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Nutrition

How an Iron Deficiency Can Result in Hair Loss, Plus the Easy Ways to Fix It and a Real-Life Success Story

A certain blood test can also give you insight into low iron

Suffering from hair loss can truly be so defeating, frustrating and an instant confidence sapper. You’re not alone if you relate to this; Hair loss affects millions of women, mostly over the age of 30. Many things can attribute to hair loss, from menopause to using too harsh of products to poor nutrition. Another common cause? Vitamin deficiencies, and in this case, an iron deficiency. Iron deficiency and hair loss can go hand-in-hand, but thankfully, there are easy, natural ways to up your levels of the vitamin.

The CDC estimates that up to 20% of premenopausal women suffer from iron deficiency, ­a plight that puts hair in jeopardy. In a 2009 study that compared healthy women of childbearing age with and without hair loss, iron status was the only underlying difference researchers could find: Women with a full head of hair had blood levels of ferritin (the body’s stored form of iron) around 60.3 ng/ml — in women with thinning hair, ferritin hovered down around 16.3 ng/ml. Further research is needed to determine the exact role iron plays in hair growth, but experts have theories. “It may be that iron acts as a co-­enzyme­ in the building of the hair protein,” says trichologist David H. Kingsley, PhD, a hair loss specialist in New York City.

One of the top reasons women tend to run low on iron: heavy periods. And because the body absorbs plant forms of iron inefficiently, women who seldom eat meat are at a heightened risk of a deficiency. Fatigue and headaches, along with hair loss, are early signs that your iron stores are falling short.

woman brushing hair and showing hair loss
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You’re likely dealing with low iron if you’re losing hair and you…

  • Are under 50
  • Experience heavy periods
  • Have been feeling unusually tired and headachy

These easy strategies can help with iron deficiency

1. Get bloodwork done

Start by seeing your doctor for a blood test. “It’s easy to overdose on iron, so you need to know your baseline and take any supplements under medical supervision,” Dr. Kingsley says. And request a ferritin test specifically, adds physician nutrition specialist Melina Jampolis, MD, author of The Calendar Diet. “The standard blood test looks at hemoglobin only. Ferritin seems to be a better indicator for hair — it’s a more sensitive reflection of how much iron your body really has and can bring attention to borderline cases of deficiency that a hemoglobin test might miss.” As for the ferritin level hair requires, Dr. Jampolis cites a study in which 27.5 ng/ml was the minimum for avoiding hair loss. Kingsley aims to nudge patients up to 70 ng/ml.

2. Eating certain foods

Once you hit the level that’s right for you, you likely can maintain iron levels through foods, aiming for the recommended 18 mg. a day (8 mg. if you’re postmenopausal). Iron-rich foods: dark-meat turkey (2 mg. per 3-oz. serving) and canned tuna (1.3 mg. per 3-oz. serving). To double the iron absorption from plant foods such as lentils (6.6 mg. per cup, cooked) and spinach (3.2 mg. per 12 cup, cooked), pair them with a source of vitamin C, like orange juice or diced bell peppers, as in the delicious recipe below!

Andouille sausage & lentil stew

Andouille Sausage & Lentil Stew
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Ingredients:

  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 celery stalks, thinly sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 (28 oz.) can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1 cup dried green or brown lentils
  • 1 lb. andouille sausage, chopped
  • 1 Tbs. smoked paprika
  • 14 cup fresh parsley, minced

Steps:

  1. In pan over medium-high heat, cook onion, garlic, celery and red bell pepper in olive oil for about 5 minutes.
  2. Transfer to pot of slow cooker; add crushed tomatoes, chicken stock, lentils, andouille sausage and paprika. Cook on high 4–5 hours or on low 8–10 hours. If desired, mix in fresh parsley, and garnish with more parsley.

Iron for hair loss real-life success story: ‘I reversed my hair loss with a $7 supplement!’

Kat Carney
Kat Carney/corpus

At just 50 years old, Kat Carney was losing her hair — then a health challenge revealed the reason, and the inexpensive cure.

Kat was enjoying dinner in a restaurant, when she noticed someone at a nearby table staring at the back of her head. Grabbing a mirror as soon as she got home, the Atlanta resident gasped as her eyes zeroed in on a nearly bald spot. Kat’s hair had been thinning on top for a while, and every day, she’d found more hair in her brush. But that glimpse in the mirror drove home how bad the problem had become, so she went to see a dermatologist.

During the exam, Kat’s doctor noted her hair was very dry and brittle and prescribed steroid injections in the scalp every six weeks, a liquid topical steroid, an antibiotic and an oral steroid — which cost her nearly $500 a month! Kat also started using a deep conditioner, doing hot oil hair treatments and even getting hair extensions until hers had improved — another $250 every eight weeks on top of the already high price of the medical treatments. But at her six-week follow-up with the dermatologist, only tiny dots of hair were showing in the bald spots.

Then, one day, Kat began experiencing chest palpitations and went to the ER. The doctors considered anemia as a cause, but the results were negative. Kat’s primary care doctor then ran blood tests that specifically checked her ferritin levels, and found Kat’s were at the lowest end of normal. Ferritin, he explained, is a protein in the body that stores iron. “If low,” he said, “you can suffer heart palpitations, fatigue, even hair loss.”

A simple solution

At her doctor’s suggestion, Kat looked into supplements, and after consulting her dermatologist, started taking 325 mg. of ferrous sulfate (the equivalent of 65 mg. of elemental iron) once daily. Kat was thrilled by the simple solution and the cost! One bottle, like Nature’s Truth Iron & Ferrous Sulfate costs $10 for 120 tablets! After four months, Kat’s ferritin level was rising and her hair was growing, so her doctor increased her dose to one pill three times a day. After a year on that regimen, Kat had a full, lush head of hair once more. In fact, she’s often complimented on how gorgeous it is. “Hair loss and low-iron clipped away five years of my life,” the now 52-year-old says. “I spent thousands on what was ultimately a vitamin-deficiency symptom. Now, I feel great and better than ever!”

Even more reasons to boost iron levels

woman taking iron supplement for hair loss
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Below, even more reasons to consider upping your iron intake aside from hair growth.

It protects brainpower

A study found that subjects with normal levels of hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells created from having normal iron levels in the body, were 36% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s over 12 years than those with the lowest levels, and 22% less likely than those with the highest levels. Hemoglobin carries oxygen to the brain, but irregular amounts can interact with beta-amyloid protein, a risk factor for Alzheimer’s.

It enhances alertness

Increasing iron levels has been shown to spur energy in as little as two weeks. Reap the rewards by eating two eggs (they’re packed with iron) daily.

It eases sore muscles

Upping stores of iron in the body helps rapidly repair and strengthen damaged muscle tissues to alleviate aches and pains. Get the benefits by supplementing with 8 mg. of iron a day.


For more tips on hair loss, click through these stories:

Trichologist Reveals the Top Hair Myths and What to Do Instead for a Thick, Healthy Head of Hair

Is Zinc Deficiency Causing My Hair Loss? Doctors Weigh in and Share How to Reverse It

Does Dandruff Cause Hair Loss? Dermatologists Weigh In + Share 4 Tricks To Stop Flaking

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