Iron deficiency anemia is a condition that occurs when a person does not have enough iron in their body, or their body cannot use iron properly. While severe iron deficiency anemia can cause symptoms such as shortness of breath, fatigue, and chest pain, some people also experience hair loss.
Doctors are not sure why some people who experience hair loss have low iron stores. They do know, however, that iron is an essential component in an enzyme called ribonucleotide reductase that helps cell growth.
According to some research, hair follicle cells can be particularly sensitive to decreasing levels of iron and may not be able to grow new cells as effectively when iron stores are low.
In this article, learn about the link between iron deficiency anemia and hair loss, as well as the treatment options for each.
Iron plays a crucial role in making hemoglobin, a compound that carries oxygen to cells, which is essential for the body to function.
Symptoms of iron deficiency anemia include:
- brittle nails
- extreme fatigue or lack of energy
- fast heartbeat
- pale skin
- shortness of breath
- sore tongue
While hair loss is not a typical symptom of iron deficiency anemia, some people might experience it.
If a person suspects their iron levels may be low, they should visit a doctor who can perform blood tests to determine if they are anemic.
Iron deficiency anemia and hair loss
Most of the studies related to iron deficiency anemia and hair loss look at hair loss in women. Female pattern hair loss, also known as androgenetic alopecia, is the most common hair loss type in women.
Female pattern hair loss usually refers to thinning hair in the middle portion of the scalp. People with this hair loss pattern may also have thinning or receding hair on the hairline along their forehead.
Research has determined that there is not enough evidence to say for sure that iron deficiency anemia can cause hair loss in men or women. While some studies have found that people experiencing hair loss were deficient in iron, there is little evidence to suggest that an iron deficiency is the cause.
However, the research does suggest that iron deficiency hair loss seems to be related to hair loss that does not scar the hair follicles. This is promising for regrowth because it means that the follicles are not severely damaged and may be able to grow hair again.
People experiencing both hair loss and an iron deficiency might need to treat both separately.
Treating hair loss
Doctors can recommend many treatments to people experiencing hair loss, including:
- Minoxidil: This medication is available as a topical solution. Scientists think that this medication allows hair to stay in the growth phase for longer.
- 5-alpha-reductase inhibitors: Medications such as finasteride (Proscar) are 5-alpha-reductase inhibitors. These drugs help increase the levels of enzymes that promote hair growth.
- Surgical techniques: If other treatments do not work, surgery, such as hair transplantation, can help restore a person's hair.
Doctors are continually researching new techniques to restore hair growth. One example is platelet-rich plasma (PRP) treatment. This involves separating the platelets from a sample of a person's blood using a specialized machine, then injecting these platelets into areas of the scalp affected by hair loss.
Doctors believe the platelets contain a significant amount of growth factors, which can help stimulate hair growth. Research in one study found that women who received PRP injections saw increases in the density and thickness of their hair after 6 months. However, more studies need be done to prove PRP's effectiveness.
Treating iron deficiency anemia
Treatments for iron deficiency anemia include:
- Iron supplements: A doctor may recommend a person takes iron supplements daily to help their body restore iron over time. A person should always talk to their doctor before taking iron supplements because they can cause severe side effects. A person may have to take iron supplements for 3 to 6 months before their iron stores reach normal levels.
- Iron injections: A doctor may recommend iron injections to raise iron levels faster. People who are severely anemic may also require intravenous iron or iron injections. People who cannot absorb iron properly, such as those with Crohn's disease, may also benefit from injections.
- Dietary changes: Consuming more dietary iron can also help increase levels. Iron-rich foods include red meat, chicken, fish, leafy green vegetables, and legumes. Food manufacturers may also add iron to certain foods, such as cereal.
Research states that there is not enough evidence available to suggest that taking iron supplements will help a person with hair loss grow new hair if they have iron-deficiency anemia.
However, there are many other hair regrowth treatments available. People with hair loss should talk to their doctor about treatment options.
If a person has low iron stores, increasing their iron intake will likely help them to feel better overall.
Doctors are still defining the relationship between iron deficiency anemia and hair loss. This is because hair loss can have multiple contributing factors, including genetics.
However, doctors do know that iron deficiency can play a role because many people experiencing hair loss have lower iron stores than those who are not losing their hair.
Ideally, by increasing their iron stores, a person may see an improvement in hair growth as well as any symptoms of iron deficiency anemia.