Mild iron deficiency, as demonstrated by borderline low blood levels of ferritin, also probably contributed to my own hair loss. Low ferritin, even without the presence of actual anemia (low red blood cells), is a common finding in menstruating women. My GP, at the time, recommended I take an iron supplement, aiming for a minimum ferritin of 40 mcg/l; some literature sources recommend 40-70 mcg/l as ideal for the normal hair growth cycle.
A review article in the 2006 Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology reported that while some studies demonstrate a link between iron deficiency and alopecia areata, adrogenetic alopecia, and telogen effluvium (all of which are various types of hair loss), other studies did not. They recommend using hemoglobin levels as a screen in hair loss patients, and using ferritin to confirm low levels. Their conclusion: there’s insufficient evidence to recommend iron supplements for hair loss in non-anemic patients with low ferritin levels. However, they wrote that they believe hair loss treatment is enhanced when iron deficiency, with or without anemia, is treated via adequate dietary intake and supplements.
Another review article, published in 2002 in Clinical and Experimental Dermatology, mentions the amino acid l-lysine as a potentially helpful adjunct to iron therapy in hair loss. I couldn’t track down the double-blind study in which this was demonstrated. According to commercial sources, lysine facilitates transportation and absorption of iron from your intestines, and can help in cases when hair doesn’t respond to iron supplements alone. Apparently, lysine intake may be low in people who eat little or no meat.
If you’ve noticed hair loss, ask yourself about any dietary changes in the past year or so. Most expert sources mention adequate protein intake as important for hair health and growth, so make sure that you’re patients eating enough, particularly if you’re vegetarian. Crash diets, low-fat diets, low-calorie diets, and eating disorders are also been associated with hair loss. People taking high doses of vitamin A (which can be potentially toxic), may also experience hair thinning and loss.
The bottom line, however, is still this: if you’ve noticed that you’re losing hair, see your doctor. You may need to be referred to an expert, be it a dermatologist or hair specialist, to properly diagnose your condition and begin appropriate treatment, as early as possible.