Many of my patients come to me with chronic hair loss. They’ve been to dermatologists, and are told there’s nothing wrong. All the lab markers look perfect. They’ve tried biotin, the classic hair loss supplement, and a number of other products marketed to regrow hair—to no avail.
“But clearly something’s wrong!” they tell me. Some say they used to have a thick, full head of hair and now they’re down to half, or sometimes even a quarter of what they used to have. Others say their significant others comment on how much hair they shed throughout the house.
Iron and Your Gut
A large number of these patients have something else in common, too: digestive troubles. They usually say they’re bloated after eating high glycemic foods, like bread, cereal, or cookies. Many of them say they’re bloated almost all the time. Some have itching in the ears. Often they describe “brain fog,” or inability to think as clearly as they once did. Sometimes they’ll experience constipation, diarrhea, or both.
These symptoms might not seem to be connected, but very often, they are.
Ferritin is the storage form of iron, and it is stored primarily in the liver—but also in the hair follicles. When the body is low in iron, and needs it for more important things (like making red blood cells) it will take it from less important places (like the hair) in order to accommodate its needs.
But why would ferritin be low in the first place? Often, because of a chronic infection. Bacteria, fungi, and viruses all use iron in their life cycles. The body responds to this by releasing a hormone called hepcidin, which blocks the absorption of iron in the gut. This is an adaptive mechanism for an acute, short-term infection. But if there’s a long-term infection, such as SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth) or overgrowth of intestinal yeast, not only will the organism itself deplete your iron, but the body will absorb less iron to begin with due to hepcidin, as well. This can mean low ferritin over time.
If hair loss is due to low ferritin, levels generally need to be over 50 µg/L for hair loss to stop, and over 70 µg/L for regrowth to occur. But the real question is, why is ferritin is low in the first place? Very often, the answer goes back to your gut.
To find out what is causing your gut health issues, take the Gut Health Quiz. It’s free!