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If you are experiencing Telogen Effluvium, a type of diffuse hair loss and thinning, your Doctor or other health care professional may order a lab test to determine the ferritin levels in your bloodstream. This important, yet simple test can show whether or not the stored iron in your body is adequate for overall health and to support hair growth. Ferritin is, in part, stored in the hair follicles, and when levels dip too low, your body will steal it from them for its essential functions. The hair follicles are then unable to sustain the hair growing from them which results in:
- Diffuse hair loss all over the scalp.
- Often, although not always, a loss of some body hair.
- Thin, weak, brittle, breaking scalp hair.
- Dull, listless hair that has stopped curling (this hair is in the process of falling out).
- Loss of shorter regrowth hairs.
- Linear hair loss and bald spots.
Note that Telogen Effluvium can coexist with other forms of hair loss, particularly Androgenic Alopecia (pattern hair loss) which begins as a widening part. As it progresses, hair thins at the temples and in the front of the scalp. The hair line may also recede. Therefore, even if your Doctor diagnoses you with Androgenic Alopecia, he or she may still order the ferritin test, particularly if you are experiencing other iron deficiency symptoms such as:
- Exercise intolerance
- Heavy periods
- Brittle nails
- Restless legs
- Difficulty staying on task/concentrating
In addition, if any of the following apply to you, and you are dealing with hair loss, you may want to consider asking your Doctor to test your ferritin levels.
You are pregnant or nursing.
Even though you may have the healthiest of diets with adequate calories, you may not be getting everything you need. Your OB/GYN can guide you on how to proceed with dietary changes and supplementation.
You are in perimenopause.
Perimenopause generally means heavier periods which can have an impact on your ferritin levels over time.
You have chronic digestive issues.
Anything that disrupts the digestive process can contribute to iron malabsorption issues, so if you have been diagnosed with GERD, Crohn’s, Colitis, Gastritis, or IBS, and you are having symptoms of low ferritin levels, consider getting them checked out.
You have radically changed your diet or food intake.
This is a tricky one since diets do tend to fluctuate. However, if you have undergone gastric bypass, or are eating significantly less calories or iron-rich foods, your ferritin levels could have dropped.
How to Proceed
After the result of your ferritin level test is in, sit down with your Doctor to discuss it. Clinically “normal” ferritin ranges are 12 to 300 ng/mL (nanograms per milliliter of blood) for men and 12 to 150 ng/mL for women. Hair loss can occur at any level below 50 ng/NL, so it is important that you know what your exact number is. You will likely be prescribed iron supplements that you will need to take, possibly along with Vitamin C that will help with absorption. If you have had difficulty taking iron supplements in the past, iron bisglycinate chelate (also called chelated iron or iron chelate) can be a good option for you since it causes less digestive upset. Do not take more than what you are prescribed because too much iron can get stored in the organs which can possibly lead to heart disease, diabetes, and liver disease.
Most Doctors recommend raising ferritin levels to an optimal range between 70-80 ng/mL to resolve hair loss issues. This will take several months. You will know, though, that you are moving in the right direction when shedding slows down and you start to feel peach fuzz on your scalp. You may shed several short hairs during the recovery time as new hair grows in, but this will likely stop within a few weeks.
Have you ever experienced hair loss due to low ferritin levels? Tell us how you resolved it in the comments. For more on hair loss and iron deficiency click here.