Transferrin is the main protein in the blood that binds to iron and transports it throughout the body. Transferrin is a protein produced by the liver.
Iron is supplied by the diet. About 10% of the ingested iron is absorbed in the small intestine and transported to the plasma. There the iron is bound to transferrin and carried to the bone marrow for incorporation into hemoglobin. Transferrin regulates the absorption of iron into the blood.
Transferrin exists in relationship to the need for iron:
When iron stores are low, transferrin levels increase, whereas transferrin is low when there is too much iron.
Transferrin may also be measured using a value called total iron-binding capacity (TIBC). TIBC is a measurement of all proteins available for binding mobile iron.
Transferrin represents the largest quantity of iron-binding proteins. Therefore TIBC is an indirect yet accurate measurement of transferrin.
Why would you need to check your transferrin levels?
You may need this test if your doctor suspects that you have a certain type of anemia. In general, anemia means you have a low number of red blood cells. One type of anemia is iron-deficiency anemia. If you have this type, you don’t have enough iron to properly make hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the substance that helps your red blood cells carry oxygen.
Low transferrin can impair hemoglobin production (since to make hemoglobin, you have to have iron) and so lead to anemia. Low transferrin can be due to poor production of transferrin by the liver (where it’s made) or excessive loss of transferrin through the kidneys into the urine. Many conditions including infection and malignancy can depress transferrin levels.
Higher transferrin levels can mean that you may have iron-deficiency anemia.
Test results may vary depending on your age, gender, health history, the method used for the test, and other things. Your test results may not mean you have a problem. Ask your healthcare provider what your test results mean for you.
The information on healthmatters.io is NOT intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice.