If you thought that your haemoglobin levels measure your iron status, think again. While haemoglobin reflects whether an individual is anaemic, it may not necessarily be an indicator of your body’s iron stores.
Non-anemic iron deficiency was suggested as a factor for diffuse hair loss in women in 1963.
Since then, numerous studies have evaluated the associations between iron deficiency and hair loss.
Iron is stored in the body as ferritin. During early stages of iron deficiency, a decreased ferritin level is a sign of decreased iron stores.
Ferritin accounts for 20 per cent of total iron in adults and it plays an important role both in absorption and recycling of iron and is formed by intestinal mucosa, liver, spleen and bone marrow.
Ferritin levels are a good indication of iron storage levels. Low ferritin levels indicate depleted iron reserves, while high ferritin levels indicate inflammation and can be a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Hair fall, hair thinning, hair loss (alopecia) and dull lifeless hair and lightening of dark hair can be linked to low ferritin levels.
Since iron is one of the key nutrients to ‘switch on’ cellular functions, low levels affect brain function as well. Iron deficiency is also known to depress the immune system, making the body more vulnerable to infection.
Also, thyroid, para-thyroid and adrenal gland function are influenced by an imbalance of iron.
Amenorrhea (loss of menstrual cycles) is also seen with low iron stores. A poorly understood behaviour seen among iron deficient people is pica — the craving and consumption of ice, chalk, starch, clay, soil and other non-food substances.
Most common causes of low ferritin levels include heavy menstrual bleeding, crash dieting, poor diets, parasitic infections, surgeries, severe illnesses, digestive tract bleeding, emotional stress, medications, certain health conditions like malabsorption and thyroid abnormalities or hormonal changes.
Excessive or prolonged intake of certain supplements including vitamins B12, D, E, zinc, calcium, copper, magnesium or chromium antagonise the absorption of iron and may contribute to iron deficiency.
While these nutrients are important, supplementation with ferritin should be done with care for efficient body functioning.
Ishi Khosla is a former senior nutritionist at Escorts. She heads the Centre of Dietary Counselling and also runs a health food store. She feels that for complete well-being, one should integrate physical, mental and spiritual health. According to her: “To be healthy should be the ultimate goal for all.”