Why is Iron Important for Hair?
Iron is a mineral that is crucial to our health. Its most important function in our body is to aid in the production of red blood cells. These cells carry oxygen (haemoglobin) around the body via our bloodstream to all our tissues and organs — including our hair follicles. Iron also optimises energy levels, nourishes your muscles (including your heart), and helps your immune system. In other words, it is an all-round essential for your general fitness and well-being.
If you do not have enough iron in your body, you may develop a condition called iron deficiency anaemia. This can cause your hair to shed.
Iron Deficiency Anaemia and Hair Loss
Iron deficiency anaemia is a condition in which your body lacks iron to make enough red blood cells. These are the cells that carry oxygen [haemoglobin] around your body to your tissues, allowing them to function.
How does a lack of red blood cells affect your hair? When your body is short of oxygen, it channels its available supply to your vital organs to keep them alive, rather than to your hair follicles. Without oxygen, your hair follicles cease to function properly, and your hair may fall out. In fact, a large proportion of people who come into our Trichological clinics for hair-loss treatment have some degree of anaemia.
The symptoms of iron deficiency anaemia include [but are not limited to]:
Lack of energy
Diffuse hair loss from the scalp
Anaemia can occur if your diet lacks iron-rich foods, or if you are not absorbing iron correctly. Other causes of anaemia include loss of blood (particularly in menstruating women), growth spurts in children, illness, and pregnancy. In fact, pregnant women need increased iron to deliver blood and oxygen to their baby, and therefore often become anaemic.
If you are losing your hair, or notice it is not growing as long or as fast as it used to, we suggest you ask your doctor to test your iron levels. Iron levels should be analysed by checking the following blood levels:
TIBC (Total Iron Binding Capacity)
If you discover you are anaemic, try not to worry — hair loss due to anaemia is reversible. Your GP can prescribe you an iron supplement. It is important to follow the dosage you are given, because high iron levels can also be dangerous, and taking more than prescribed will not lead to a faster result. You may also want to ask your doctor to suggest changes to your diet.
The most beneficial treatment for anaemia is when you receive iron through good nutrition as well as a suitable supplement.
Good Sources of Iron
Liver and other organ meats
Whole grains (e.g. brown rice)
Green leafy vegetables (e.g. curly kale, spinach)
Dried fruit (e.g. apricots)
Ferritin: Another Form of Iron
What is Ferritin?
Ferritin is a protein in your body that stores iron and releases it when your body needs it. Good ferritin levels indicate that your body’s iron levels are balanced and healthy, which in turn is essential for healthy hair.
Why is Ferritin Important for Hair?
A certain amount of ferritin is stored in your hair bulb. Your hair bulb uses it, when needed, in order to form the proteins that hair is made of — thereby allowing your hairs to grow. However, when you are not getting enough iron through your diet, your body takes ferritin stored in non-essential tissue (like your hair bulb) and gives it to essential tissue, such as your heart. This often means that the growth (anagen) phase of your hair growth cycle is shortened, causing your strands to shed prematurely before they reach their maximum length.
If you notice that your hair is shedding, and/or not growing as long as it used to, and/or that you have short, wispy hairs around your temples and hairline, you may have low ferritin levels. Ask your GP or Trichologist to check them. (It is important to note that optimum ferritin levels for your hair are higher than those for your body. Again, this is because your hair is non-essential tissue.)
If your ferritin is low, try not to worry — your doctor or Trichologist can prescribe an iron supplement. Hair loss due to low ferritin is entirely reversible, and relatively easy to correct.