Iron deficiency and hair loss
One of the most common causes of
hair loss in pre-menopausal women is not
hormones, but a nutritional deficiency, with depleted iron stores being one of
the most important factor.
Iron deficiency is defined as having a ferritin level of under 40ng/ml or iron
percent saturation under 20%. Iron is found mainly in the blood, and according
to Dr Michael Sharon, author of Nutrients A-Z 'During one period, a woman will
lose around 10-15 mg of iron, while throughout a
pregnancy around 600-1000mg
will be lost.'
Iron is the mineral that occurs in the greatest amount in the blood. The most
important function of Iron in the human body is helping the production of both
hemoglobin (the substance that carries oxygen withing red blood cells) and
myoglobin. Myoglobin is a form of hemoglobin found in muscles. Iron is also
involved in the oxygenation of your body's red blood cells. It is understood
that levels of iron play a significant role in various body functions, however,
it is also essential for the normal growth and maintenance of
hair. If the
amount of energy used up by the body is not replaced by
food intake, then other
non-essential stores will be used up. Unfortunately, this means the
as they are not a vital part of living.
In order to maintain an adequate balance of iron in the body, the amount
excreted must be replaced by the amount ingested in the
diet. When the amount of
dietary iron absorbed is insufficient, a negative iron imbalance occurs, and
consequently iron stores are called upon to make up the deficit.
It is important to note that iron deficiency (low iron stores, i.e. low ferritin)
can occur even if the patient is not clinically anemic and has normal hemoglobin
There may be a number of reasons why the amount of iron absorbed is not
sufficient. Firstly, only about 10% of ingested iron is absorbed into the blood
each day, and this is dependent on the type of food in the diet. Certain foods
may inhibit the absorption of iron, such as tanins found in tea and coffee, also
bran and egg albumin. Whereas other foods may be enhance the absorption of iron,
i.e. vitamin C, alcohol, and flesh foods. In general you can loose iron by:
intestinal bleeding, excessive menstrual bleeding, poor digestion, long-term
illness, ulcers, and heavy use of anti-acids.
You can maximise your iron absorption by eating a combination of iron-rich foods
such as red meat, green, leafy vegetables, shellfish, egg yolk, nuts and cereals
with food or drinks that are high in vitamin C for example, a glass of freshly
squeezed orange juice. Avoid tea until at least an hour after eating as it
contains tannin, which interferes with iron absorption.
One method of controlling iron deficiency in the body is to stimulate the liver
to synthesise ferritin, the
protein that stores iron in order to maintain the
correct balance. Hair follicles are known to contain ferritin, and when the
circulating stores of ferritin decline then these stores are called upon to
ensure support for more essential cells, such as bone marrow. The loss of this
ferritin from the follicle cells can effect the ability of the hair to
This leads to the development of vellus (non pigmented fine hairs) which can be
an early indication of deficiency.
This type of hair loss, caused by deficiency, is easily treated and can be
rectified. A lot of dermatologists agree that it is an important contributing
factor. Serum ferritin concentrations of 40 ng/mL or greater are required for
maintaining good hair while 70ng/ml is required for re-growth.