Can Iron Deficiency Cause Hair Loss?
Have you been pulling out extra hair in the shower, or noticing a lot more hair in your comb lately?
Most of the time, hair loss is a temporary problem which will reverse itself given time. It could be that you recently had surgery, or maybe you are recovering from a high fever. Perhaps you dropped a lot of weight really fast.
These issues resolve on their own given time. When the initial stressor that caused the hair loss goes away and your body has time to recover, you start growing hair back again (without all that shedding!).
Sometimes though, things are not so simple, and there may be an underlying cause to your hair loss which needs to be investigated and addressed before you can get back to the kind of hair growth you expect. The problem may be a nutritional deficiency such as a lack of iron.
Can Iron Deficiency Cause Hair Loss?
What does science have to say about iron and hair loss? If your doctor told you the two are not connected, do not be surprised. A lot of doctors are unsure whether there is any link at all, or believe that the link is exaggerated.
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According to this article in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, most studies that have looked into the relationship between iron deficiency and hair loss have focused exclusively on women. Some of the research has suggested that iron deficiency could be linked to various forms of hair loss, including androgenetic alopecia, alopecia areata, telogen effluvium, and diffuse hair loss. Other research has failed to support a casual link.
“Currently there is insufficient evidence to recommend universal screening for iron deficiency in patients with hair loss,” the articles continues. Treatment recommendations are complex — I will get back to those in a little bit.
Despite the tone of uncertainty, WebMD puts this into perspective. Before the article—which examined 40 years of research in-depth—most doctors thought that the link between hair loss and iron deficiency was quite vague. Even though the research review is relatively inconclusive, it actually provides a much stronger validation of a link than anything which was available before.
One conclusion which was drawn from the study is that even if hair loss has another cause, iron deficiency always makes it worse. One of the researchers, Leonid Benjamin Trost, said, “What Dr. Bergfeld has found in decades of experience, is when she treats patients for iron deficiency—even in the absence of anemia—it can maximize their ability to regrow hair. It is not the silver bullet for baldness, but it can definitely help maximize how a patient regrows hair.”
George Cotsarelis, director of the University of Pennsylvania Hair and Scalp Clinic, confirmed this from his own experience. “It is clear to me that if you replenish hair-loss patients’ iron stores with iron supplements, they are more likely to regrow hair, or at least stop hair shedding. And they don’t have to be anemic. That is the biggest mistake doctors make.”
So What Are the Treatment Recommendations?
And that brings me back to the treatment recommendations in the research review. Here is what the authors of the review had to say:
" There is insufficient evidence to recommend giving iron supplementation therapy to patients with hair loss and iron deficiency in the absence of iron deficiency anemia."
Despite this, the authors note that it is their practice at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation to screen patients with both cicatricial and noncicatricial hair loss for iron deficiency. Essentially, their anecdotal experience backs up the efficacy of treating hair loss and iron deficiency if it is present—even without anemia.
In general, iron supplementation is a controversial point, because it is very easy to overdose on extra iron and end up developing a dangerous health condition called iron overload.
This is why doctors always treat for iron deficiency anemia, but often do not treat for iron deficiency without anemia. They are afraid that they will end up causing patients further problems with their health. It is best not to mess around with iron supplements unless you really need them.
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Note that you can buy iron supplements at your local pharmacy without a doctor’s prescription. But it is not recommended that you take them regularly or in large doses without a doctor’s approval.
The key point to recognize here is that an iron pill is not a cure for baldness or hair thinning, and should not be treated as one, especially since it is easy to overdo iron supplementation and endanger your health. Plus, the vast majority of hair loss cases have nothing to do with iron deficiency.
If you are not comfortable taking the supplements but want to boost your iron stores, you can eat more iron-rich foods such as spinach, beans, tofu, oysters, prunes, raisins, and beef.
The best thing you can do however if you believe a lack of iron to be the culprit is go see a doctor. If you have hair loss and no other symptoms of iron deficiency, you probably do not have iron deficiency—but speaking to a doctor is the best way to find out.
If you do have other symptoms of iron deficiency, it is vital that you see a doctor because hair loss is the least severe symptom of a potentially serious ailment. The earlier you can catch it, the faster you can take action to protect your overall health.