Can Having an Iron Deficiency Cause Hair Loss?

According to the American Hair Loss Association, people in the United States spend over 3.5 billion dollars on products to cure their hair loss every year. Estimates show that around 99 percent of these hair loss products don’t work.

Hair loss can be caused by many factors and can affect anyone, regardless of age and gender. Male pattern baldness is not the only cause for hair loss. In fact, a study published in the journal, Dermatology Practical and Conceptual, shows that it can also be caused by nutritional deficiencies. An iron deficiency is the most common nutritional disorder, affecting as many as 80% of the world’s population.

Women are at higher risk of iron deficiency than men. Iron is vital for the production of hemoglobin, which is a protein in red blood cells that deliver oxygen to all parts of the body.  Oxygen is required for the growth and repair of cells, including those that are responsible for hair growth. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to detect an iron deficiency until your body reaches such low levels that it leads to obvious symptoms.

When an iron deficiency progresses to iron deficiency anemia, the condition can cause hair loss. A lack of nutrients in the body pushes it into survival mode. Since the body cannot produce hemoglobin without enough iron, the body channels its oxygen to only support vital functions, such as the contraction of the heart – instead of non-essential functions, such as hair growth.

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What Does Iron Deficiency Hair Loss Look Like?

According to a study published in the Journal of Korean Medical Science, iron deficiency may cause hair loss that mimics that of male and female pattern baldness.

If you are experiencing unusual hair loss, there may be more hair than usual in your hair brushes and shower drain. When the condition advances, you may notice bald patches as well.

What is Telogen Effluvium?

It is normal to lose some hair every day. Most individuals lose an average of 100 hairs per day. This may be more if you style your hair frequently, especially in tight hairstyles, or expose your hair to too much heat, chemicals (especially, from dyes and bleach) and the sun.

In healthy individuals, the majority of the hair on the scalp is still in their growth phase. Unlike in animals, human hair does not shed at one time. Therefore, even though you’re losing hair every day, part of your hair is also growing. This creates a balance in hair growth.

Telogen effluvium is a condition where there is more hair on the scalp that is entering the rest phase, versus those entering the growth phase. When more hair is entering the rest phase, also called the telogen phase, the existing hair stops growing before they can fall out. Individuals with telogen effluvium may lose around 300 hairs every day – instead of 100.

Telogen effluvium is typically caused by iron deficiency anemia. Other causes include major trauma, stress, surgery and certain medications. Although telogen effluvium can be subtle for some, it can be emotionally debilitating, resulting in loss of self-esteem and confidence.

What Are the Causes of Iron Deficiency?

Some common causes of iron deficiency anemia include:

Lack of Iron in the Diet

Your body obtains iron every day from the food you eat. Not consuming enough iron, such as from meat, leafy greens, eggs, lentils and iron-fortified foods, can make you iron deficient over time.

Blood Loss

Your blood consists of red blood cells, which contain iron. Any loss of blood can cause you to lose some iron.

One common cause of blood loss is heavy periods. Other causes may include peptic ulcers, colon polyp, hiatal hernia and colorectal cancer, which can lead to slow, yet chronic blood loss. Regular use of over-the-counter painkillers, especially aspirin, may result in gastrointestinal bleeding, thereby leading to iron deficiency.

what's the importance of iron to the hair?

Inability to Absorb Iron

In some cases, even if an individual is taking enough iron from their diet, they still may have an iron deficiency because of their inability to absorb the mineral.

Iron is absorbed into your bloodstream via your small intestine. According to the Mayo Clinic, intestinal disorders, such as celiac disease, which impairs your intestine’s ability to absorb nutrients, can cause iron deficiency anemia. Furthermore, if part of your small intestine has been removed surgically or bypassed, your ability to absorb iron and other nutrients may be compromised.


Iron deficiency anemia during pregnancy, due to lack of iron supplementation, is quite common. This is because not only are their iron stores serving their own blood volume, but they are also a source of hemoglobin for the fetus.

Who is at Risk of Anaemia?

The following groups have a higher risk of iron deficiency anemia and related hair loss:

  • Women: This is mainly because they lose blood during their period.
  • Vegans and Vegetarians: Due to lack of meat, eggs, and dairy. These are all rich sources of iron.
  • Frequent Blood Donors: This can deplete iron reserves in the blood, but this can be fixed with a diet rich in iron-dense foods.

What Are the Signs you Have Iron Deficiency?

One of the main concerns associated with iron deficiency anemia is that it can be so mild during the initial stages, that it can go unnoticed. However, as the body becomes increasingly deficient in iron, a person’s symptoms may worsen. If you suspect your hair loss is a result of anemia, see if you have any of the following signs and symptoms:

You’re Always Tired

The most common symptom of iron deficiency is frequent exhaustion. Unfortunately, this can easily be mistaken for just feeling tired because of your busy schedule.

In the modern world, being tired is generally dismissed because it is considered part of life. However, if you’re always tired, chances are there may be an underlying cause for it. Iron deficiency results in less oxygen reaching your muscles and other tissues, depriving you of energy and making you feel fatigued.

See if your normal tiredness is accompanied by weakness, inability to focus, poor concentration, mood swings and irritability. If your answer is yes to any of these, lack of iron may be the culprit. There’s a reason people with anemia are considered to have “tired blood.”

You Experience Shortness of Breath Easily

Whether you’re working out or just busy with your day to day, no matter how deeply you breathe, you feel out of breath. This is a result of low oxygen levels in the body. Therefore, if you find yourself catching your breath doing everyday activities, such as climbing stairs or carrying groceries, consider getting your iron levels checked. Low iron levels can even make regular workouts feel harder than usual.

You Have Heavy Periods

As discussed earlier, heavy periods are the main cause of iron deficiency in women. When your periods are too heavy, your body may only replenish half of it. You lose more blood again next month, and the cycle goes on until you notice more serious symptoms of anemia.

Try performing a tampon test. If you find yourself changing your tampons more than every two hours, it’s critical that you see your gynecologist as soon as possible.

Your Heart is Constantly Racing

Lack of oxygen in the blood can cause the heart to work harder because it needs to supply enough oxygen to the result of the body. This can cause irregular heartbeats, heart murmurs, heart enlargement and ultimately, heart failure.

How do I add iron to my diet?

Luckily, a review published in the Texas Heart Institute Journal suggests that you may have to suffer from prolonged anemia before things get extreme. However, if you notice any heart issues, it is crucial that you see a doctor.

You Suffer from Restless Leg Syndrome

According to John Hopkins Medicine, about 15% of people have restless leg syndrome and iron deficiency. Researchers have found that the lower the iron levels, the worse the symptoms of restless leg syndrome.

You Have Frequent Headaches

Although iron deficiency will cause your body to deliver oxygen to the brain instead of other non-essential tissues, the condition can cause your brain to receive less oxygen than it usually does. This causes the arteries in the brain to swell to make up for the oxygen loss, resulting in frequent headaches.

You Have Strange Cravings

A psychological disorder called pica can cause you to crave non-edible substances, such as dirt or paint. This could be a sign of iron deficiency anemia. Fortunately, most women choose ice. If you find yourself craving or eating unusual items, book an appointment with your doctor immediately.

You’re Skin Appears Pale

Pale is often considered synonymous with sickly, and there’s a reason behind this. The hemoglobin in your blood is what gives your blood its red pigment. Having a healthy blood supply gives most people a rosy hue.

However, low levels of hemoglobin, because of lack of iron, can cause the color to leave your skin. Paleness is most obvious in light complexions. However, regardless of your skin tone, if you notice that your gums, the inside of your lower eyelids and your lips are less red than usual, you may have low iron levels in your blood.

You’re Pregnant

There’s a reason everybody recommends taking folic acid during pregnancy. Both the expecting mom and baby use the mother’s iron reserves. Furthermore, women lose a significant amount of blood when they’re delivering their baby, which also causes loss or iron in the body.

If you throw up frequently because of morning sickness, have close pregnancies or are pregnant with more than one baby, you may need to up your iron intake – according to your doctor’s recommendations.

You Have Anxiety

Life is already stressful enough, but did you know that iron deficiency can also take a toll on your overall mood. Anxiety is a common sign of low iron levels, as lack of oxygen in the body prompts your sympathetic nervous system, pushing you in fight or flight mode. This can increase your heartbeat and cause anxiety – even on occasions when you would typically feel relaxed.

Your Tongue Appears Unusual

Apart from taking away your tongue’s color, lack of iron in the body can also reduce myoglobin – a red blood cell protein that supports muscle tissue. Note that your tongue is also a muscle. Therefore, iron deficiency may cause your tongue to feel weird, sore, unusually smooth or inflamed.

Can I get too much iron?

You Have a Gastrointestinal Disease

Inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, or celiac disease, can impair your body’s nutrient absorption ability. This includes iron. The conditions are characteristic of causing inflammation and damage to your gut.

If you have been diagnosed with any of these conditions and are noticing hair loss or poor hair health, see your doctor for possible solutions for increasing your iron uptake.

You’re Vegan or Vegetarian

Animal-based protein contains the most bioavailable form of iron –called heme iron. Your body absorbs heme iron twice as better as iron from plant-based foods.

However, spending enough time on meal planning and including a variety of iron-rich foods, from dark leafy greens, lentils and legumes and whole grains, along with foods rich in vitamin C, such as berries, citrus, guavas, papayas, broccoli, etc. can help boost your iron absorption.

What’s the Importance of Iron for Hair?

Female pattern hair loss also called androgenetic alopecia, is a major type of hair loss in women. Female pattern hair loss generally refers to hair thinning in the middle of the scalp. Some people may also experience receding hair along the hairline.

Iron is a vital component in an enzyme called ribonucleotide reductase, which helps cell growth. Research indicates that the cells in hair follicles can be especially sensitive to lack of iron and may not grow new cells efficiently as a result of low iron levels. Stored iron that aids in the production of hair cells is ferritin. Ferritin is found in all cells of your body and is required for healthy hair growth.

Proper levels of ferritin are critical for the prevention of iron deficiency anemia. Sufficient iron in the body maximizes your hair’s growth, or anagen, phase encouraging hair to grow to its full length. However, lack of iron causes the body to withdraw stored ferritin in non-essential tissue, such as your hair bulb, to deliver it to essential tissues, such as your heart and brain.

Your hair bulb is where you are actively growing new hair cells. A loss of ferritin can push your hair to reach its telogen, or shedding phase before it reaches its maximum length. However, this can also occur if your ferritin levels are high, causing a condition called hemochromatosis. This leads to excess production of iron that may affect your heart and liver.

How to Diagnose Iron Deficiency Anemia

If you’re losing hair or notice it isn’t growing at the same rate it used to, see a doctor to check your iron levels. Your iron levels will be assessed with the following blood levels:

  • Serum Iron

This test will measure the amount of iron in your blood. However, your blood iron levels can still be normal even if the test shows its low. Therefore, doctors recommend this test with other iron tests.

What happens when you have a lack of iron?

  • Serum Ferritin

This test allows the doctor to check how much of your stored iron is being used in your body. As we discussed earlier, low ferritin levels can affect your hair growth as your body diverts its iron to essential body tissues.

  • Transferrin Level (or total iron-binding capacity)

Transferrin is a protein found in your blood that carries iron. Total iron-binding capacity refers to how much transferrin is not carrying iron. People with iron deficiency typically have high transferrin levels, carrying no iron.

Is Hair Loss Due to Iron Deficiency Reversible?

Most hair loss that is associated with iron deficiency is temporary. If you have iron deficiency hair loss, the best way to treat the problem is by addressing the underlying cause. Consult a doctor to measure your iron levels and receive diet and supplement guidelines.

How to Increase Your Iron Intake

Note that iron intake is not a one size fits all deal – particularly for women. However, in most cases, women between ages 19 to 50 require 18 milligrams of iron per day. Pregnant women may require 27 milligrams and breastfeeding mothers, 9 milligrams. If you have heavy periods, this could change your requirements. Women, who are older and not menstruating, typically need only 8 milligrams a day.

Be sure to follow the diet and supplement recommendations provided by your doctor, if you have iron deficiency anemia. Also, it’s also important to pair your iron-foods with foods rich in vitamin C because the body needs it for the proper absorption of iron. Some examples of foods rich in vitamin C include lime, lemons, grapefruit, oranges, strawberries and other citrus fruits and berries.

The following are some iron-rich foods you can include in your diet:

  • Liver
  • Red meat
  • Kidney beans
  • Lentils
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Chick peas
  • Raw peaches
  • Apricots
  • Prunes and prune juice
  • Potato skins
  • Broccoli
  • Parsley
  • Beetroot
  • Almonds
  • Walnuts

Can Iron Supplements Help with Hair Loss?

If your tests show that you have low iron levels, you can increase your iron levels with iron supplements and dietary modifications.

Note that iron supplements can cause changes in bowel movements, which is a side effect of the extra iron in the body. Make sure your doctor knows if you’re susceptible to an upset tummy.

How Long Do Iron Supplements Take to Stop Hair Loss?

It usually takes 2 to 3 weeks for symptoms to start to improve after taking iron supplements. You may need to continue taking iron supplements for several months to replenish your iron stores and to prevent your anemia from coming back.

Take your iron supplements as directed by your doctor – even if symptoms improve.

What Are the Side Effects of Iron?

More isn’t always better when it comes to iron. Although your primary concern is to correct your iron deficiency, you should be aware that you can overtake iron. High doses of iron supplements for extended periods, or taking one overdose, can result in iron toxicity. Symptoms of iron toxicity include stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Over time, excess iron can accumulate in organs, causing liver or brain damage.

High doses of iron can also increase the risk of diabetes, cancer and heart disease – especially in older people. Therefore, focus on reaching your RDA of iron, or how much your doctor recommends. Taking above what is suggested may cause more harm than good.

How to Prevent Iron Deficiency Anemia and Hair Loss

After increasing your iron intake, it’s important to take steps to prevent iron deficiency anemia and hair loss from returning. We’ve rounded up some effective tips that can help you get started on this new journey.

Make Wise Diet Choices

Be sure to load up on iron- and vitamin C-rich foods, such as spinach, kale, meat, fish, citrus, and berries. While choosing cereals, be sure to pick ones that are iron-fortified to add more iron to your diet. It also helps to have a fruit, such as an orange after taking your iron supplement to increase its absorbency.

Let Your Hair Down

Tight hairstyles, such as high ponytails, top knots, and styles with headbands can cause mechanical damage to your hair, causing hair to break and be pulled out before its growth phase ends. Excess tugging and heat styling can also stretch your hair and weaken its bonds, making hair more brittle and damaged.

While you restore your iron and improve your hair fall, it’s important to take care of what you have and also encourage healthy regrowth.

Protect Your Hair from the Sun

Cover your hair with a hat or scarf, or coat it with SPF to protect your hair from oxidative damage, caused by the UV rays of the sun.

Wash, Dry and Brush Gently

During routine maintenance, it’s crucial that you are gentle with your hair, whether you’re washing, towel drying or styling it. This will help prevent excess tugging and tension in your hair, preventing existing hair from breaking or being yanked out.

Keep Away From Chemicals, Dyes, and Heat

All these elements cause your hair to swell, making it more prone to drying out and getting damaged. If you have bleached or dyed hair, be sure to condition your hair thoroughly and do a deep conditioning treatment every week. And on days you have to use a blow dryer, straightener or curling hair, add a layer of heat protection spray or gel before applying heat.

Copyright 2018 by DryScalpGone.