Long before I figured out the whole gluten-ruining-my-health thing, I noticed that I felt better the less I ate. This was because like most Americans I ate wheat (gluten) at almost every meal. This revelation eventually led me to such a low caloric intake that I developed a palsy in my hands, stopped sleeping, and lost a third of my hair.
To give you an idea of how much hair: I used to wear it in a half ponytail (like this) and about every three weeks the 1/4-inch, spring-loaded barrette I used would break from being stretched too far. Two years later I could put all of my hair in the same type of barrette and the barrette would slide off onto the floor.
The switch to gluten-free and back to eating like a horse slowed but did not stop the hair loss. It took me a few years to figure out the reason, during which I was on a daily regimen of all the basics: calcium, magnesium, B vitamins, etc. When I read that magnesium deficiency can be involved in hair loss, I took extra but it didn’t help. The same happened with biotin. When I read that the two work together in some ways, I tried them both at the same time and in about a week the hair loss stopped.
It did not grow back much, though, and since nothing else has worked, and since my iron levels have never even remotely high for various reasons, I am assuming that iron deficiency is the cause. An oft-repeated statistic among hair-loss experts is that if low iron is responsible for your hair loss, your iron ferritin level has to be at 70 for three months before it will start growing back.
When I finally learned to look at my medical test results myself, I discovered my ferritin level, which had been 6 for two years, was by European standards so low as to warrant hospitalization and a blood transfusion. In two years not one of the dozens of doctors I consulted even commented on it. Finally an alterna-doc, who had seen me before, mentioned that it should ideally be 50-60.
After that episode I lost another chunk of faith in doctors and in lab ranges. To give you an idea of the widely disparate opinions about lab ranges, my conventional doc said a ferritin level of 12 is fine. In 10 years I haven’t been able to get it past 26.
Over the years I’ve noticed that the thickness/fullness of the hair can change in a matter of days based on my protein and iron intake. Drinking/eating large amounts of peppermint in the form of tea or Peppermint Patties, for example, will lower my iron levels and make my hair wimpy in a few days. Not eating protein for a few days will do the same.
Other things I’ve tried are taking apple cider vinegar and betaine hydrochloride on the theory that I wasn’t producing enough stomach acid to absorb needed nutrients, but no dice. I also tried rinsing my hair in apple cider vinegar to remove whatever buildup our notoriously hard water here might be creating, but I couldn’t take the smell. There’s no point in having great hair if you smell like a pickled egg.
38 thoughts on “Hair loss and hair thinning: a few causes and solutions”
Wasn’t aware of drinking peppermint can affect the ferritin levels – Really good to know. While the low iron level can cause thinning hair, high ferritin level is also not a good sign.
I think when it comes to biotin, it’s really 50/50. Some people have good results for hair growth, while others dont see much results at all.
Thanks for the article! Good tips!
Your website has been very helpful but my most recent hair thinning and hair loss which started about 2 weeks ago has been very different/strange. Hair so fine you can hardly see it at all + bad outbreak of several herpes which is chronic + lodged permanently in the base of my spinal cord. My general health has also been frail but I don’t know where to start with treating it. Thank you for any helpful thoughts about thyroid and iron intakes. thankyou.
I can’t speak to personal experience with iron and hair loss, because although iron supplements fixed other complaints quickly, I’ve never been able to tolerate it for very long, and it seems to takes a while to fix an iron-related hair problem. I can say that my last bout of hair loss seems to have been caused KNOCK ON WOOD by taking too much iodine (12.5 mg) (for non-thyroid reasons) for too long without selenium. When I started taking 400 mcg of selenium, the hair loss stopped in a few days. Both are vital to the thyroid and ignored by mainstream doctors. The website Stop the Thyroid Madness might be of help. You might have to wade through a lot of info.
I’m guessing you are hypothyroid like me. Do you have hashimotos? Is that why you take iodine? I don’t have hashimotos and I know iodine can be tricky to take and is not for everyone. I eat eggs everyday and I’ve had my iodine checked and I dint believe I’m deficient so for that reason I’m leery to take more iodine. But when you say it stopped your hairloss to take selenium do you think it was just that you were unbalanced in your taking iodine or do you think a person not taking additional iodine needs to take selenium to stop hair loss?
No, I am not hypothyroid or Hashimoto-oid. I was hypo about 14 years ago, and was on Armour for about 2 years, but I don’t remember it helping my hair. Eventually I got sick of taking the meds and had a long series of acupuncture sessions, at which point I was able to stop the Armour. I think 50 mg of zinc/day also helped.
I wrote about my first iodine experiment six years ago, targeting fatigue and insomnia, on this page. (BTW after researching the iodine protocol, I concluded that iodine tests are not very accurate.) I started iodine again recently when I got bromide toxicity symptoms from a new memory foam mattress, and discovered that it also eliminated the breathing issues I was getting from dairy.
I assume this iodine depleted too much selenium, causing the hair loss. I personally would not blink at experimenting with taking selenium without iodine, but then I’m the kind of gal who takes 50 mgs of melatonin just to see what happens. I think Stop the Thyroid Madness has some info from people who are trying to treat their thyroid issues with supplements, including iodine and selenium. Life Extension’s discussion boards also might have some info.
I hope this helps.
Excited about your blog.
Having lost faith in (all) doctors (and a fair share of my once-upon-a-time beautiful mane, too), I started looking high and low for what could have caused the hairloss problem.
My ferritin level was 4.4 (!), the normal range being 12-200. Started using Feroglobin (iron supplement +B12+zinc +folic acid +B6), within two weeks ferritin was 7.
I will start taking Ca+Mg+D3 supplement shortly.
I came across the book “The Hormone Cure” by Sara Gottfried, which answered many if not all of my questions, helped me shed four kilos and maintain the weight effortlessly for 2 months now (recommend any woman to read it)
In the book, she (she is a gynecologist + scientist) tells that in her experience, very often hair loss occurs due to low ferritin level and lysine deficiency intake.
I also had very thick hair and experienced the same with ponty tail holders, etc..
What I finally realized was it was hormonal, at least for me. When pregnant, I read hair can start to fall out; although, I didn’t really take note back then probably because my hair loss wasn’t that severe.
However, now going through menopause it’s been extreme hair loss. I lose about a quart-sized Ziploc bag full of hair every third washing. (I know because I have to collect it as it clogs the drain. 🙁 ) It all finally made sense that there was a hormonal component when I went on bioidentical hormones (for more than one issue) and my hair almost immediately stopped shedding. I don’t plan to stay on hormones long term, but found it interesting to make this observation.
Thank you for the info, Tammy. (Apologies for the delay in response. Gmail started marking all comments as spam.) This problem has started up again and I don’t know if it’s menopause (I’m 50) or one of my megadose experiments wreaking havoc, or the low iron levels I’m too lazy to correct. Fun! I hope you maintain your hair retention success.
In reply to Keith concerning inositol:
I tiook both kinds of inositol, as there are two types one called myo and the other called D-chiro, for 6 months and it did not stop my hair loss nor regrow any new hair. But it may work for you. I actually used a large dose. I had never read in all my reasearch about it that it could cause hair growth in other places on your body if you use too much. However, I did not have any unwanted hair on other body parts while taking large doses. Large doses can however cause diarrhea in some people. If that happens then just cut back on the dose until you no longer experience any loose stools.
There are so many different reason that people have hairloss. It’s impossible to know what causes ones particular hairloss in order to get a cure. If one could know the reason then one could narrow down a treatment. You have to try different remedies until you find one that works for your particular hairloss reason. Almost everyone who goes to a dermatologist will be told they have alopecia if they have hairloss. This is vague as alopecia can come/devlope for any reason and can go/reverse for any reason that is unknown. Some of the various reasons for hairloss, either permanent or temporary can be:
Several different Hormone issues including after childbirth and post-menopause and too much testosterone amoung other hormonal issues
Many Prescription medications like high blood pressure meds
Many Illnesses like diabetes
The list goes on, so you can see that the cure depends on what is causing your particular hairloss and most people don’t know their cause or it could be more that one cause. All we can do is try a remedy/treatment and if after several months you see no improvement then try another different remedy. Sometimes if you use more than one remedy/treatment at the same time and you see improvement then you won’t know which remedy is the one that is working. In that case, you are spending time and money on some things that aren’t working but which remedy that is working you don’t know. So it’s best to try one or a hand-in-hand set at a time. I would call using both types of inositol a hand-in-hand treatment as they are both inositol and you might need both. I call drinking nettle and using it as a final leave-in rinse a hand-in hand treatment as well.
Do your reasearch on remedies/treatments and read all you can both good and bad on a treatment. Check into all possible side effects of a treatment as well. Also what doses are best and importantly check if ingested remedies need to be taken on an empty stomach or with fat if they are fat-soluble suplements because this can make the difference in if it can work or not. Some suplements can’t be taken together as they can cancel out the benefits. You will find both good and bad on internet searches on everything. You need to decide which to believe. My personal guidelines have been if I read more good or more bad then I tend to believe which one I read the most about and I also consider the credentials of the source of information. I spend days and sometimes weeks researching a remedy/treatment before trying it. Who wants to spend time and money on products that may never have been able to help?
I have been dealing with hairloss in different degrees for many years and I’ve tried many, many remedies/treatments, until now, I have not had success for whatever is causing my particular hairloss. Although I still have hairloss, at least I’m finally seeing some hair growth with the Maria Treben treatment. I do have illnesses that could be the cause but then again, I had hairloss before my illness arrived. I’ve taken perscription meds that can cause hairloss but when I long stopped taking those medications I still had hairloss. I had hairloss before as well as after post-menopause. I had hairloss with high ferritin/iron counts and have had hairloss with anemia. I’ve tried every hairloss supplement in the highest recommended doses and still had hairloss. There is no hairloss in my family. Both parents and both sets of grandparents and even great grandparents had full hair till death. I’m hypothyroid but I’ve been on a high dose (180 mgs) of Armour thyroid for several years and still had hairloss. It’s maddening not being able to pinpoint why I’m having hairloss. If I knew the cause I could perhaps stop it. Perhaps using the hand massager on my scalp over the next few months will be the trick. I’ve only been using it for about 2 weeks and sometimes I forget a day or two as it’s not a habit yet. I got a electric scalp massager for about $10 from Amazon and it looks like a claw so it slides through my hair without tangling it. It’s called the ASIN:B01IFCWQL0 Tezam Head Massager Neck Massage Octopus Scalp Stress Relax Spa Therapy Healing, Soft Resin Finger Gripper Claw Electronic Head Spa Vibration Scalp Massage Tool. I was told to massage my scalp for several minuets everyday for stimulation to the scalp and possible end of hairloss.
Here is an update:
I believe drinking a half gallon nettle tea daily and using a final rinse on my hair of dried nettle leaves and dried nettle root has helped me grow some new hairs. I do not towel dry my hair so that the nettle is not wiped off but either left to air dry or blow dry.
I’ve since cut down on the amount of nettle tea I drink to about 4 cups as I’ve added other herbs in tea form to help with other illness I have. Drinking herbs in tea form is much better than taking those herbs in capsule form. The key is to sip the tea throughout the day instead of just drinking it down quickly. You can drink it hot or cold. I’ve reciently added more herbs as a final hair rinse listed in the Maria Treben books under hair-loss and hair-growth. Maria Treben was an herbalist who wrote 3 books. I got my books from Amazon. I’m still using the hand massager on my scalp but it’s too early to tell if that is also helping.
I just started growing out my grey hair and no longer having my hair colored. All the new growth is grey so I know that it’s not broken hair. I’ve only been growing out my grey for 2 months now which is when I started on the nettle tea and rinse. I’m still losing hair but I have new growth. I hope to stop losing hair soon. All the hairloss is the long hair that was the previously dark colored hairs. I’m not losing any of the new grey hairs that have grown out.
Here is a photo of my new hair growth, I hope the photo shows up on this post.
That is good to hear. I wonder if it’s due to nettle’s anti-inflammatory properties.
One supplement I saw some people at Earthclinic enthusiastically! say it grew hair is Inositol. I’m 140 lbs and I take 1/8 rounded teaspoon a day. If I use it regularly, I start to see some filling in, but nothing drastic. I read if you take too much it can grow hair in places you might not want. Maybe I could up the dose and get better results.
Thank you for this. I just looked at reviews for it on iherb and quickly found 3 people who used it successfully for the same thing.
I am 48 and started to see excessive shedding. I was diagnosed with fibroid and the Dr said low iron is a problem seen with that. I went and got tested around July 2016 and had a hemoglobin of 12.8 and ferratin of 31. I have read that a ferratin of below 40 will cause breakage and loss of hair and by standards you may not appear to be anemic but can be on the low side. Have been taking iron for 2 months now and will soon go get checked. I want to raise my ferratin up to 80. Well I was still shedding and then I started to take a magnesium/calcium supplement along with zinc and hair skin and nails. I notice within a few day the shedding had minimized greatly. I then by forgetting stopped taking the hair skin and nails and stopped the magnesium/ calcium along with zinc and within 1 month my hair loss was worse. I just didn’t put 2 + 2 together. I started back on those supplements and bam within 1 day the shedding stopped again. I do feel like it is the magnesium/calcium is most important with my body. I think I was very mineral deficient. I am trying to eat much healthier with Nuts and greens as they have many minerals in them. I hope this helps someone. I plan on getting my iron levels check again very soon.
I was just wondering what products you were using?
The names of the products (mag/cal and zinc)
I usually use calcium and magnesium separately, rather than in a cal-mag combo, and I think I usually used Country Life. However, I can’t remember if one formulation worked better than others (orotate, theonate, oxide, picolinate, gluconate, etc.). Same with zinc. For the past several years I have been using Solgar’s zinc gluconate. As for brands, I have used most of the ones stocked by Vitamin Shoppe, except for Solaray, Nature’s Bounty, and the store’s brand, and can’t tell a difference in quality.
I’ve tried many things to stop my hair loss and to start to regrow but nothing has worked so far. All kinds of suplements, iron pills, at a ferritin level of 60 my hair was still falling out. I’m on Armour thyroid 180 mgs and still hair falling out. Might ask to raise my Armour next time I go back to the doctor as I’m still tired and take a nap during the day. Perhaps I need more.
Next to try is nettle herbal tea as well as the hair rinses made from herbs listed in Maria Treben books. I have just stared using a comb like claw shaped hand massager bought from Amazon for just $10. I section my hair in 4 parts and use the massager on my scalp while hair is wet after a shower. 2 minuets on each section. I was told that this could stop the hair loss but don’t know how long it will take. I’m sure that the hair loss and then any growth back might take at least 3 months to see improvement that it’s working.
I will be interested to know how the herb and massage treatments work. Good luck!
I am also interested in hearing about your results 🙂 I hope you have success 🙂
Once recently been diagnosed with hypothyroid 8 months ago. I’ve visited a top trycologist in the country (hair doctor) and she said the only thyroid meds they have seen a issue with persistent hair loss is Armour. You may want to consider switching to Levoxyl or Synthroid brand, which I take. Once my levels got to 2.0 TSH WITH high range FREE T3 & T4 hair loss nearly stopped. 10-15 hairs a day now. I take Evening primrose 2700mg, zinc 15mg, Bcomplex, Biotin Elon Matrix 5000, Visviscal Professional, COQ10, Vitamin C and OptiferinC (I had to get my Ferritin to 80 over 4 months of OptiFerrinC) to be where I’m at. Hope this helps you I understand the frustration and anxiety it can bring but with persistence and the right balance it can be resolved.
Iron supplements and foods high in protein are essential for hair growth among other nutrients such as zinc which I have personally found to strengthen hair strands. B complex is good, but the dosage could create problems that could sabotage your hair growth regimen – too much B12 could result in rosacea. If you develop scalp rosacea and you attempt to relax or perm your hair, your scalp will be too sensitive to withstand the chemical process and you will suffer hair loss.
This is extremely helpful information today and I am particularly wanting to find a way to improve my hair strength and thickness with the addition of iron, but don’t know how to do that. Hair is longish and starting to regrow a bit but was all falling out and thinning, don’t know what to do.
Thanks for your blog/website, etc.
Best regards for good health and thanks for sharing your info,
Alice (aged 74, an american living in Portugal) May 2016
Hi Alice. If you had your ferritin level tested, and want to try iron to try to raise it to what is recommended by hair experts (as opposed to your doctor), you might Google what the best form is. I thought it was biglycinate, but I am not sure of that anymore. There are also two products, lactoferrin and ferritin, that people use to build their iron levels when they are afraid that regular iron will contribute to a fungal/candida infection. I used lactoferrin for a few years and it was helpful for my sinuses and brain fog, but didn’t do anything for my hair. I did not get my ferritin retested during that time, however, so I can’t tell you how it was affected. (I now believe it is possible that my hair loss is due in part to lead poisoning.) Good luck.
I am a 53 pre-menopausal woman. My hair loss became a problem about 4 years ago, when my doctor prescribed Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPI) for extreme acid reflux issues. At first, I thought the increased hair shedding and starting the medication was coincidental. But when I asked my primary physician to order some routine bloodwork, my Vitamin D levels were very low. I started taking D3 supplements, and the hair loss improved pretty dramatically. Fast forward 3 years…. a routine endoscopy about 9 months ago showed that I continue to have mild Barrett’s esophagus (changes to the the “normal” tissues of the esophagus). But this time, there was also mild dsyplasia, which is considered a pre-cancerous condition. So… my gastroenterologist increased my PPI dose, and added another medication that I must take as well. Now, I am taking Lansoprazole and Famotodine on a daily basis. In the past 6-9 months, my hair loss has returned and it is worse than ever. My doctor says he does not think there is a correlation between the hair loss taking the medication. But I’ve been reading that medications designed to inhibit acid production in the stomach can hinder the body’s ability to absorb certain vitamins and minerals. I have been taking a high level, specially formulated “hair,skin and nails” multi-vitamin supplement that includes a lot of biotin, for the last year. My latest blood work a couple of months ago showed no deficiency in either iron or vitamin D. I was referred to a dermatologist to consult about the hair loss, who said “use Rogaine”. But my hair loss is all over my head, and is not “pattern baldness”. Unfortunately, because of my acid reflux, I have to take my medications. Any thoughts or experiences with this kind of situation?
Apologies for the delay in response. I neglected to post a reminder sticky note to myself and so completely forgot about this comment until 7 this morning.
I am sorry to hear about your situation. I do not have any experience with it, although the year my father started PPIs he experienced significant bone loss, which the doctor attributed to his advanced age. There is a camp (Chris Kesser is one) that believes that acid reflux is caused by too little acid, not too much, but I’m not sure those cases are extreme ones like yours, and if you’re worried about cancer, taking that leap of faith might be a bit much.
All I can offer are suggestions you might have done already:
— Look up the three drugs in the books Drug Muggers by Suzy Cohen, Supplement Your Prescription by Hyla Kass, and The Nutritional Cost of Prescription Drugs by Ross Pelton and James LaValleand, see what nutrients they deplete, and cross-reference those nutrients with hair loss. B12 comes to mind for PPIs. There might also be newer books on this topic.
— Check the various consumer-generated (not FDA-run) databases that list side effects of various meds. Three are listed here: http://www.adnuther.com/2013/04/rx-drug-side-effects-databases/ You might find others who are going the same thing and found some solutions.
— Look for a support forum for PPI users, or acid reflux, or for users of the other two drugs. You’ll find people who are on the same path and you can share info. The one drawback is that the search engines often suck, so you have to do a lot of scrolling. I did a fast check on Yahoo Groups but didn’t have any luck, but I might not be using the right keywords.
Good luck to you.
Are you sure that you have acid reflux? Many women are too low in stomach acid and therefore can not properly digest their food and have pressure on the LES valve to the esophagus – and end up with the exact same symptoms. If you are actually low in stomach acid your PPI will hurt you more than heal you.. increasing your dose may be making you sicker. Please google low stomach acid and try to properly assess your situation. ps I am not a doctor but most medications are hard on your stomach lining which will in turn affect your whole digestive system and ability to absorb nutrients. good luck
Proton pump inhibitors do most certainly cause hair loss. I have experienced the same thing with them. Hair loss that scares me to death while on them. I do use Rogaine because of thinning hair all over not just crown or front. Rogaine does work to thicken hair and I have used it now for 2 plus years. My hair will only grow to a certain length though and just quits. I wear clip in hair extensions and I think I look OK. I am 58 and have had hair loss off and on for various reasons for years. To replace the PPI I was taking for my acid reflux, I now take slippery elm everyday and it has helped so much with heartburn and acid reflux. I also have IBS-C and it has been a miracle for that problem too. I take kelp for my thyroid and and eat one brazil nut a day for my selenium needs. I just had my blood panels done and everything was within normal range for the first time in years. I think as we get older, we just have to face thinning hair and try to not let it get us down but still look for solutions to have the best healthiest hair we can have.
Your comments about hair changing within a few days of consuming something is bullshit. The hair is already out of the scalp. It is NOT affected by anything you consume once it’s out. You’re an idiot.
Thanks so much for your mature expression of disagreement. Sorry you’re handling your hair loss so badly, little commenter.
Yeah, that’s what the experts say, but I’ve seen this fast change too many times — with thyroid meds, iron supplements, and protein intake — to believe traditional wisdom. All three of those substances can increase blood circulation, and if that strengthens the capillaries around the follicle, that might make the hair shaft stand up more rigidly, making the hair look fuller and bouncier.
Another reason could be that improved nutrient intake causes more hairs than normal to remain in the growth phase and not fall out, but that would not explain the change in appearance of individual hairs, and I don’t see how it would be noticeable in a few days. With thyroid meds especially, the cuticle of each hair — the tiny scales that encase it — got tighter and shinier in a week.
(The effect of iron supplements could also be explained in part by the lessening of scalp oil. Low iron levels can cause oily hair. My old habit of drinking tons of iced peppermint tea in the summer — peppermint can inhibit iron absorption — made my hair look terrible in three days.)
My guess is that the improved nutrition also has some effect on the spongy cells at the center of each hair shaft.
Good luck with relying on traditional medical knowledge to solve your health problems. Never worked for me.
this is quite simple to cure and its been hidden from you for a evil reason and i wont dive into it.
to cure your hairloss you will need emu oil 100 percent pure and molucule distilled.
then add organic cayenne pepper to the oil and apply.
typical amount for a 2 month time frame is 4oz bottle of emu
then add 1 teaspoon of cayenne to the bottle and shake..
the omega fatty acids will feed your scalp and generate growth.
it penetrates all layers of the dermis into the actual tissue.
the cayenne acts the same way as rogaine and opens the pours and stimulates circulation.
problem solved just dont tell big pharma where i live.. lol
Thanks, Michael. I have heard of the cayenne pepper treatment but not with emu oil.
Could you please provide directions for the use of this?
Hoping for more info about hair loss.. I am 80 but healthy but just tired.
Your hair loss should go away if you grt on Armor or another dessicated thyroid med but no Synthroid or another synthetic thyroid med. and this is the main key…
You need to be taking a dose of at least 180 mg’s in order for the hair loss and other thyroid symptoms to go away. TSH test is unreliable and you need to find a dr (endocrinologist) who will prescribe by symptoms over test results. Check out the web site Stop the madness.
Susan: That is a great website and I’ve referred to it many times over the years. For me, Armour did not address the hair issue, although it solved a lot of other problems. There is no way I could do 180 mgs, which I believe is the equivalent of 3 grains. I couldn’t even tolerate 1/2 grain. My adrenals couldn’t handle it.
Top Trycologists (hair doctors) that see patients daily due to thyroid issues have told me the only hair problems they see are with Armour (desiccated). Your statement regarding must be on a certain dose is . Dosage is based on your level of hypothyroidism and how much your thyroid still functions and produces hormone on it’s own. Everyone is different.
My wife suffered from hair loss similar to yours, though since she also has polycystic ovaries, and was growing hair where she didn’t want it as well, it didn’t seem so mysterious. She went with prescription remedies (hormones and anti-androgens) which seemed to arrest it at least. Then when she hit full menopause, she dropped the hormones and the hair loss has increased some.
My hair is thinning as well, but since I’m a guy without pattern baldness, I consider myself lucky.
I’m doing an overhaul of my blog and realized I never replied to your comment about your wife’s hair loss. So now, 5.5 years late, I am. I am curious to see if it reaches you. Apologies for not replying the first time. Hope all is well over there.