blood protein that binds and transports iron to various parts of the body, such as the liver and bone marrow, is called transferrin. The amount of iron in the blood is calculated by measuring the transferrin-iron saturation percentage or TS%. Typically, the TS% averages between 20 and 40%. A value that's higher is indicative of excess iron in the blood, and lower values indicate an iron deficiency. This percentage is obtained by factoring in the person's serum iron level, the total iron binding capacity, and the unsaturated iron binding capacity.

Most medical laboratories will furnish all three results when a person takes this test. The percentage reported can be understood in its simplest fashion as the amount of free iron that is being transported by the transferrin. For example, a TS% of 14 means that 14% of the amount of free iron in the blood is being transported by the transferrin. If a person's iron levels are low, the levels of transferrin in the blood increase and vice versa.

Taking an iron saturation test is a relatively easy procedure. The doctor or nurse takes a sample of blood from a person's vein, usually from the arm. The patient is asked to abstain from eating foods before the test to get an accurate reading. Some foods like red meat, vitamin C-rich fruit juices, and alcohol have temporary effects on blood iron levels that can skew the results.

Bad eating habits are one of the major causes of low iron saturation. Some other causes could be continuous drug use, pregnancy, and heavy menstrual flows. Intestinal disorders may also affect iron absorption, leading to low iron levels. A diet that concentrates on iron-rich foods will go a long way toward regaining full health. It's best to consult a physician before supplementing one's diet with iron supplements.

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