Iron Deficiency, How Does It Affect Hair Loss and Premature Hair Greying?

Is your hair starting to look a little thin? Are you looking in the mirror and realize that your hair is dry all of a sudden? Did you notice that one hair doesn’t seem to match all the others? Your first gray. While many people spot their first silver lock in their 30s, others are “lucky” enough to get a reprieve until their 40s.
Whether you’ve noticed a few extra strands of hair on your hairbrush or pillow or clumps of your hair falling out throughout the day, dealing with hair loss and premature hair greying can be a stressful process.

Let’s start with hair loss. Hair loss has many causes, and it can affect adults and children of all genders. In both men and women, the usual cause of hair loss is dihydrotestosterone, or DHT, an androgenic hormone that can miniaturize your hair follicles, causing the hair around your hairline and crown to thin and fall out. Hair loss isn’t only caused by male-pattern baldness. It can also be caused by a lack of nutrients.

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.

What does it look like?

Iron deficiency hair loss can look like traditional male- and female-pattern hair loss. A study published in the Journal of Korean Medical Science found that iron may not only play a role in hair loss, but it may cause hair to fall out in a fashion similar to that of genetic male- and female-pattern baldness.

If you’re experiencing hair loss, you may notice more hair than usual in the shower drain or in your hairbrushes. In more advanced cases you may notice bald spots on your scalp. 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.

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 doctor to check them. (It is important to note that optimal 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 can prescribe an iron supplement. Hair loss due to low ferritin is entirely reversible, and relatively easy to correct.

What about premature hair greying? Premature hair graying (PHG) is defined as a person who has five gray hairs and < 25 years old in Asia. So what causes you to go gray? Past research has shown that genetics may come into play, so your family history may be telling. Even your ethnicity plays a role in this rite of passage for the next phase of life.

If you are suffering from iron deficiency, the chances of premature hair greying increase. Although genetic factors associated with PHG, environmental factors and micronutrient deficiencies are risk factors of PHG.

With treatment, you can help reverse the iron deficiency and the hair loss and reduce premature hair greying. Talk to a doctor or another healthcare provider before taking any supplements. These professionals can help determine whether you’re truly deficient in these nutrients and advise you on any next steps.

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