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Hair Loss? It May Be Iron Deficiency

Too Little Iron in Blood of Men and Women Shedding Hair
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

May 17, 2006 - If you're losing hair, you may have an iron deficiency.

A review of 40 years of research shows that iron deficiency has a much closer link to hair loss than most doctors realize. It may be the key to restoring hair growth, Cleveland Clinic dermatologists find.

"We believe that treatment for hair loss is enhanced when iron deficiency, with or without anemia, is treated," Leonid Benjamin Trost, MD; Wilma Fowler Bergfeld, MD; and Ellen Calogeras, RD, MPH, write in the May issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.

It's a controversial issue. Not every study shows a link between iron deficiency and hair loss. Trost says there's not enough hard evidence -- yet -- to make iron-deficiency screening a routine procedure for people with hair loss.

But study researcher Bergfeld has been doing this for years. And she's finding that whatever the cause of hair loss -- for both women and men -- having too little iron in the blood makes it worse.

"What Dr. Bergfeld has found in decades of experience, is when she treats patients for iron deficiency --even in the absence of anemia -- it can maximize their ability to regrow hair," Trost tells WebMD. "It is not the silver bullet for baldness, but it can definitely help maximize how a patient regrows hair."

The Cleveland Clinic isn't alone in doing this. George Cotsarelis, director of the University of Pennsylvania Hair and Scalp Clinic, has studied iron supplementation in women with various forms of hair loss.

"From our clinic's experience, it is clear to me that if you replenish hair-loss patients' iron stores with iron supplements, they are more likely to regrow hair, or at least stop hair shedding," Cotsarelis tells WebMD. "And they don't have to be anemic. That is the biggest mistake doctors make."

An even bigger mistake would be for balding people to take iron supplements on their own. Unless you have iron deficiency -- diagnosed by a doctor -- iron supplements can lead to a very dangerous condition from iron overload.

Hair Loss May Be a Symptom of Serious Illness

A sensitive way to check total body iron stores is to measure the amount of ferritin in the blood. Ferritin is a protein that plays an important role in iron storage. As a general rule, the less ferritin in the blood, the less iron a body has stored up.

Cotsarelis and Trost say that what most doctors consider to be a normal ferritin level is, in fact, too low. Ferritin levels of 10-15 ng/mL are within the "normal" range. Cotsarelis says a ferritin level of at least 50 ng/mL is needed to help replenish hair. Trost and Bergfeld shoot for 70 ng/mL.

"Doctors see ferritin levels in the normal range, and don't do anything," Cotsarelis says. "But the normal range is wrong, I think. The normal range for women is 10-120 ng/ML, and for men it is 30-250 ng/mL. Why should a man's be lower than a woman's? Mostly because women are iron deficient. It is almost a public health problem. Hair loss is only an indication of this."

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