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Iron Deficiency
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May 31, 2006
Iron deficiency may be linked to several of the most common kinds of hair loss
According to a recent study at the Cleveland Clinic, if iron deficiency is detected and treated in the early stages, patients may be able to grow hair more effectively. Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic recently reviewed scientific literature published over the past 40 years on the connection between iron deficiency and baldness and found that iron deficiency may in fact be linked to several of the most common kinds of hair loss.

Previous studies have suggested that iron deficiency may be related to alopecia areata, androgenetic alopecia, telogen effluvium, and diffuse hair loss, while other studies have not found this association. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology

About Iron Deficiency

Iron is a necessary mineral for body function and good health. Every red blood cell in the body contains iron in its hemoglobin, the pigment that carries oxygen to the tissues from the lungs. A deficiency of iron in the blood can lead to iron-deficiency anemia.

Iron deficiency is the world's most common nutritional deficiency and is associated with developmental delay in children, impaired behavior, diminished intellectual performance, and decreased resistance to infection.

Causes of Iron Deficiency

Adults: In women who have not gone through menopause, the most common causes of iron deficiency anemia are menstrual blood loss and pregnancy. In men and postmenopausal women, the most common causes of iron deficiency anemia are gastrointestinal blood loss and malabsorption. A common etiology for undetected gastrointestinal blood loss is colon cancer.

Children: A diet low in iron is most often the cause of iron-deficiency anemia in infants, toddlers, and teens. Children who don't eat enough or who eat foods that are poor sources of iron are at risk for developing iron-deficiency anemia.(1)

Diagnosis of Iron Deficiency
A simple blood test, that measures the hemoglobin concentration in the blood, is used to screen for iron deficiency. A follow-up blood test is then needed to confirm iron deficiency. The cause of iron deficiency must be identified. If the patient is male, postmenopausal female, or has risk factors for blood loss, then there should be further testing for sources of blood loss, particularly gastrointestinal, to rule out colon cancer for example.
Treatment of Iron Deficiency

Treatment includes adequate dietary intake of iron and, when appropriate, iron supplements under the supervision of a physician. Excessive iron supplementation can cause iron overload and should be avoided, especially in high-risk patients such as those with hereditary hemochromatosis.

Iron-rich Foods
  • Lean meats,
  • Eggs,
  • Green leafy vegetables,
  • Dried peas and beans,
  • Blackstrap molasses,
  • Raisins, and
  • Whole-grain bread
The following is a specific list of iron-rich foods reprinted from the National Institute of Health. For foods not listed in this table, please refer to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Nutrient Database
Food Milligrams
per serving
% DV*
Oysters, breaded and fried, 6 pieces 4.5 25
Beef, chuck, lean only, braised, 3 ounces 3.2 20
Clams, breaded, fried, ¾ cup 3.0 15
Beef, tenderloin, roasted, 3 ounces 3.0 15
Turkey, dark meat, roasted, 3½ ounces 2.3 10
Beef, eye of round, roasted, 3 ounces 2.2 10
Turkey, light meat, roasted, 3½ ounces 1.6 8
Chicken, leg, meat only, roasted, 3½ ounces 1.3 6
Tuna, fresh bluefin, cooked, dry heat, 3 ounces 1.1 6
Chicken, breast, roasted, 3 ounces 1.1 6
Halibut, cooked, dry heat, 3 ounces 0.9 6
Crab, blue crab, cooked, moist heat, 3 ounces 0.8 4
Pork, loin, broiled, 3 ounces 0.8 4
Tuna, white, canned in water, 3 ounces 0.8 4
Shrimp, mixed species, cooked, moist heat, 4 large 0.7 4

Food Milligrams
per serving
% DV*
Ready-to-eat cereal, 100% iron fortified, ¾ cup 18.0 100
Oatmeal, instant, fortified, prepared with water, 1 cup 10.0 60
Soybeans, mature, boiled, 1 cup 8.8 50
Lentils, boiled, 1 cup 6.6 35
Beans, kidney, mature, boiled, 1 cup 5.2 25
Beans, lima, large, mature, boiled, 1 cup 4.5 25
Beans, navy, mature, boiled, 1 cup 4.5 25
Ready-to-eat cereal, 25% iron fortified, ¾ cup 4.5 25
Beans, black, mature, boiled, 1 cup 3.6 20
Beans, pinto, mature, boiled, 1 cup 3.6 20
Molasses, blackstrap, 1 tablespoon 3.5 20
Tofu, raw, firm, ½ cup 3.4 20
Spinach, boiled, drained, ½ cup 3.2 20
Spinach, canned, drained solids ½ cup 2.5 10
Black-eyed peas (cowpeas), boiled, 1 cup 1.8 10
Spinach, frozen, chopped, boiled ½ cup 1.9 10
Grits, white, enriched, quick, prepared with water, 1 cup 1.5 8
Raisins, seedless, packed, ½ cup 1.5 8
Whole wheat bread, 1 slice 0.9 6
White bread, enriched, 1 slice 0.9 6

*DV = Daily Value. DVs are reference numbers developed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to help consumers determine if a food contains a lot or a little of a specific nutrient. The FDA requires all food labels to include the percent DV (%DV) for iron. The percent DV tells you what percent of the DV is provided in one serving. The DV for iron is 18 milligrams (mg). A food providing 5% of the DV or less is a low source while a food that provides 10-19% of the DV is a good source. A food that provides 20% or more of the DV is high in that nutrient. It is important to remember that foods that provide lower percentages of the DV also contribute to a healthful diet.
Factors that affect the absorption of iron
  • Vitamin C enhances iron absorption.
  • Milk can inhibit absorption of iron
  • Caffeinated beverages can inhibit the absorption of iron
  • Iron from meat sources is more easily absorbed than iron from plant sources, thus vegetarians are at increased risk of iron deficiency.
1) Iron Deficiency from the Nemours Foundation
2) Dietary Supplements Fact Sheet: Iron from the National Institute of Health

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