Ferritin and Hair Loss: What You Need to Know
Ferritin and hair loss are two words that you may have heard before, but might not know exactly how they relate. Ferritin is a protein that helps store iron in the body, and hair loss can be a common side effect of low ferritin and iron levels.
In this post, we'll discuss what ferritin is, what can cause low levels, and how you can tell if you're suffering from male or female pattern hair loss as a result. We'll also cover some ways to increase your ferritin levels naturally. Read on to learn more!
What is ferritin?
Ferritin is a protein molecule found in the body. The amount of ferritin in your bloodstream can tell you about how much iron your body contains - higher levels of ferritin are associated with higher iron stores, while lower levels are associated with lower stores or anemia
Note that the majority of our iron is contained within hemoglobin, which carries oxygen through the blood to cells around the body. Roughly two-thirds of red blood cells contain hemoglobin. So even if your ferritin levels are normal or high, it doesn't mean that you have an abundance of available iron for use by other tissues and organs.
Iron is important because it's part of hemoglobin - which carries oxygen throughout the body -and myoglobin, which is found in muscle cells and helps them use oxygen more efficiently. However, too much iron isn't good for the body either because it can build up and become toxic to cells through prolonged exposure. This toxicity is what causes hemochromatosis, which you may have heard of before. There are also other conditions that can lead to low ferritin levels.
The connection between ferritin and hair loss
So if ferritin is a protein that helps store iron, what's the connection between low levels and hair loss? As we age, our ferritin stores naturally begin to decline. This can lead to high levels of circulating free radicals, which in turn can damage cells and contribute to the early onset of aging.
It's important to note that we don't know exactly how much ferritin is needed for healthy hair growth. But as you'll learn later on, there do appear to be some strong associations between lower levels of ferritin and certain conditions associated with hair loss.
The most easily recognizable side effect of low ferritin levels is anemia, which involves a lack or reduction in red blood cells (RBCs). The most common type of anemia is iron-deficiency anemia, which occurs when there's not enough available iron in the body to make RBCs.
Anemia can cause a range of symptoms, but one of the most common signs is fatigue. If you've been experiencing severe fatigue and lethargy for longer than 3 months (without an obvious explanation like long hours at work, sleep apnea, or depression ), then you might want to talk with your doctor about taking a ferritin test.
It's also possible that you could be suffering from hair loss without having any noticeable symptoms. One study found that certain types of hair loss - including androgenic alopecia, telogen effluvium, and trichotillomania - appear to be associated with low ferritin levels.
How do you test for ferritin?
If you're concerned about your ferritin levels and whether they may be related to hair loss, it's quite easy to test for it.
The most accurate way to measure ferritin is to get a blood test at your doctor's office or lab. However, many doctors don't routinely check ferritin as part of an annual physical exam because there aren't any symptoms associated with low levels. It would likely only be tested in cases where the doctor suspects anemia.
If you want to test for low ferritin on your own, two options are:
The best way to determine your level is by having a doctor order a blood test. This involves drawing blood from the vein using an elastic band on your upper arm. The inside of the elbow is a popular location for blood draws because there's a large vein that can be readily accessed in that region.
Take out the blood through a needle and the blood sample will then be sent to a lab for testing and you'll likely get the results within several days (they can come back even faster if your doctor orders a " stat " ferritin test).
You can buy 'dipstick' kits that allow you to measure it yourself at home. These are often available as over-the-counter devices without a prescription, but keep in mind - they won't be as accurate as those ordered by your doctor or phlebotomist.
They only provide an estimate of your ferritin level, so there's no way of knowing for sure whether it's normal or not based on these tests alone. This is why it's best to use them as a reference and then repeat the test in a few weeks once you've gotten your blood drawn at your doctor's office.
What are the symptoms of low ferritin?
Ferritin levels are important for the proper creation of red blood cells. Red blood cells transport oxygen throughout your body. Your organs and main systems won't function properly if you don't have enough red blood cells.
Low ferritin levels are similar to iron deficiency anemia, and hair loss is only one of the symptoms. Other signs of a low ferritin level include:
- Pounding in the ears
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty concentrating
- Restless legs
- Shortness of breath (due to low oxygen in the blood)
- Pale skin or nail beds
Keep in mind that these are only suggestions of what might happen if you have low ferritin levels - they aren't guaranteed to appear. Even so, it's always a good idea to visit with your doctor about any concerns you have regarding your hair health. If required, they may do additional testing.
What level of ferritin is alarming?
If you already have low ferritin levels that are causing you concern, then it's important to recognize the symptoms. If you're experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, see your doctor immediately.
One study found that ferritin levels less than 30 μg/L might be associated with diffuse hair loss. On average, men had higher levels than women, but both groups experienced significant thinning in their 20s and 30s.
For example, if a male has a ferritin level of 15 μg/L at age 24, his chance of baldness is slightly more than 50%. But by age 40, this goes up to about 82%.
The study also found that the effects of low ferritin levels might be most pronounced in younger people. It's possible that the hair follicles themselves are more sensitive to damage early on.
Ferritin and hair loss treatment
The greatest way to treat hair follicles loss caused by decreased serum ferritin levels is to up your iron levels. If you don't consume enough iron-rich foods (such as liver and beef), your doctor may recommend iron supplementation.
You can still get some iron from meat, even if it has more iron than plant-based foods. Whole grains, nuts, and legumes are all good sources of iron. Eating vitamin C-rich and iron-rich meals at the same time may help your body absorb the mineral better.
If food sensitivity is suspected, your doctor may propose a blood test or an elimination diet. Gluten intolerance is one of the most common causes of iron malabsorption, which can result in low ferritin.
Vitamin D insufficiency may be another cause. If you don't get enough sun, talk to your doctor about whether a vitamin D supplement is right for you. Also, try eating foods that are rich in vitamin D like eggs, cheese, and fatty fish into your diet more frequently.
Zinc deficiency is not uncommon among those who are going through hair loss. Zinc may be found in foods such as meat, whole grains, and dairy products.
Ferritin and hair loss recovery success rates
If your hair loss is caused by low ferritin, it should recover after the underlying iron deficiency anemia is addressed. Hair does, however, take months to grow back, so patience is crucial.
Use hair growth treatments only if your doctor instructs you to do so. Only apply minoxidil (Rogaine) if it will help with a large amount of hair loss.
59 percent of non-menopausal women with excessive hair loss also had an iron deficiency, according to one research. In such situations, hair regeneration is conceivable by replenishing iron reserves and increasing ferritin stores in the body.
Risks and precautions
While the correct amount of iron intake is critical to your general health, too much iron has the opposite effect. Women's normal ferritin levels range from 20 to 200 ng/mL and males' rates are between 20 and 500 ng/mL.
Even if your ferritin is low, taking too much iron might be harmful. It's also possible to have adequate amounts of both iron and ferritin yet extremely low readings. An iron overdose (toxicity) can produce the following symptoms:
- abdominal pain
- black or bloody stools
- increased heart rate
- decreased blood pressure
An iron overdose can damage the liver. It may even be deadly. As a result, you should not take iron supplements to boost your ferritin levels unless directed by your doctor. The only way for your doctor to determine if you have low ferritin is with a blood test. (Increased ferritin levels do not usually lead to hair loss.)
Too much iron can be stored in the body when it is affected by certain diseases. Liver disease, hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), and inflammatory diseases are all causes of this.
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