What is the Difference Between Iron and Ferritin

Iron and ferritin are both essential components related to iron metabolism in the body, but they have distinct roles. Knowing the difference between iron and ferritin is important to understand how they contribute to overall health and well-being.

What is the difference between iron and ferritin? Iron is a mineral in the body that helps in various physiological functions, whereas ferritin is a protein that acts as a storage locker for iron.

Key Areas Covered

1. What is Iron  
      – Definition, Features 
2. What is Ferritin
      – Definition, Features 
3. Similarities Between Iron and Ferritin
      – Outline of Common Features
4. Difference Between Iron and Ferritin
      – Comparison of Key Differences
5. FAQ: Iron and Ferritin
      – Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

Key Terms

Iron, Ferretin

Difference Between Iron and Ferritin - Comparison Summary

What is Iron

Iron is a mineral that is found in the body. Around 70% of our body’s iron resides in hemoglobin, a protein within red blood cells. Hemoglobin transports oxygen inhaled from the lungs throughout the body, ensuring that all your organs function properly.


Figure 1: Hemoglobin

Iron is also found in myoglobin, which is a protein that is found in muscles and stores oxygen to be used during various activities. Additionally, iron contributes to the production of some hormones and bolsters your immune system.

Our body regulates iron levels. Iron is stored in bone marrow, liver and spleen. It is released from these organs when needed. Iron also comes from dietary sources like meat, fish, eggs, and leafy green vegetables.

Iron deficiency arises due to the inadequate intake or absorption of iron. This leads to iron-deficiency anemia, where red blood cells become smaller and contain less hemoglobin. Symptoms include fatigue, weakness, and shortness of breath. However, excessive intake of iron also can be harmful. Hence, intake of a balanced diet is always adviced for a healthier body.

What is Ferritin

Ferritin is a protein that acts as a storage locker for iron. It securely stores iron ions, releasing them in a controlled manner as the body needs them. This regulated release ensures enough iron is available for hemoglobin production (oxygen transport) and other processes while preventing iron overload, which can be toxic.


Figure 2: Structure of Ferritin

Ferritin acts as the body’s iron reserve. A ferritin blood test measures the amount of ferritin circulating in your blood, indirectly reflecting your total iron stores. Low ferritin levels indicate that there is an iron deficiency. High ferritin levels indicate an iron overload where the body has absorbed too much iron.

This can be due to genetic disorders or excessive intake of iron supplements. Left untreated, iron overload can damage organs like the liver and heart.

Similarities Between Iron and Ferritin

  1. Iron and ferritin are essential for human health.
  2. Both can be found in the same places in the body.

Difference Between Iron and Ferritin


  • Iron is a simple mineral element, existing as iron ions (Fe2+ or Fe3+). In contrast, ferritin is a complex protein molecule composed of hundreds of amino acids arranged in a specific structure.


  • Iron is the essential element utilized by the body for various functions, primarily oxygen transport in red blood cells. Ferritin, on the other hand, acts as a storage unit, holding onto iron and releasing it in a controlled manner as needed by the body.

In the Body

  • While some iron circulates freely in the blood bound to transferrin (a protein carrier), the majority is stored within ferritin molecules. These ferritin “vaults” are found in cells of the bone marrow, liver, and spleen.


In conclusion, iron and ferritin play vital roles in maintaining optimal health and functioning within the body. Iron acts as the essential mineral for various physiological processes, whereas ferritin acts as a key storage protein, safely storing excess iron. Understanding the difference between iron and ferritin is important for getting to know iron metabolism and addressing related health concerns effectively.

FAQ: Iron and Ferritin

1. Can you have low ferritin but normal iron?

In the early stages of iron deficiency anemia, your body may have a low amount of ferritin but a normal amount of iron in the blood.

2. Why ferritin is high, and iron is low?

When ferritin levels are high and iron levels are low, it can indicate various underlying health conditions such as infections, inflammatory disorders, autoimmune diseases, or certain types of cancer.

3. What are the symptoms of low ferritin?

The symptoms of low ferritin levels include irritability, leg pains, shortness of breath, unexplained fatigue, dizziness, chronic headaches, and unexplained weakness. These symptoms often occur due to the decreased ability of the body to transport oxygen efficiently, leading to reduced energy levels and various discomforts.

4. What happens if ferritin is too high?

When ferritin levels are too high, it may indicate a condition called hyperferritinemia. Elevated ferritin levels can result from various factors, including liver disease, hemochromatosis (a genetic disorder causing excess iron absorption), chronic inflammatory disorders, or certain types of cancer.


1. “Iron in biology.” Wikipedia. Wikipedia Foundation.
2. “Ferritin.” Wikipedia. Wikipedia Foundation.

Image Courtesy:

1. “1904_Hemoglobin” By OpenStax College – Anatomy & Physiology, Connexions Web site, Jun 19, 2013. (CC BY 3.0) via Commons Wikimedia
2. “Ferritin” (GPL) via Commons Wikimedia

About the Author: Hasini A

Hasini is a graduate of Applied Science with a strong background in forestry, environmental science, chemistry, and management science. She is an amateur photographer with a keen interest in exploring the wonders of nature and science.

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