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Ferritin, Gluten & Hair Loss

by J.M. Andrews

About J.M. Andrews

J.M. Andrews has been a professional journalist for more than 20 years. She specializes in health and medical content for consumers and health professionals. Andrews' background in medicine and science has earned her credits in a wide range of online and print publications, including "Young Physicians" magazine.

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If you're losing your hair -- especially if your hair loss occurs suddenly and doesn't seem to have a ready explanation -- you should investigate potential medical reasons for your problem. It's possible that decreased ferritin, or iron, levels could be contributing to your hair loss. If that's the case, you should find out why you have low iron levels. In some cases, you could have celiac disease, an intolerance to gluten that can cause low iron and has been associated with hair loss.

Celiac Disease Basics

If you have celiac disease, you can't consume gluten without a bad immune system reaction that results in destruction of the inner lining of your small intestine, causing multiple deficiencies in nutrients. Gluten is found in the grains wheat, barley and rye. Symptoms of celiac disease include diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain and fatigue, but some people have few or no noticeable symptoms. Many people with undiagnosed celiac disease have low iron levels; in fact, in some cases low ferritin levels represent the only clue to the condition's presence. In addition, celiac disease has been linked with other autoimmune conditions, including autoimmune hair loss, known as alopecia areata. If you have that condition, you may be able to reverse your hair loss and your iron problem through a gluten-free diet.

Gluten-Free Diet Role

Screening for celiac disease usually involves a panel of blood tests that look for antibodies to gluten in your bloodstream. If you test positive, your physician likely will refer you for an endoscopy, a small surgical test that will look for gluten-induced damage in your small intestines. If you have celiac disease, there's no pharmaceutical treatment. Fortunately, you may find you're able to reverse your low iron levels and hair loss on a gluten-free diet. In one study, published in 1995 in the journal Gastroenterology, researchers reported a case in which a boy who had lost all his head and body hair regrew that hair following his celiac disease diagnosis and start of the gluten-free diet.

Hair Loss and Ferritin

Otherwise unexplained hair loss also shares links with low ferritin levels in studies that didn't consider gluten as a potential cause. Researchers writing in 2003 in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology compared iron levels in 106 female subjects with hair loss to control subjects with normal hair volume. They found lower ferritin levels in many of the women with hair loss than they did in the control subjects, and concluded that low ferritin may affect hair loss. However, it's not clear whether raising iron levels through supplements could slow hair loss or even help lost hair grow back.

Considerations

Hair loss represents a puzzle; although diet and nutrient levels play a role, it's not clear what causes many cases involving suddenly thinning hair. Changes in your hormone levels and normal aging also affect the rate at which you lose your hair, and your specific genetics likely dominate the process. However, if you experience sudden, unexplained hair loss and you find your ferritin levels are low, you may want to ask your doctor to screen you for celiac disease. If you do have celiac, you may see an improvement in your hair once you adopt the gluten-free diet.

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This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.