Iron Deficiency and Hair Loss: What to Know

Editor’s Note: This article is for informational purposes only. You should not use it to replace any professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment of any health issues. Any questions about your blood health should be directed toward a physician, hematologist, or other licensed healthcare professional.

You can get ahead of any problems by increasing your hemoglobin levels 

Iron deficiency anemia has a ton of unpleasant side effects: fatigue, cold hands and feet, pale skin, and shortness of breath, just to name a few. But there’s another symptom that people with chronically low iron and hemoglobin levels may experience that’s not often talked about—hair loss.

To assuage any fears, not all anemics will experience hair loss. However, if your hemoglobin levels remain low for a long period of time, you could start experiencing a thinning mane. 

The good news? It’s temporary, and iron deficiency-related hair loss can be reversed with some diet and lifestyle changes. 

How Your Hemoglobin and Iron Levels Are Connected to Hair Growth

Our body needs dietary iron to create hemoglobin, which is a protein found in red blood cells that helps carry oxygen throughout the body so it can perform countless functions that keep us strong and healthy. Without enough iron, we can’t create enough hemoglobin to sustain those bodily functions. 

And that includes the cells responsible for hair growth. Our scalp contains hair follicle stem cells that produce hair. 

Now it should be said that there are other factors that contribute to our hair growth, or lack thereof in some people’s cases, including genetics, but nutrition can have a big impact on your follicle health. 

If you’re deficient in iron, that means your hemoglobin levels are low. Without enough hemoglobin, the hair follicle stem cells lack the oxygen necessary to stimulate hair growth, which can result in male-pattern baldness in men and female-pattern baldness in women. 

A study conducted by Korean scientists in 2013 looked at 200 people and found that those with low iron and ferritin levels (ferritin is a protein that stores iron) had a greater chance of their hair falling out. 

Can I grow my hair back by eating more iron?

The short answer is yes, you can grow your hair back if you increase your iron and hemoglobin levels. But again, baldness can be attributed to factors other than iron deficiency, so if you increase your iron intake and still see no progress you might want to visit a specialist to determine the cause of your hair loss. 

How to increase your iron intake to reverse hair loss

There are several ways you can increase your iron intake to improve your hemoglobin levels. 

Eat more iron-rich foods

The easiest way to increase your iron intake. Here are some iron-rich foods you should try to include in your daily diet. 

  • Red meat
  • Eggs
  • Tofu/tempeh
  • Oats
  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Lentils
  • Palm Hearts
  • Cabbage
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Pumpkin and flax seeds
  • Potatoes
  • Mushrooms
  • Dark Chocolate

Supplements

You should strive to get all your nutrients from whole food sources, but if your iron levels are still low you might want to take a supplement to increase your levels. 

The best iron supplements are the ones labeled ferrous sulfate, which is one of the most easily absorbed forms of iron. You’ll also want to find a supplement with a relatively high dose as your body doesn’t absorb all the iron found in one capsule—for example, a 50-milligram supplement may only provide 25-30 milligrams due to something called bioavailability. 

Check for other nutritional deficiencies 

Your iron levels could be perfect, but if you’re lacking in other nutrients or minerals you could still be at risk for iron deficiency anemia. That’s because things like Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Ferritin, Vitamin A, and others are needed to help the body absorb and use iron. 

It’s kind of like a car: You can fill it up with gas, but if you’re low on oil or transmission fluid you’re not going to get very far. 

A physician or nutritionist can help order a test to see if you’re deficient in any nutrients that could be impacting your iron levels. 

Hair’s Some Good News: AnemoCheck Gives You Instant Hemoglobin Estimation

AnemoCheck is the first-ever smartphone app that provides instant hemoglobin estimation with just a fingernail selfie—no appointments and no needles necessary. As you make diet and lifestyle changes to increase your iron levels, you can use our app to track how it affects your hemoglobin. 

And that can lead to better hair days. 

Click here to download the app via the iOS or Android app stores.

References

Park SY, Na SY, Kim JH, Cho S, Lee JH. Iron plays a certain role in patterned hair loss. J Korean Med Sci. 2013;28(6):934-938. doi:10.3346/jkms.2013.28.6.934

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