Why does iron deficiency cause hair loss?

Hair loss has many causes, and it can affect adults and children of all genders. Hair loss isn’t only caused by male-pattern baldness. It can also be caused by a lack of nutrients. When you don’t have enough iron, your body can’t produce the hemoglobin in your blood. Hemoglobin carries oxygen for the growth and repair of cells in your body, including the cells that stimulate hair growth.

With treatment, you can help reverse both the iron deficiency and the hair loss.

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.

Most hair loss related to iron deficiency is not permanent. The best way to treat hair loss is to address the underlying cause of the problem. If you think your hair loss is related to an iron deficiency, consult a doctor to measure your iron levels. Your doctor will most likely order a ferritin level blood test, which measures the levels of a protein called ferritin that helps store iron.

If your test results show low iron levels, you can treat it with iron supplements. You may experience a change in bowel movements as a side effect of the extra iron, so tell your doctor if you’re prone to upset stomach.


People in the United States spend over 3.5 billion dollars on products to treat hair loss, and it’s estimated that about 99 percent of these products don’t work. Stick to treatments recommended by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and medical professionals. These include:

  • Minoxidil (Rogaine): You use this popular over-the-counter liquid like shampoo. You rub it into your scalp twice a day to promote hair growth and avoid further loss of hair. The effects of Rogaine last about 16 weeks, after which time the rate of growth should slow down. However, you can keep applying it after 16 weeks to reap any additional benefits. Rogaine is available to both men and women.
  • Finasteride (Propecia): It’s available only to men in pill form. It slows hair loss, and for some men it stimulates hair regrowth.
  • Surgery: Although surgery doesn’t promote regrowth, it is an option available to those experiencing permanent hair loss. Hair transplant and restoration surgery involves removing small plugs of skin that contain hairs and implanting them to the bald areas of your head.

Losing hair due to iron deficiency should only last temporarily. It’s always a good idea to visit your doctor to discuss treatment options and get you on the path to optimal health quickly. Your doctor can help you change your diet to get the right amount of iron for your needs.

To prevent future hair loss, you should:

Eat a healthy, balanced diet. Be sure to fill up on iron-rich foods like spinach, peas, lean proteins — like pork and salmon — and dried fruit. You should also look for the phrase “iron-fortified” on labels of packaged foods like cereals.

Add foods high in vitamin C to your diet. These foods allow your body to absorb iron in a more efficient manner. Be sure to eat more oranges, strawberries, melons, broccoli, and tomatoes.

Wear your hair down. Wearing it tight in a headband can lead to breakage and hair loss.

Protect your hair from the elements with scarves and hats. On exceptionally sunny and windy days, keep your hair covered.

Brush and wash your hair gently. Being gentle can help you avoid pulling out any excess hair during routine maintenance.

Avoid using chemicals and hair dyes. If you do use chemicals and hair, seek help or guidance from a trained professional.

Avoid heat-based equipment like blow dryers and curling irons. If you must use them, add a layer of protection with hair-protectant gel or mousse, which you can purchase at any supermarket or drug store.