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Iron Deficiency & Hair Loss

Hair Loss Due to Iron Deficiency

Iron deficiency in women has been shown in several clinical studies to be a frequent cause of hair loss in non-menopausal women, 35 to 50.

“In women the major cause of hair loss before the age of 50 is nutritional, with 30% affected. Increased and persistent hair shedding (chronic telogen effluvium) and reduced hair volume are the principle changes occurring. The main cause appears to be depleted iron stores, compromised by a suboptimal intake of the essential amino acid l-lysine.” (1)

Another study of 153 women with telogen effluvium conducted from 1995 to 1998 showed that iron deficiency and depletion was the culprit in 72 percent of women. (2)

Hair loss due to iron deficiency affects women and rarely ever men. Women who are most vulnerable include:

  • Joggers
  • Pregnant women
  • Women who have just given birth

If you have been diagnosed with anemia, one side-effect of this illness could be hair loss or increased shedding of hair.

Understanding Low Iron

The major causes of low iron levels falls under 3 main categories.

  • Blood Loss
  • Body’s lack of iron absorption
  • Decreased iron intake

The most common reasons for iron deficiency due to blood loss include: (3)

  • Bleeding in the digestive tract, often due to ulcers and inflammation of the stomach (gastritis).
  • Pregnancy. Blood loss during and after birth may cause a woman to become iron-deficient, which may result in anemia or hair loss.
  • Menstruation. Excessively heavy periods (menorrhagia) can cause an iron deficiency in women, especially when combined with other factors, such as inadequate iron intake.
  • Severe injuries.

A decreased absorption of iron can be caused by medications that reduce stomach acids, lack of stomach acids, chronic diarrhea, and partial removal of the intestines or stomach (gastrectomy). Some foods, such as black or pekoe teas, coffee, bran, soybeans, split peas, dried beans can actually decrease the absorption of iron into the blood stream. Taking Vitamin C when supplementing your diet with iron can actually help absorb iron into the blood stream more completely.

Another cause of low iron might include decreased iron intake or lack of iron in their diet. Good sources of iron include lean red meat, steamed clams, cream of wheat, dried fruit, soybeans, tofu and broccoli.

The Role of Ferritin

Ferritin is a protein that stores iron in the body. The serum ferritin level — the amount of ferritin in your blood — is directly proportional to the amount of iron stored in your body. Ferritin is a more accurate monitor of long term body iron status than the blood iron level, which varies with diet.

Serum ferritin concentrations provide a good assessment of an individual’s iron status…What level of serum ferritin to employ in subjects with increased hair shedding is yet to be definitively established but 70 µg/L, with a normal erythrocyte sedimentation rate (< 10 mm/h), is recommended. The role of the essential amino acid, l-lysine in hair loss also appears to be important. Double-blind data confirmed the findings of an open study in women with increased hair shedding, where a significant proportion responded to l-lysine and iron therapy. (1)

To determine if you have iron deficiency, doctors will most likely conduct a ferritin test.

The amount of ferritin in the blood indicates how much iron the body has in reserve. A level of ferritin above 40µg/l is considered normal. A level of ferritin between 15µg/l and 40µg/l is described as iron deficient and a level below 15µg/l is described as iron depletion.(4)

Solution & Treatment

Hair loss in women and men due to iron deficiency can be easily resolved in most cases with modification of one’s daily diet to include more food rich in vitamins which can include red meat, dried fruit, broccoli, raisins, clams, oysters, and spinach. Iron supplement pills and the amino acid l-lysine can also eliminate the problem. The role of the essential amino acid, -lysine in hair loss also appears to be important. (1) The RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) for Iron is 15 mg for women and 18 mg for men.

Anemia and Iron

The body needs iron to make hemoglobin. If not enough iron is available, hemoglobin production is limited, which in turns affects the production of red blood cells. A decrease in the normal amount of hemoglobin and red blood cells circulating in the bloodstream is known as anemia. Because red blood cells are needed to carry oxygen throughout the body, anemia results in less oxygen reaching the cells and tissues, affecting their function.(5) It is important to note that not all cases of iron deficiency result in anemia. 

Sources:
(1) D.H.Rushton, R.Dover, M.J.Norris. (2003) Is there really no clear association between low serum ferritin and chronic diffuse telogen hair loss?. British Journal of Dermatology 148:6, 1282-1284
(2) Article, Janet L. Roberts, Oregon Health Sciences University, Cited Here
(3) Iron deficiency and hair loss, Paul Lehnert, 2004
(4) Iron deficiency causes female hair loss, L’Oreal/ISTNA, 2004
(5) Iron deficiency anemia, kidshealth.org, 2005