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Hair Loss and Nutritional Deficiency

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Nutritional deficiencies may be the cause of some cases of hair loss so if your hair is thinning or you’re losing it, you may be lacking in essential vitamins.

Are you anemic?

If you are not yet middle-aged and are struggling with hair loss, it may be due to anemia. Other signs of anemia are:

• Tiredness
• Lack of energy
• Headaches
• Breathlessness
• Palpitations
• Pale skin
• Flaking skin around the nails

• Mouth ulcers

The Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology wrote:

"Several studies have examined the relationship between iron deficiency and hair loss. Almost all have addressed women exclusively and have focused on noncicatricial hair loss. Some suggest that iron deficiency may be related to alopecia areata, androgenetic alopecia, telogen effluvium, and diffuse hair loss, while others do not ... It is our practice at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation to screen male and female patients with both cicatricial and noncicatricial hair loss for iron deficiency. Although this practice is not evidence based per se, we believe that treatment for hair loss is enhanced when iron deficiency, with or without anemia, is treated. Iron deficiency anemia should be treated."

So science has not really established whether there is a relationship between iron deficiency and hair loss, but some research suggests that there is. If you have hair loss and any of the other symptoms, see your doctor for a blood test to check for anemia. If you are anemic, a course of iron tablets may be enough to assist hair re-growth.

Food sources that contain iron include leafy green vegetables, beans, nuts, dried fruit, fortified breakfast cereals, oatmeal and meat. Make sure your weekly menu contains some of these types of foods in order to avoid anemia. Reducing your caffeine intake can also improve your iron levels as caffeine inhibits your body’s ability to absorb iron.

Zinc Deficiency

Additional research has shown that zinc deficiency may be a cause of hair loss and zinc has been employed as a treatment for hair loss even if the person has not been shown to be deficient. Perhaps some individuals need more nutrients than current daily intake guidelines suggest? A study in Experimental Dermatology in 2005 found that short term supplementation with zinc encouraged hair re-growth in mice.

'Oral zinc (Zn(2+)) is often employed for treating hair loss, even in the absence of zinc deficiency, although its mechanisms of action and efficacy are still obscure….. Interestingly, Zn(2+) treatment of cyclophosphamide-damaged HFs also significantly accelerates the re-growth of normally pigmented hair shafts, which reflects a promotion of HF recovery. However, if given for a more extended time period, zinc actually retards hair re-growth. Thus, high-dose oral zinc is a powerful, yet ambivalent hair growth modulator in mice.’

Due to the beneficial effect on mouse hair growth, the researchers suggested doing studies in humans to see whether zinc could prevent hair loss during chemotherapy.

Zinc is a mineral that helps with the absorption of vitamins, cell reproduction and hormonal balance. Symptoms of zinc loss include loss of appetite, weight loss, lack of the senses of smell and taste, skin problems, poor wound healing, lack of menstrual periods, night blindness, white spots on the fingernails, depression and hair loss.

However, zinc supplements can interact with various antibiotics and medications so it’s important to check with your doctor before taking a supplement if you are also taking other supplements or medicines.


1. The diagnosis and treatment of iron deficiency and its potential relationship to hair loss, Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, Volume 54, Issue 5 , Pages 824-844, May 2006.
Abstract: http://www.eblue.org/article/S0190-9622%2805%2904745-6/abstract

2. Symptoms of iron deficiency anaemia, NHS Choices. Web. 20 September 2011.

3. Vitamins and minerals – Iron, NHS Choices. Web. 20 September 2011. http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/vitamins-minerals/Pages/Iron.aspx

4. Zinc as an ambivalent but potent modulator of murine hair growth in vivo- preliminary observations, Experimental Dermatology [2005, 14(11):844-53]. Abstract:

5. Zinc, University of Maryland Medical Center. Web. 20 September 2011. http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/zinc-000344.htm

Joanna is a freelance health writer for The Mother magazine and Suite 101 with a column on infertility, http://infertility.suite101.com/. She is author of the book, 'Breast Milk: A Natural Immunisation,' and co-author of an educational resource on disabled parenting.

She is a mother of five who practised drug-free home birth, delayed cord clamping, full term breast feeding, co-sleeping, home schooling and flexi schooling and is an advocate of raising children on organic food.

Reviewed September 20, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

Add a Comment5 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

Great article on zinc deficiency....yes, however, there can be a variety of reason for hair loss. I was hospitalized recently for approx a week an a half which resulted in a hair loss for me due to heavy duty, but necessary, meds....I visited my stylist for a nice cut...removing "dead" hair, begin taking hair vitamins and additional supplement religiously and my hair is beginning to renew...
To your excellent health!
"Natural Relief for Menopause Hot Flashes"

October 24, 2011 - 9:01pm

Yes, that's a good idea, I should have put natural ways to get zinc. Will look it up and post on here tomorrow.

October 18, 2011 - 3:38pm
EmpowHER Guest

YES TERRIBLY• Lack of energy
sometimes• Breathlessness
YES TERRIBLY• Palpitations
MAYBE• Pale skin
MAYBE• Flaking skin around the nails
NO• Mouth ulcers
YES hairloss
Along with missed periods, weight loss, loss of appetite

Even if I eat loads of leafy greens and quality meats/proteins regularly, could I still have an iron deficiency due to lack of absorption? Is there a test I can request from my doc or a range of results that could indicate a low level even if not out of range...

I liked how the article highlighted what to eat for the iron naturally, but maybe I missed the natural ways to obtain zinc?

September 22, 2011 - 8:30pm
EmpowHER Guest

While a zinc definiency is a valid cause, mine was a low functioning thyroid. My hair in last year started to break off at the roots and was filling a hair brush on a daily basis.
My adrenal glands were also totally burned out from exhaustation and a hormone imbalance. Since I started taking Synthryoid and fish oil and other vitamins, I feel better and my hair is coming back!

September 22, 2011 - 10:56am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

How did you know you had low thyroid production, and without the medicine will you be able to restore your thyroid and adrenal health eventually?

September 22, 2011 - 8:23pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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