Hair loss is a condition that can immensely impact the psychological state of an individual. If you start experiencing all of a sudden, out of nowhere, you can’t help but think about what’s wrong. While there are many reasons for hair loss in both males and females, one that’s somewhat overlooked is iron deficiency hair loss.
Iron deficiency can happen because of different reasons. You may be losing blood because of a health condition, or it is something that’s cyclical and happens everything month. The latter reason is why iron deficiency affects more women than men. In addition, pregnancy also increases the risk of this nutritional deficiency.
What is Iron Deficiency?
There are three types of iron present in the body, and iron deficiency happens because of their inadequacy. These are as follows:
- Storage iron – indicates the amount of iron stored in the body. This binds to a protein called ferritin. Usually, iron deficiency is measured in the body by measuring the level of this protein in the blood.
- Transport iron – binds to transferrin protein so that iron can be circulated in the blood.
- Functional iron – is found in the haemoglobin of red blood cells.
It begins with depletion of iron (ID) followed by latent iron deficiency (anaemia isn’t present at this stage). Lastly comes iron deficiency anaemia (IDA).
- Iron depletion is marked by a decrease in storage protein.
- In latent iron deficiency, both storage and transport irons decrease.
- In iron deficiency anaemia, all three iron types are lower in quantity.
Signs of Iron Deficiency
You may have an iron deficiency if you’re experiencing the following:
- Intense headaches
- Feeling of tiredness
- Pale skin (because of insufficient oxygen supply)
- Tachycardia (rapid heartbeat)
- Shortness of breath
- Sore tongue
- Odd cravings (such as clay, chalk and ice)
- Brittle nails
- Hair loss
Depending on the severity of the deficiency, the symptoms can vary. It is also possible that people with iron deficiency and anaemia sometimes don’t show any signs of their problem. You should consult a professional doctor for the diagnosis of this condition.
What Causes Iron Deficiency?
A common reason for iron deficiency among women is blood loss due to menstruation and pregnancy. This can lead to severe anaemia. Before a woman can replenish or make up for the lost blood, the cyclic nature of periods makes this quite hard.
Another reason is, of course, poor diet. Depending on your age and sex, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) can change. It should be:
- 8 mg/day for men and postmenopausal women of all ages
- 18 mg/day for premenopausal women
It is important to note that the iron requirements of vegans are 1.8 times higher than those who eat meat. It is because the amount of iron that enters the circulation system is less. Therefore, it won’t have any positive effects on the body.
Malabsorption is another reason why iron deficiency may occur. Internal bleeding or gastrointestinal blood loss can cause iron deficiency in both males and females.
Can Iron Deficiency Cause Hair Loss?
Yes. A study showed that ferritin concentration (used to determine iron deficiency) was lower in people under the age of 40 who had alopecia areata, androgenetic alopecia in females and telogen effluvium (stress hair loss). Tests have been performed where an increase in ferritin concentration (orally administered) led to a decrease in stress hair fall.
The hair cells of humans divide at a rapid rate. They need a constant supply of well-oxygenated blood. The iron is what makes our blood taste and smell metallic. It is essential for the production of haemoglobin. Without this protein, our red blood cells (RBCs) won’t be able to carry oxygen to the body cells.
Its absence will inevitably lead to hair fall. Because of iron deficiency hair loss, your body will prioritize sending oxygen to more important organs. That does not include the hair cells on your scalp. For women who have iron deficiency, experiencing hair loss is quite common. As the amount of oxygen supplied to hair cells decreases, you can expect your hair to fall.
Iron deficiency has been associated with different types of hair loss, such as:
- Alopecia areata
- Telogen effluvium
- Male Pattern Baldness
- Diffuse hair loss
Iron Deficiency Hair Loss: Early Stage Female Pattern Baldness
One study published in the Journal of Korean Medical Sciences found that iron deficiency can play a role in the development of or further worsening of female pattern baldness. This was especially the case with premenopausal women. While there are studies that suggest that you may develop androgenetic alopecia because of iron deficiency, there’s also research contradicting this conclusion.
Can Hair Loss Due To Iron Deficiency Be Reversed?
Your hair should regrow once the underlying problem has been treated and your normal iron levels restored. It can take several months for your hair to grow back. If, however, iron deficiency hair loss results in pattern baldness, it can be permanent.
You should also be very careful about what you’re applying to your head during this time. That means avoiding using any hair growth treatments unless it has been recommended by your doctor.
Many laboratories measure the serum ferritin concentration (FC) for iron deficiency. Other proteins can be used to indicate other conditions, which is why this is the best method. An important thing to remember, though, is that those who have an infection or inflammation will show greater FC levels. Your doctor will consider these things, which is why you should never self-diagnose your hair loss.
How To Stop Hair Loss From Iron Deficiency?
If you’re wondering how to stop iron deficiency hair loss, the following might help you:
There are some things that you can do on your end to stop (even prevent) iron deficiency hair loss. This includes proper dietary intake of iron. Almost all kinds of meats act as good sources of iron. You can have chicken, beef, turkey, veal, ham etc. Ample consumption of seafood will also do you good. Have some tuna, sardines, salmon, halibut, or haddock for this. It’s also time for you to consume some dark leafy greens, such as broccoli, spinach and kale.
Other than that, nuts (cashew, sunflower, pistachio etc.), beans (black, kidney, lima etc.), raisins, legumes, and food rich in vitamin C will all be helpful to you.
Many medical professionals also prescribe iron supplements. However, you should not consider taking them on your own because it can cause health problems. Your doctor can best advise you about this as some brands’ supplements also contain heavy metals such as lead, cadmium and arsenic. It’s not a regulated industry, after all. Also, keep in mind that you should not take too much iron, as that can also be harmful to your body.
Avoid Tight Hairstyles
Iron deficiency hair loss can be caused as a result of breakage of brittle hair. Your hair isn’t getting the oxygen that it needs to grow or repair any damaged cells. Therefore, you need to make sure that you’re very gentle with your hair until the problem has been solved.
That means that you should avoid any tight hairstyles. It is better to wear your hair loose. Also, when brushing, it’s best to use a wide-toothed comb so that you don’t end up pulling your hair out while you’re dealing with iron deficiency hair loss.
Use Gentle Shampoos & Conditioners
Of course, you’d have to wash your scalp to ensure that it stays healthy. However, you need to be careful about the kind of shampoo that you’re using. That means you should look out for any damaging, stripping ingredients that’ll exacerbate iron deficiency hair loss. It’s best to follow up with a moisturizing shampoo as it will help strengthen the brittle hair.
One way to promote regrowth following iron deficiency hair loss is to undergo PRP therapy. It will use your blood with the plasma concentrate to help heal the hair follicles. Of course, you cannot undergo this treatment if you still have iron deficiency. You need to get treated before getting this.
If you’ve lost your hair permanently due to androgenetic alopecia (which has a link with iron deficiency), then you can consider undergoing hair transplant surgery. However, the patients who have iron deficiency or anaemia need to consult their doctors as blood tests might be needed.
Iron deficiency hair loss can occur due to different reasons, and it has been linked with different types of alopecia. However, hair fall and iron deficiency do seem to have a close relationship, especially considering that it affects the ability of the hair to grow normally. To find out if iron deficiency is causing hair loss, your doctor may recommend a blood test.
Iron deficiency hair loss may be reversible (it can be permanent since it’s linked with androgenetic alopecia). However, you must get treatment as soon as possible.
Better than finding a cure for this, it’s best to prevent it in the first place. And you can do that by ensuring that you’re getting in enough iron through your diet. Iron deficiency is more common in women than men, so they have to be more careful about the amount of iron that they’re consuming each day.
Reviewed and Approved by Dr. Hassan Soueid.