Updated: Jul 9, 2020
If you have noticed that you’re starting to lose your hair, you may have also realized how frustrating it can be trying to figure out the root cause.
The most common cause of hair loss is the hormone DHT. It causes the miniaturization of hair follicles, notably in the crown and temples for men, and in the part line for women, which leads to androgenic alopecia. This affects roughly 80 million Americans.
If the cause of your hair loss is not androgenic alopecia it could be due to a lack of any number of nutrients, one of which might be iron. If this is the case, you are not alone. There are 10 million people in the U.S. alone that are iron deficient, including 5 million that have been diagnosed with iron deficiency anemia (a more severe form of iron deficiency). It occurs in roughly 3% of men and 20% of women (more on this in a bit).
I am writing this article to help you understand how low iron intake and hair loss are related. It is important to note that you should always talk to your doctor to determine the cause of your hair loss, taking excess iron may result in toxicity.
Causes of iron deficiency
The most common cause of iron deficiency is not getting the required amount from your diet.
Another less frequent cause is any number of intestinal disorders such as celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, short bowel syndrome and more, which may be causing ineffective nutrient absorption.
As I stated above, the prevalence of iron deficiency is much higher in women vs. men. The main reason for this is pregnancy. 50% of women experience iron deficiency during pregnancy. This is because when a woman is pregnant she needs about double the amount of iron a non-pregnant woman would need. Since the body needs to produce more blood to supply oxygen to the baby, which requires a lot of iron, the stores in the body are quickly depleted.
How does iron deficiency cause hair loss?
Iron plays a critical role in the production of the protein hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is used by the body to transport oxygen in the blood. If you are low on iron, it is harder to transport oxygen to the hair follicles. This can be very detrimental to hair health as the hair uses oxygen for stimulation of growth and repairing damaged hair.
Another speculation in the scientific community that is that ferratin could be a contributor to iron deficiency. Ferratin is a protein that the body uses to store iron. The hypothesis is that when your body is low in iron it borrows ferratin from the hair follicles to ensure that vital organs contain enough of the protein. This may cause a breakdown in the hairs structure leaving it prone to damage or falling out. One study showed a correlation between lower blood-iron levels and people with pattern hair loss and concluded that screening for iron deficiency in patients with pattern hair loss “might be worthwhile in the clinical field.”
In most cases, hair loss from iron deficiency is reversible, but you have to be patient for regrowth. Sometimes hair can take several months to grow back once your iron levels have normalized. This is because your hair has to complete all of the stages of the hair cycle, which vary in length depending on the person. Try not to be discouraged though because some forms of hair loss don’t allow for regrowth whatsoever.
Fact: When preforming an iron deficiency test, doctors look at the ferratin levels in your blood. This helps them determine whether or not you need to take iron supplements.
The signs of iron deficiency
Iron deficiency-related hair fall commonly occurs in the pattern synonymous with male and female androgenic alopecia. Again, the common areas to look for hair loss are in the temples and crown for men, and down the part line in women as well as dry and/or damaged hair, skin, and nails. Again, it is highly recommended that you consult with a doctor to get a deficiency test and make sure that the pattern hair loss you are experiencing is due to iron and not DHT or a different cause.
Common symptoms to watch out for are exhaustion, pale skin, shortness of breath, and increased heart rate. Less common symptoms are listed here.
I cannot emphasize enough that you need to consult your doctor before getting on an iron supplement. Iron toxicity can occur when a person is consuming too much iron and can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pain. Iron also accumulates in the body because the body is not able to store excess in which case it is most commonly stored in the liver, heart, and pancreas, all which are susceptible to damage if the exposure is prolonged.
The best way to avoid iron deficiency is to maintain a healthy diet.
If you suspect that your hair loss may be caused by iron deficiency talk to your doctor right away to get a blood test done. Never take iron supplements for hair loss without being tested first as hair loss could be caused by a number of different reasons and taking too much iron can lead to much worse problems.