One of the well known underlying causes of thinning hair, and receding hairlines is having an iron deficiency. One way to measure iron in the human body is to take the ferritin levels, which can correlate to the amount of iron the body stores.
Ensuring your body maintains appropriate ferritin levels will help prevent the onset of further loss of hair in some cases. Low ferritin levels can preclude more serious health conditions, and should be addressed.
What is A Low Ferritin Condition?
According to the Mayo Clinic, having low ferritin levels is essentially having low iron in your blood.
Ferritin is a blood cell protein that contains iron, and a test that shows low ferritin can help medical professionals understand how much iron your body is storing.
Anemia is a serious medical condition, and having low ferritin levels can be a sign of iron deficient anemia which may also be a precursor to hair loss.
Low ferritin can occur for a variety of reasons including; inadequate intake or nutritional deficiency, malabsorption due to disease or the body’s reduced capacity to absorb iron, excessive loss of iron through various issues including menstruation or gastrointestinal losses, and functional iron deficiency in which iron is stored, but not adequately supplied to the bone marrow.
If you believe your hair loss might be associated to issues of low ferritin it will require a blood test to make that determination and then some medical work up to understand what is actually causing the iron deficiency in the body.
How Does Low Ferritin Impact Your Hair?
Having low ferritin levels, or being iron deficient, has been shown to cause thin, lifeless hair. Iron deficiency can lead to anemia, which puts the body in a state of survival and causes accessory functions such as maintaining and growing hair to cease.
While losing small amounts of hairs on a daily basis is normal, having low ferritin levels can accelerate symptoms of hair loss and thinning hair.
In fact, low ferritin is one of the more common causes of hair thinning seen in women.
Hair is unable to grow in a healthy manner and is likely to fall out before reaching any significant length, which leads to individuals complaining of ability to only grow short hairs in some areas.
As hair is merely falling out prematurely, this issue is reversible once the levels of ferritin are addressed within the individual.
In the 2013 article, Iron Plays a Certain Role in Patterned Hair Loss, the authors discuss their research on the role of low ferritin in hair growth.
As hair is a consistently proliferating organ, it requires sufficient blood supply to grow full, long, and healthy.
The research found that when matched for age and sex, those individuals with low ferritin were more likely to have symptoms of thinning hair.
Participants who took an iron supplement to address low ferritin levels showed improvement in hair density and hair length when compared to the control group.
Another impact of low ferritin on the hair is related to the body’s reduced ability to produce red blood cells, which will reduce the overall red blood cell count in the body.
According to the University of Rochester, red blood cells require iron to form normally and to carry oxygen throughout the body.
At the base of each hair follicle, there is a network of blood vessels that connect to the root of each strand of hair (See Fig. 1).
Red blood cells typically carry oxygen to the hair through these systems of blood vessels, which carry oxygen and supports healthy hair growth. Hair is not typically able to sustain normal or healthy growth without adequate supply of oxygenated blood.
Side Effects of Low Ferritin
Having low ferritin levels, or essentially being anemic and low in iron, can lead to a variety of negative symptoms.
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute states that the type and severity of symptoms related to low ferritin will vary depending on the level of iron deficiency.
One of the most common signs of low ferritin is fatigue, or feeling tired.
Other symptoms of low ferritin levels are associated with the poor transfer of oxygen throughout the body including dizziness, headaches, or shortness of breath. Further signs include brittle nails and sore or swelling of the mouth and tongue.
One unusual side effect of low ferritin is that it can cause the unnatural craving of non-food items such as dirt or paint, a symptom referred to as pica.
Symptoms of Low Ferritin
- jaundiced, pale or yellow skin
- extreme tiredness
- heavy menstrual cycles
- digestive tract bleeding
- blood in the stool
- shortness of breath
- chest pain
- brittle nails
- hair loss
- pounding or “whooshing” sound in the ears
- restless leg syndrome
- craving non-food items
Ways to Increase Low Ferritin Intake
The only way to determine whether or not you have low ferritin levels is to consult a physician, who will have to perform a blood test in order to ascertain ferritin levels.
If it is determined that you do have low ferritin, this issue can be relatively easy to address.
While low ferritin levels can be addressed through diet, individuals who are known to have deficiencies would likely benefit from some measure of supplementation.
There are many ways to increase the ferritin levels in your body, including eating foods with high levels of iron and taking prepared supplements that are available on the market or in the form of a prescribed medication.
Numerous common food items have varying levels of iron, many of which can be incorporated into a healthy diet.
While there are supplements and medications to help increase ferritin levels in the body, this should be done so in consultation with a medical professional.
Eating a healthy diet, high in iron and other essential nutrients, will help support positive overall wellbeing which reduces the symptoms of hair loss and hair thinning associated with anemia, and a poor diet.
What Are Some Ferritin Rich Foods?
- Red Meat: the largest food groups that contain high amounts of iron to help raise ferritin levels in the body is red meat. While most meat contains some iron, the highest concentration of iron levels will be in the organs such as the liver, heart, and kidney. I wouldn’t recommend too much red meat as it is hard for the body to digest. Some people can thrive on red meat and for others it doesn’t suit their body type at all.
- Nuts: most nuts contain iron levels, and are generally a healthy snacking option that can be eaten on the go
- Dried Fruit: containing high quantities of iron, commercially available dried fruits are a healthy snack to address low ferritin
- Iron Fortified Foods: many foods have had iron added during the production, a simple means to address low levels of ferritin in many people. Many breakfast cereals, and enriched flour, have been fortified with iron
Best Recipes to Address Low Ferritin
Toasted Pita & Bean Salad
- 2 6 inch whole-wheat pita breads, cut or town into bite-size pieces
- 2 cups cooked pinto beans, well drained and warm
- 1 cup sliced romaine lettuce
- ½ cucumber, peeled and diced
- 1 cup crumbled feta cheese
- 1 cup diced plum tomatoes or ½ pint cherry tomatoes, quartered
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled
- 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
- 3 tbsp fresh mint, chopped
- 2 tbsp ground toasted cumin seeds
- 1/8 tsp salt
- fresh ground pepper, to taste
Preparation: Spread the bite sized pieces of pita onto a large baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees F, until brown and crisp (approximately 5 minutes).
Remove pita pieces from the oven and allow to cool on the pan.
While baking the pita pieces, mash garlic (which might help with healthy hair growth) and salt together in order to create a paste.
Drizzle in the lemon juice and the ground cumin, blending the mixture together thoroughly.
Once blended, begin to whisk oil into the mixture until fully blended and season to taste with ground pepper.
Mix the beans, cucumber, and tomatoes into a large serving bowl and add lettuce, parsley, and mint.
Finally, add in the pita pieces and sprinkle on the feta cheese.
Drizzle on the garlic dressing to taste, toss well to mix, and season with more ground pepper.
Bean & Salmon Salad with Anchovy Arugula Dressing
- 1 ½ cups baby arugula
- 4 cups of cooked and well drained cannellini beans
- 1 7-ounce can wild salmon, remove any remaining bones or skin and flake
- 2 oil-packed anchovy fillets, finely chopped
- 1 celery stalk, sliced ¼ inch thick diagonally
- 1 tbsp chopped shallot
- ¾ cup thinly sliced radishes
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/3 cup fresh parsley leaves
- ¼ cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed
- ¼ tsp salt, set aside another pinch
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 large Boston lettuce or butterhead leaves
- 1 sliced avocado for garnish.
- freshly ground pepper, to taste
Preparation: Using a food processor, mix the arugula, anchovies, parsley, garlic, shallot, lemon juice, and a pinch of salt until finely chopped.
Continue to process the mixture while slowly drizzling in the olive oil.
Add the salmon, beans, celery, radishes, pepper, and the ¼ tsp of salt into a large bowl and pour on the processed dressing.
Gently toss the mixture to combine fully. Place a large lettuce leaf on the serving plate and spoon in the salad mixture, adding slices of avocado to garnish.
Having low ferritin levels can be a sign of more significant health issues, but may also lead to hair loss or hair thinning without progressing to more serious cases of iron deficient anemia.
There is significant evidence to suggest that low ferritin levels may be associated with hair loss, as it can affect blood flow and oxygenation of the hair follicle.
There are numerous ways to ensure your body has enough iron to maintain high levels of ferritin, including making some healthy adjustments to your diet or using a daily supplement.
Ensuring your body does not have low ferritin levels is important for your overall health and having strong, resilient hair.