Iron (Fe) deficiency affects hair growth, and chronic lack of iron in the diet can lead to hair loss. Nutritional deficiencies of vitamins as well as that of minerals such as, zinc, copper and iron are associated with hair loss.
In the human body, the total iron is about 3.8 grams in men and 2.3 grams in women. It is present in all cells of the human body, including hair follicles and red blood cells. Unlike minerals such as calcium, sodium and magnesium, the iron in the blood plasma is not in a free ionic form and is bound tightly to the protein transferrin. Free iron is toxic to cells as it catalyzes in the formation of free radicals. Iron is a key component of cytochrome in cells, which are primarily responsible for the generation of ATP via electron transport and catalyze several redox reactions. Iron is also stored in the cells as ferritin.
Iron is the key component of protein hemoglobin present in the red blood cells. It facilitates oxygen absorption in the lungs and oxygen transport to cells. Sufficient oxygen supply is necessary for keeping the follicles healthy and any deficiency in oxygen supply can induce telogen effluvium. Myoglobin is an iron containing protein found in the muscles. It has the property of binding to oxygen and functions in oxygen storage. Fe is also important for removing carbon dioxide generated in the tissues during oxidation of glucose and transporting it to lungs for exhalation.
Iron deficiency and hair lossIron deficiency is the most prevalent nutritional deficiency in the world. Iron deficiency anemia is very common among women of childbearing age. Iron deficiency in the body leads to decrease in hemoglobin, myoglobin and ferritin stores. It causes deprivation of sufficient oxygen to the body tissues and muscles and manifest as symptoms like tiredness, fatigue, dizziness, pallor, hair loss, irritability and inability to concentrate.
Causes of deficiencyMany conditions lead to deficiency of this mineral in the body. Both insufficient intake as well as depletion and loss from the body lead to anemia.
- The foremost reason for the mineral deficiency is insufficient intake through food.
- Protein-energy malnutrition, malnutrition, starvation, anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders can give rise to various health problems, including iron deficiency and hair loss.
- Excessive menstrual bleeding in women is the major cause of iron depletion from the body.
- Chronic bleeding wounds, bleeding from the gastrointestinal tract, bleeding piles, bleeding gastric ulcers and bleeding colonic cancer are some of the conditions causing the deficiency.
- Malabsorption syndromes like inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis and celiac disease can hamper absorption of the mineral as well as cause its depletion by bleeding.
- Surprisingly, athletes can become anemic due to mechanical hemolysis, destruction of red blood cells from physical impact, especially among long distance runners. They may also suffer loss of iron through sweat, urine and intestines.
Ferritin (iron store) and hair lossFerritin is an intracellular protein that stores iron and controls its release. It acts as a buffer in case of Fe deficiency or overload. Though most of the ferritin is stored in the cells, small amounts are released into the blood plasma as an Fe carrier. The serum ferritin level correlates with total body iron stores. However, in case of infection or chronic inflammation the serum ferritin levels get elevated and do not correlates with total body Fe stores.
Moeinvaziri M et al in their study, 'Iron status in diffuse telogen hair loss among women', concluded that, "In women without systemic inflammation or other underlying disorders, serum ferritin levels below or equal to 30 ng/mL are strongly associated with telogen loss."
The normal range of serum ferritin for men is between 12-300 ng/ml and for women is 12-150 ng/ml. However the optimum level is 70 ng/ml and above. It is to be noted that a person may have normal hemoglobin levels and may not show any anemia symptoms. However, he may be having latent iron deficiency (LID). In such situations the ferritin analysis will show low levels.
Correcting iron deficiency hair lossIn most of the cases of deficiency, taking food rich in the mineral and also taking supplements under the advice of a doctor may resolve iron deficiency induced hair loss. Heme iron is the most readily absorbed form and clam, red meat, kidney, liver, spleen, poultry and fish are rich sources. Green leafy vegetables, soybeans, lentils, legumes and dry fruits are rich non-heme sources. Oxalates, phytic acid and tannin present in plant foods bind to iron in the gut to form insoluble complexes, reducing the bioavailability.
Oral supplements such as ferrous sulfate, ferrous gluconate, or amino acid chelate tablets are prescribed to treat anemia. To treat chronic anemia, physician may recommend blood transfusion.
The supplements must be taken only under a doctor's guidance. Iron overdose can have serious health consequences.
1.Rushton DH. Nutritional factors and hair loss. Clin Exp Dermatol. 2002 Jul;27(5):396-404.
2.Trost LB, Bergfeld WF, Calogeras E. The diagnosis and treatment of iron deficiency and its potential relationship to hair loss. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2006 May;54(5):824-44.
3.Moeinvaziri M, Mansoori P, Holakooee K, Safaee Naraghi Z, Abbasi A. Iron status in diffuse telogen hair loss among women. Acta Dermatovenerol Croat. 2009;17(4):279-84.