If you have been noticing that you’re starting to lose your hair, you may have also noticed how frustrating it can be trying to figure out the root cause and how to treat it.
Though hair loss can occur due to several different reasons, 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. This results in the hair thinning, or miniaturizing, and eventually falling out. It is always best to talk to your doctor to determine the cause of your hair loss.
If the cause of your hair loss is not androgenic alopecia (pattern hair loss) it could be due to a lack of nutrients, one of which might be iron. If this is the case, you are not alone. According to data 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). Guys, you are much less likely to have to worry about this as it occurs in just 3% of men compared to about 20% of women, sorry ladies.
This article aims to deepen your understanding of how low iron intake and hair loss are related. Though it should be noted, male and female pattern baldness are completely different forms of hair loss, as are the ways of treating them, and supplementing with iron is likely not the best course of action.
What are the causes of iron deficiency?
The most common cause of iron deficiency is not getting enough iron from your diet. Although less frequent, it can also be caused by a number of different intestinal disorders that may be restricting your absorption of nutrients.
One of the main reasons that the prevalence of iron deficiency is higher in women is due pregnancy, in fact 50% of women experience iron deficiency during pregnancy. When a woman is pregnant she needs about double the amount of iron a non-pregnant woman would need. This is due to the fact that the body needs to produce more blood to supply oxygen to the baby, which requires a lot of iron.
How does iron deficiency cause hair loss?
It all boils down to your blood. Iron plays a vital role in the production of the protein hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is used by the body to transport oxygen in the blood. When you are lacking iron, it is harder to transport oxygen to the hair follicles. This can be very detrimental to hair health because the hair uses oxygen not only for stimulation of growth, but also for repairing weak damaged hair.
Another reason that scientists speculate could be a contributor to iron deficiency related hair loss is due to a protein called ferritin. Ferratin is a protein that the body uses to store iron and is also the body’s main form of iron storage. The speculation 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 could cause a breakdown in the hairs structure leaving it prone to damage or falling out. This 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.”
Luckily hair loss from iron deficiency is normally reversible. It is considered temporary hair loss and in most cases your body will be able to grow the hair back, but you have to be patient. Sometimes hair can take several months to grow back once your iron levels have normalized, this is because your hair has to go through stages of the hair cycle, which vary in length depending on the person. Try not to be discouraged though because hey, at least you can get it back relatively easily, unlike those who may be dealing with other forms of hair loss.
Tip: when a doctor is testing you for iron deficiency they look at the ferratin levels in your blood, this helps them determine whether or not you need to start supplementing with iron
Signs of iron deficiency
Here is where things get a bit irritating because 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. Therefore, it is highly recommended to consult with a doctor, and likely get a ferritin test, to make sure that the pattern hair loss you are experiencing is due to iron and not DHT or some other cause.
Some other common symptoms to watch out for are exhaustion, pale skin, shortness of breath, increased heart rate, and a few others.
It cannot be emphasized 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 as susceptible to damage if the exposure is prolonged.
The best way to avoid iron deficiency is to maintain a healthy diet. That means consuming red meat, tuna, shellfish, nuts, broccoli, berries, legumes and more. The iron is out there, you just have to get it.
If you are experiencing pattern hair loss there is a good chance it is caused by DHT in your scalp and not from a lack of nutrients, but if you suspect it is from iron deficiency talk to your doctor right away. Make sure you are looking for several of the other symptoms as well and never go out on a limb and start taking iron supplements, there could be some very negative side effects coming your way if you do.
Alternatively, you could check out Follicle Foundation which not only includes Iron but a lot of other useful vitamins for your hair needs!
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