You need sufficient iron to survive. Iron is one of the most vital mineral micronutrients your body needs to perform its most essential biological functions. Your body needs iron to make DNA, promote cellular growth, produce energy, and make hemoglobin to transport oxygen to every cell.
Approximately 0.005% of your body is composed of iron, most of it stored in your hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is a red substance inside your red blood cells that consists of iron and protein. This vital metalloprotein substance is responsible for transporting oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body. Every cell in your body will use this oxygen to perform aerobic respiration, which is the generation of energy to power essential metabolic functions.
Your body needs iron in sufficient quantities to make hemoglobin. When you don’t consume enough iron, your body can’t make sufficient hemoglobin. When you don’t have sufficient amounts of hemoglobin in your blood, less oxygen is transported throughout your body. This life-threatening medical condition, called iron-deficiency anemia, can be deadly.
Iron deficiency is a very common nutritional deficiency, with children, menstruating women, and people on specific diets or medical conditions having a higher risk of getting afflicted with the disease. Iron-deficiency anemia has plenty of adverse health effects, such as shortness of breath, heart palpitations, and excessive hair loss.
Why Does Iron-Deficiency Anemia Cause Hair Loss?
Your body needs iron to make hemoglobin, a metalloprotein molecule that transports oxygen to all your cells. Your cells use this oxygen along with glucose to generate energy so they can power their essential functions. Your hair-producing cells also need energy for repair, maintenance, and growth of your hair.
Hair maintenance and growth are not essential biological functions, meaning they do not contribute to enhancing your chances of survival. When your body is under stress due to a nutrient deficiency, your body will withhold that scarce nutrient from your hair, and allocate it to other essential bodily functions to maximize your chances of survival.
When you are iron deficient, your cells don’t receive enough oxygen. With inadequate oxygen, your cells are incapable of generating energy to power their essential functions. This situation exerts tremendous stress on your body, triggering your system to switch into survival mode.
In survival mode, your body deprives oxygen and other critical nutrients from non-essential tissues such as your hair, and allocates these essential nutrients to your vital organs, such as your brain, heart, and lungs, to help maximize your chances of survival. When your hair cells are deprived of oxygen, they cannot produce the energy they need for maintaining the normal hair growth and renewal cycle.
With inadequate energy to power their essential functions, your hair-producing cells will stop hair maintenance and growth. Your hair maintenance and growth cycle will come to an abrupt halt, resulting in severe hair loss.
A handful of research conducted over the past 40 years has revealed iron-deficiency anemia to trigger sudden and excessive hair loss. Iron-deficiency anemia can trigger diffuse or pattern hair loss.
A Korean study conducted in 2013 to examine the effect of iron deficiency on hair health found premenopausal women suffering from female-pattern hair loss had much lower iron reserves compared to premenopausal women with optimal hair health.
In women, pattern hair loss occurs on the top and crown of the head, while pattern hair loss in men occurs on the temples and crown of the head. Fortunately, hair loss caused by iron-deficiency anemia is reversible once the condition is diagnosed and treated.
Symptoms of Iron-Deficiency Anemia
Iron-deficiency anemia is a life-threatening condition that is accompanied by a plethora of adverse and dangerous health effects. Your symptoms will vary depending on the severity of your iron deficiency. Some common symptoms of iron-deficiency anemia are:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Fast heartbeat and heart palpitations
- Weakness, fatigue, and lack of energy
- Lightheadedness, dizziness, and headache
- Cold hands and feet
If you have the typical symptoms of iron-deficiency anemia, and are noticing an unusual increase in your hair shedding rate, you must visit a physician as soon as possible to get tested for iron-deficiency anemia.
Your physician will conduct a complete blood count (CBC) test to examine your red blood cell, hemoglobin, and ferritin (stored iron) levels in your blood. If you are diagnosed with iron-deficiency anemia, your physician will recommend various treatment options to remedy your condition.
Treatment for Iron-Deficiency Anemia
Fortunately, hair loss triggered by iron-deficiency anemia is temporary and reversible once the condition is treated, and your iron levels are restored to ideal levels. Treatment options for iron-deficiency anemia include diet modifications, supplements, and intravenous iron infusion to reverse iron deficiency and supply your body with adequate iron.
To supply your body with adequate iron, you must obtain iron from food or supplements to satisfy your body’s iron needs. The recommended daily intake for iron is 8 mg for adult men, 8 mg for menopausal women, 18 mg for menstruating women, 27 mg for pregnant women, and 10 mg for breastfeeding women.
Below are effective treatment options for reversing your anemia-related hair loss:
To reverse hair loss caused by iron-deficiency anemia, you must consume an iron-rich diet to supply your body with all the iron it needs to perform its essential functions. Iron-rich foods include beef, chicken, liver, lentils, beans, tofu, and spinach.
Iron in food is available in two forms: heme and nonheme iron.
Heme iron is found in meat, poultry, and seafood, while non-heme iron is found in plant-based food, such as legumes, nuts, and leafy greens. Heme iron is readily and easily absorbed by your body, while non-heme iron has a lower bioavailability as it is less efficiently absorbed by your body.
To enhance non-heme iron absorption, consume non-heme iron with vitamin C rich food, such as citrus fruits, broccoli, and tomatoes.
If you think your diet alone can’t satisfy your body’s daily iron needs, you can take iron supplements to increase your iron intake. Iron supplements are an affordable way to supply your body with extra iron when you need it.
Iron supplements come in different forms, such as liquids, chewable tablets, regular tablets, and capsules. Iron supplements are best absorbed in a highly acidic stomach environment. As a result, iron supplements are best absorbed on an empty stomach, or along with vitamin C.
Do not take iron supplements with antacids, milk, calcium, caffeine, or high fiber foods, as these foods and nutrients inhibit iron absorption by your body.
Consult with your physician about the daily dosage and duration of iron supplement intake, as excessive iron intake can also be detrimental to your health. You should notice an improvement in your health within two months of taking iron supplements. Your doctor might recommend taking iron supplements for six more months to build up your iron reserves and prevent anemia from returning.
To build up your iron reserves, you should also increase your L-Lysine intake. L-Lysine is an essential amino acid that plays a significant role in iron absorption and retention, increasing iron storage levels in your body. Inadequate L-Lysine consumption depletes the iron stores of your cells, causing iron-deficiency anemia.
Studies have revealed that adequate iron intake with inadequate L-Lysine consumption does not increase the iron stores of your cells. To enhance iron absorption and retention, you must consume at least 1,000 milligrams, or 1 gram of L-Lysine per day. Rich sources of L-Lysine include red meat, eggs, cheese, soybeans, and spirulina.
L-Lysine is also available as supplements, in the form of capsules, tablets, and liquids.
Intravenous Iron Infusion
Intravenous iron infusion is an iron restoration procedure that delivers iron to your body through a needle injected into your vein. This procedure is recommended for patients who need iron immediately to prevent a medical emergency, or anemic patients who can’t take iron orally.
This iron restoration procedure is performed in a clinical setting. Intravenous iron infusion therapy is performed in several sessions until the patient’s iron needs reach an ideal level.
Intravenous iron therapy works faster than dietary modification and supplements to replenish your iron stores and cure your iron-deficiency anemia. You will notice the results of the treatment within a few weeks of receiving the final procedure.
Iron is a crucial micronutrient that is vital for your survival. Iron is necessary for transporting oxygen to your cells so your cells can produce energy to power their metabolic functions. Insufficient iron levels in your body can be a life-threatening condition that leads to plenty of adverse health effects.
The first victim of iron-deficiency anemia will be your hair, as your body allocates oxygen to your vital organs and deprives it of your hair. Fortunately, iron-deficiency hair loss does not damage your hair follicles, so the hair loss is temporary and reversible once the condition is treated.