Low Transferrin: What is it, Causes and Treatment

The term low transferrin it refers to the decrease of the transferrin glycoprotein in the bloodstream. Transferrin is a protein responsible for taking iron consumed daily after being absorbed by the intestine.

This iron is transported by transferrin, and then stored in the liver, spleen and bone marrow.

Low Transferrin: What is it, Causes and Treatment

After being stored in the form of ferritin, iron can be used in different processes, such as in the synthesis of hemoglobin and in the hematopoietic process.

Transferrin is synthesized in the reticuloendothelial system (SRE), although it does so especially in the liver. Its half-life lasts between 8 and 10 days.

Because its half-life is short compared to other proteins synthesized in the liver such as albumin, its measurement in plasma is a reliable indicator of the ability of the liver to synthesize.

However, serum transferrin levels should not be confused with transferrin saturation.

The levels of serum transferrin refer to the amount of protein present in the blood plasma, while the transferrin saturation refers to the percentage of that transferrin in plasma that is occupied transporting iron.

The normal values ​​of transferrin saturation range from 25% to 35%.

The 5 main causes of low transferrin

1- Malnutrition

Some literatures describe a diet low in iron as a direct cause of low levels of plasma transferrin. However, it has been shown that iron does not contribute to the synthesis of transferrin in the liver.

This relationship may be due to the fact that the body is always looking to maintain balance and prevent deficit or excess of any of its molecules and proteins.

Because of this, the organism perceives a decrease in the amount of iron available for body processes and translates it as a need for transferrin; Then it sends the signal to the liver to increase its synthesis and transport more iron for its use.

On the other hand, if the organism perceives an excessive increase of iron available for the hematopoietic processes -or the synthesis of hemoglobin-, it translates it as an excess of transferrin transporting iron and, consequently, sends the signal to the liver to reduce its production.

2- Alcoholism

Because transferrin is synthesized mainly in the liver, the causes of its decrease in plasma are mainly those that may affect liver function.

It has been shown that the consumption of more than 80 grams of alcohol daily can inhibit the glycosylation of some glycoproteins, including transferrin. As a result, low plasma levels are found.

3- Glomerulonephritis

Glomerulonephritis is a pathology in which the filtration capacity of the kidney has been lost.

Therefore, it allows the passage of large molecules that normally would not pass through the glomerulus, such as albumin proteins, gamma globulins and transferrin.

This loss of proteins through the kidney has multiple causes and usually triggers a nephrotic syndrome and low plasma transferrin.

4- Hemochromatosis

Transferrin saturation levels are taken into account for the diagnosis of hemochromatosis.

When the pathology exists, they are usually above 50%, 20% more than the expected normal value.

This means that there is little transferrin in the bloodstream and, therefore, a greater percentage of this must transport iron to meet the needs of the body.

Two transferrin saturation readings above 50% are already considered diagnostic of the disease.

5- Inflammatory processes

Transferrin belongs to the group of serum proteins known as"negative acute phase proteins", which means that their normal serum values ​​decrease by at least 25% when inflammatory processes occur.

This can occur in surgeries, neoplasms, infections, post-traumatic inflammation and any process that triggers the acute phase reactants.


The treatment for low levels of transferrin in the bloodstream depends mainly on the cause that produces it.

More than treatment, in some cases it is about correction measures in eating habits and alcoholics.

In case the low levels of transferrin in blood are due to an excess of iron in the organism, the treatment will be destined to the decrease of iron.

Deferoxamine binds to excess iron in excess (it respects iron in hemoglobin and iron bound to transferrin), and forms chelates that the kidneys can filter and that are excreted in the urine.

Accompanied by a diet low in iron, it is recommended to avoid dietary supplements with iron and vitamin C that favors the absorption of intestinal iron.


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  4. Emanuela Tolosano. US National Library of Medicine National Institute of Health. Hematology 2015 May; 100 (5): 565-566. doi: 3324 / haematol.2015.124966 Increasing serum transferrin to reduce tissue iron overload due to ineffective erythropoiesis. Retrieved from: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
  5. Aisen P, Leibman A, Zweier J (Mar 1978). "Stoichiometric and site characteristics of the binding of iron to human transferrin". The Journal of Biological Chemistry. 253 (6): 1930-7. PMID 204636 Retrieved from: jbc.org

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