Ferritin, a disappointing GP and my own reinforced instinct
A few weeks ago I plodded off to my GP to ask for some blood tests. It had been many years and my instincts are strong....I strongly suspected that some kind of blood oxygenating nutrient in my body was hitting a low point: my hair was shedding too much, my muscles too lethargic to allow me to efficiently exercise and since I've not eaten red meat for 24 years (and I'm only 35), have breastfed two children (two years each) and am a pescaovovegan who rarely supplements...chances were high.
Not according to my GP. And this is precisely why I 'plodded' there, versus happily hopped along: I was expecting a fob-me-off response to my request. I am sadly yet to find a GP for myself who happily engages me in an inspired, preventative health discussion. I work in the medical field and I know the heavy constraints GP's deal with but...an inspired conversation costs nothing and the whole experience of going there and being made to feel like a hypochondriac is very irritating. Thankfully, many of my clients have MUCH more inspired GP's who happily perform full blood tests and that always brings a smile to my face.
The GP said my hair didn't look thin and I shouldn't feel stressed because that will make my hair fall out (duh!). I said I wasn't about to wait till I have a large bald patch before I take action on a process which I know is moving in a downhill direction: I have big ears and big forehead; being bald is not an option.
She didn't like it but I managed to have some blood tests ordered.
Fast forward a few weeks and I get a message to call the doctor...results showed my ferritin is low. I mentally bathed in my lack-of-surprise. I thanked the Universe for giving me the ability to notice and (finally) act when things go downhill. I felt sad for the people who are fobbed off, and let themselves be fobbed off because they feel they have no other choice (or don't have enough faith in their instincts).
Low ferritin means that the body's iron stores are low; incredibly common in women of childbearing age, especially vegetarians. There is no denying that animal protein is the most bioavailable source of iron. Though I eat plenty of eggs and fish (not the greatest animal sources of iron), my own struggles with ferritin began when I was pregnant and breastfed each hungry child fully for two years (no supplemental formula, just food when big enough). Just as excess meat eating brings its own health hazards, so does an inadequate amount of animal protein. Sadly, red meat makes me gag (the only food which does) so I'll be hitting the iron supplements for a while knowing the best source would indeed be a pasture raised cow's meat...but we all have our limits.
Low ferritin is one of the leading causes of female hair thinning. Most doctors will check for anaemia just by doing a full blood count. Many times, a full blood count will show no anaemia (normal haemoglobin) even when ferritin stores are low (this consistently happens to me). When a doctor sees this 'normal level', nothing will trigger them to do further testing. If you feel lethargic, if your hair is falling out, if your immunity is low, if you simply feel 'suboptimal'...ask for a ferritin test too: stores are important: If your body has plenty it will not be stingy and have to prioritise with its resources.
And whatever your health issue; if you feel something is 'off', don't give up till you feel at peace. My GP has no idea about the link between low ferritin and hair loss in women...while doctors know a lot, they do not know it all...especially about nutrition. Ask a good dietitian.