Ferritin is a protein that stores iron for the body to use as needed. Many parts of the body contain ferritin, including the spleen, liver, blood, and hair follicles. When a person has a low ferritin count, they will also be low in iron.
Because hair follicles contain ferritin, some people think that raising ferritin and iron levels will restore healthy hair. However, it is important to get an accurate diagnosis and treatment from a doctor because too much iron can cause problems.
Doctors may use a ferritin test to check for the levels of iron in the body.
Keep reading to learn more about the relationship between ferritin levels and hair growth.
Iron plays a vital role in many essential bodily processes. Without iron, the body cannot create enough red blood cells.
Red blood cells transport oxygen around the body. When there are fewer red blood cells available, the body has difficulty transporting oxygen to the various organs and tissues. This can cause a range of problems, including anemia and hair loss.
One study found that in general, people experiencing pattern hair loss had lower iron levels than those who did not.
Other smaller studies have backed up this claim. For instance, one study found that women with hair loss had low serum ferritin levels, qualifying them for iron deficiency. This was a small study, and more extensive studies might help to explain the correlation between the two.
One explanation for why reduced iron levels lead to hair loss is that when the body is low in iron, it takes the ferritin stored in the hair follicles for use elsewhere in the body. The reduced levels of ferritin in the hair follicles could weaken the hair itself and lead to hair loss.
Iron is an essential nutrient, meaning that the body cannot produce it and must obtain it entirely through the diet. People who do not eat enough iron-rich foods may be at risk of having low ferritin levels.
Diet is just one cause of low iron levels. Other causes may include:
- heavy menstrual flow
- significant blood loss
- celiac disease or gluten intolerance
When a doctor diagnoses low ferritin levels, they will typically advise the person to adjust their diet and take an iron supplement until iron levels normalize.
If a doctor suspects low ferritin levels play a role in a person's hair loss, they will generally prescribe iron supplements and then monitor their symptoms.
If the hair loss is directly related to low iron and ferritin levels, then theoretically, increasing iron intake should replenish the ferritin in the hair follicles, leading to healthier hair.
However, raising ferritin levels will not increase hair growth in healthy individuals who have normal iron and ferritin levels.
It is also important to note that too much iron can cause side effects, such as iron poisoning and even organ and tissue damage.
As well as hair loss, a person with low ferritin levels might experience other changes in their hair.
The individual hairs might become thinner, weaker, and more prone to breaking or may lose their natural curls. Some people say they feel as though their hair has stopped growing.
If low ferritin levels are causing the hair loss, restoring iron levels in the body may be enough to reverse it. However, hair grows slowly, so it might take some time before new, healthier hairs grow back.
If people with normal iron levels who experience hair loss increase their iron levels, they are unlikely to see any improvement in hair growth. These people should consider talking to a doctor about possible causes.
If a doctor encounters a person experiencing hair loss who has low iron and ferritin levels, they will suggest dietary changes that include increased iron levels.
However, doctors might also carry out further tests to check for signs of other conditions, such as hypothyroidism, hormonal imbalance, or nutrient deficiencies. If a doctor suspects that a food intolerance, such as gluten intolerance or celiac disease, is causing the symptoms, doctors will carry out more tests to identify the condition.
If increasing iron intake does not resolve symptoms, doctors will consider other options, such as medical treatments for hair loss or other possible underlying conditions.
Taking too much iron at one time or over a prolonged period can cause problems, even in a person with lower iron levels.
Taking too much iron may cause symptoms such as:
- abdominal pain
- fast heart rate
- low blood pressure
- bloody or black stools
Iron is an oxidant, which means it can react with other molecules in the body. Too much iron in the body may lead to serious issues in the liver and other organs. Over time, this can lead to organ failure or even death.
Anyone who suspects they have low iron levels should get a blood test. This is the only way that a doctor can accurately diagnose whether someone has low ferritin levels.
A person experiencing hair loss or changes in their hair should see a doctor for a diagnosis.
There is a link between low iron levels and hair loss. If doctors find low ferritin levels in a person with hair loss, they may advise them to increase their iron intake to help correct the problem.
If doctors find signs of other underlying conditions, they will suggest treatment for them.
Improvements to hair health and hair regrowth take time, and patience is key. Some people may have to wait months before seeing a noticeable improvement to the health of their hair. However, correctly treating low ferritin levels might help restore a person's natural, healthy hair.