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What Is Transferrin?

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  • Written By: Harriette Halepis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 06 April 2014
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Transferrin is a blood plasma protein that is found in humans. The main function of this protein is to deliver iron ions to various parts of the body. Transferrin is a type of glycoprotein that effectively allows iron to group together tightly. Thus, it is an essential part of the human body that is largely responsible for all iron distribution.

When a blood plasma protein comes in contact with a transferrin receptor, found on the surface of cells, the protein attaches itself to the receptor. As a result, iron is delivered into the receptor. Most of this blood plasma protein located inside the body comes from the liver. However, other parts of the body, including the brain, produce this protein as well.

If a transferrin imbalance occurs within a human, the consequence of this imbalance is often dire. People who have an increased amount of transferrin often suffer from iron deficiency anemia. Those that have lower levels of this protein tend to suffer from a protein deficiency. Both high and low levels of iron can usually be combated by taking prescribed medication. Left untreated, these conditions can be serious, and sometimes even fatal.

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In order to detect iron levels within the body, a transferrin receptor test is given. This test will determine whether or not a patient is suffering from low or high levels of iron. This test is only performed if a medical doctor suspects that a patient may be suffering from an iron imbalance. Fatigue, weakness, headaches, dizziness, and trouble concentrating are all symptoms that iron levels may not be properly balanced. Anyone experiencing any of these symptoms should consult with a medical doctor right away. More often than not, an iron imbalance is caused by an improper diet.

Presently, scientists are experimenting with the manipulation of these protein cells in the hopes that added protein cells will help to combat cancerous tumors. In addition, some scientists believe that an iron deficiency may be linked to other diseases such as Parkinson's Disease and clinical depression. Clearly, transferrin is far more than a simple blood plasma protein. When this protein is reduced or elevated, humans can suffer a number of different ailments. People that consume a vegetarian, vegan, or junk food laden diet should have their iron levels checked regularly. Changing iron levels within the body is easy to do, but only if a problem is detected in the first place.

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Perdido
Post 4

I have hemochromatosis. My body stores too much iron, and it starts to build up in my pancreas, liver, and heart.

I had been complaining of feeling weak and tired, but I also had started experiencing joint and abdominal pain. These were all symptoms of having too much iron in my system, so my doctor ordered a transferrin saturation test.

This test would show the amount of iron bound to the transferrin. My transferrin saturation was 65%, and anything over 45 is too much.

I had to have a pint of blood removed a couple of times a week over a period of three months for my iron levels to get back to normal. After that, I started having additional pints removed every 3 months, and I will have to do this for the rest of my life.

Each year, I have a ferritin test. The results show my doctor if he should be removing my blood more frequently or less often. It’s something that I just have to live with, and as long as I have the phlebotomies, I’m fine.

wavy58
Post 3

@seag47 - The level of pain involved in a transferrin receptor test depends on your tolerance for needles and having blood drawn. Some people are used to it and have no problems. Others have a crippling fear of needles and refuse to get tested.

My doctor suspected that I had too much iron in my system, so he ordered a ferritin transferrin test. This just means that he tested to see how much iron my body was storing. I knew that he would have to take a blood sample, but I didn’t mind, because I have had to give blood several times in my life.

The nurse wrapped a piece of rubber around my elbow and tied it tightly. This helped her find a vein. She had a needle and catheter with a long tube leading to a vial, which she filled with my blood.

I believe she took three vials in all. Then, she gave me a cotton ball to press onto the punctured spot while she grabbed a bandage. Within a few minutes, the bleeding had stopped and I removed it.

seag47
Post 2

I’ve been feeling really weak and tired for the past few months. I know that I eat way more vegetables and fruits than red meat. When I do eat meat, it’s usually fish or chicken, so I probably don’t get enough iron in my diet.

What does a transferrin receptor test involve? I know that I should probably go to my doctor and have her check my iron levels, but I would like to know what to expect. What sort of samples do they take from you, and is any of it painful?

OeKc05
Post 1

My iron levels were off when I was a kid. Considering the things I ate, it’s no wonder.

Even though my mom made sure to feed me vegetables at supper, the majority of my diet consisted of potato chips, chocolate, and fried foods like chicken and french fries. That’s all I wanted to eat. I probably wouldn’t have eaten health food in the middle of the day even if that’s all my mom offered me.

My doctor gave me this iron supplement that tasted awful. It was a brown liquid, which did nothing to make it more appetizing. It just tasted like something I should not be putting in my mouth.

It even made me vomit. My mother made a deal with me. She said that if I promised to eat more healthy foods, I wouldn’t have to take the iron supplement.

The nausea I experienced from the horrid taste was enough to make me start replacing some of my junk food snacks with iron-rich foods like raisins, spinach, and beans. I found out that I actually like the taste of baby spinach with Italian dressing, so that became my new favorite snack.

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