View Full Version : Anemia and hair

December 7th, 2013, 10:45 AM
I am wondering if there are any tips for battling anemia (and handling one's hair in the process) that LHC members would like to share, especially if you are battling anemia yourself or dealt with it in the past.

I was diagnosed with severe anemia, and I am taking 600 mg of iron (ferrous fumarate) with a glass of orange juice for increased absorption, but I am still noticing nail breakage and tangly, weak hair. I am really not seeing any improvement at all since taking iron. Also, I eat lots of sources of iron, and my B12 levels are very good.
The doctor can't figure out the underlying cause of this iron-deficiency anemia.

Should you go on different diet for anemia? Is it really necessary to drop coffee and tea and reduce calcium intake dramatically? Should you take any additional supplements, other than iron + vitamin C ?

And what should I do with my hair until things improve? Should I wash more often or less? Should I clarify more or layer more products?
My hair is very tangly and dry around my face, where my hair strands are lightest and finest. The ends are fine. Oiling and using cones doesn't seem to help much. But keeping hair in protective styles definitely helps.

Thank you very much for your help! :)

December 7th, 2013, 11:15 AM
I have sickle cell anemia, which means keeping iron levels up will always be somewhat of a losing battle for me. As for your case I'd say keep doing what your doctor recommends to keep yourself as healthy as possible. I also try and take Vitamin D to help with calcium absorption and Vitamin C to help with the iron absorption. I also try and eat more red meat and dark green vegetables to help with the anemia. As far as your hair goes, wash it when needed and no more than that, I would say try clarifying to see if build-up may be your problem at the moment. However make sure to follow clarifying with a heavy moisturizing treatment. I see you're also somewhat curly, so you may give CO washing a try or at least diluting your shampoo. If wearing your hair up helps, then keep doing that. :) I hope your health and hair improve soon, the best of luck to you. :)

December 7th, 2013, 11:19 AM
How long have you been on the iron tablets? It can take 6 months for your iron stores to build up again. And when they do, your body will use the iron for essential processes rather than hair etc.
One better source and much more absorbable than iron tablets is an iron liquid called floradix. It will get your iron level up much faster than the tablets and is very easy in your body too. The floradix has vitamin c In it too.
Well worth the change over I think. Other than that, if you aren't veggie, red meat is better than high iron veggies as the body absorbs iron from animal sources much more completely than plant iron. If you take any iron supplements at least four hours away from any calcium containing products/ foods there is no reason to reduce your calcium. In fact to do so may result in you becoming calcium deficient a instead and that can lead to all sorts of skeletal problems.

December 7th, 2013, 11:22 AM
Oh and some veggies that are noted for being high in iron are also high in calcium which affects both protein absorption and the iron contained in the veg.

December 7th, 2013, 11:36 AM
Be sure you are eating enough meat.

I would definitely consult with a physician to make sure of the correct dosage of whatever iron supplements, vitamins, minerals you need to combat the anemia. Don't mess with trying to figure out what you should do regarding supplements. Rely on your physician's suggestions. I didn't know I had anemia (several years ago) until I had to be hospitalized overnight with several transfusions into the bargain...all because of a frankly, bad diet (not enough meat). Good luck!

December 7th, 2013, 11:54 AM
Thank you so very much, Animetor7 and Red-again! :)
I only started taking iron a month ago, so I shouldn't expect much, but I heard that people start feeling noticeably better just days after beginning taking big doses of iron.
The iron supplementation is making it harder to plan meals, because it's recommended to avoid calcium 4 hours before and after iron, so there is an 8-hour window when most foods I eat (I like dairy and calcium-rich foods) are supposedly slowing down absorption.
I'll look into floradix, thank you so much for the recommendation! :)

Also, how does one figure out what's causing long-term anemia? Did you and your doctors keep digging beyond that diagnosis? Since I regularly eat red meat, greens and don't have very heavy periods, I'd like to point the doctor to look for underlying issues instead of simply prescribing more iron.

December 7th, 2013, 12:01 PM
Thank you very much, Madora! I also had an incident with being rushed to hospital due to anemia, and it's no fun and really scary!
The 600 mg was prescribed by a doctor, it may not be a perfect dose, though, but he said I'll need to take it for at least half a year and if it's not working - iron transfusions will be required. I'd certainly want to avoid that, which is why I want to increase iron absorption through optimal diet or timing of food intake.
I definitely eat lots of red meat, and try to introduce it even more regularly now, including liver. I was drinking too much coffee, tea and milk in the past, which apparently slow down absorption a lot, but not drinking them makes me even more sluggish, which, I hope, is temporary.

Thank you very much for your help! :)

December 7th, 2013, 12:15 PM
I've had severe anemia for several years and have been lucky enough to have no change in hair and nails... this year I have been getting injections to boost my iron and I felt better (more energy, less lethargy) after only 8 weeks (4 injections) of these. Iron tablets have not worked (fast enough!) for me in the past but you do need to avoid tannin (tea/coffee) an hour either side of taking them. Just sharing my experience as I didn't have any change in hair quality which has been wonderful, I hope you get through it quickly :blossom:

December 7th, 2013, 12:26 PM
If you've been anemic a long time your hair has suffered from it in the past so those hairs you basically just have to baby as they might or might not be more fragile. It might also be that the anemia has only affected for example your growth rate and you might see a boost in that in some months after starting the supplements. Your new growth should then be healthier, but like others have said, it doesn't happen overnight, and you can't fix damage that's already done.

I was diagnosed as anemic in February and was put on some iron supplements. I tried two kinds of pills and they made me feel ill and I got side effects. Then I changed to a liquid supplement with added vitamin B which I've been taking with orange juice daily. I also take a multivitamin and some omega 3 and 6 each day. Of course this is all supported with a healthy and versatile diet. In the beginning I had low hemoglobin aswell as small size blood cells. The hemoglobin started climbing up slowly in a month or two but the size of blood cells recovers slower. I haven't been checked up in a while and I should as I still don't know if I've made it to ideal numbers. To me this is atleast partially hereditary as my mom is anemic too and takes supplements. We both eat normally.

I haven't noticed any obvious improvement in my hair growth rate or the health of new growth but I assume there should be something in the following years if I keep it up.

December 7th, 2013, 12:27 PM
I have anemia caused by malarpsorption, I have issues absorbing certain amino acids that are needed for protein to stick. In order to use iron and get it absorbed you need protein and amino acids.

A high protein diet (I stick to lean proteins though) along with BCAA's and SAA's could really help you, along with the Iron supplements.

I cook with a iron skillet and put vitamin C on my meat and dark greens, it helps absortion of iron.

Also, look into B-12 vitamins, if you have a B-12 deficiency it's usually paired with low iron levels.

December 7th, 2013, 12:39 PM
Thank you very much, guys! :)
I'm so glad intravenous iron fixed the problem for you, Spindle! :)
But I'm curious: how are you maintaining? Is supplementation or diet enough for you or will you have to get iron intravenously from time to time?

What bothers me about this condition is that it's so long-term. Was your doctor satisfied as soon as your haemoglobin and ferritin went up to the normal range or did he look for underlying issues causing this? I understand iron deficiency can be caused by bacterial growth and even tumors in people who get adequate iron in their diets and aren't losing iron through injuries, heavy periods, pregnancy and other stressors.

Did any of you notice increased hair dryness/shedding/tangling and, if so, how did you work around it?
I am considering stretching washes more while my sebum is so low, or doing a WO/SO experiment, but I'm afraid to mess with my scalp.

December 7th, 2013, 02:13 PM
Do you henna your hair? I think I read a thread here that was from a few years back about 'Lawsone Effect' (I think that's what it was called) regarding henna users who drink black tea. Green tea is fine from what I understand but there's something in black tea (the tannins I think) that causes anemia for those who use henna.

I had forgotten about this (I am a henna user) and last year I was drinking quite a bit of black tea in the winter and wondered why my hair was thinning when I was eating right and taking good care of my hair. I discovered the info online and remembered there was some discussion about it here years ago. I stopped drinking the black tea (including iced tea) and gradually the thinning stopped.

Perhaps someone with more info about how lawsone can affect henna users that drink black tea can share.

December 7th, 2013, 02:29 PM
Do you henna your hair? I think I read a thread here that was from a few years back about 'Lawsone Effect' (I think that's what it was called) regarding henna users who drink black tea. Green tea is fine from what I understand but there's something in black tea (the tannins I think) that causes anemia for those who use henna.

I had forgotten about this (I am a henna user) and last year I was drinking quite a bit of black tea in the winter and wondered why my hair was thinning when I was eating right and taking good care of my hair. I discovered the info online and remembered there was some discussion about it here years ago. I stopped drinking the black tea (including iced tea) and gradually the thinning stopped.

Perhaps someone with more info about how lawsone can affect henna users that drink black tea can share.

Wow! I had no idea about this "lawsone effect"!
I never used henna (I'm a bit afraid of the permanent color commitment / maintenance), despite the great strengthening that henna users report.

And I guess I need to just stop the coffee/tea addiction... It's sad, because they are great antioxidant boosters for me. Oh well :( Hopefully, this small sacrifice will help me fix this iron deficiency faster. :)

heidi w.
December 7th, 2013, 02:41 PM
1. Follow your doctor's prescription. 2. It takes around 3-6 months to notice an improvement. 3. Eat protein, straight up. This takes a bit to fix so be patient. 4. I would oil ONLY THE LENGTH, from the earlobes on down. That's the only thing I would suggest to help with moisture for the dryness. I have a youtube video I made years ago about how to oil, bbb, and an updo the uber long hairs can do. The video is found via google search: heidi w. oils video.

Do not color your hair with henna or otherwise.
heidi w.

December 7th, 2013, 02:50 PM
Thank you very much, Heidi! :)
Yes, it's a great video. I just wanted to post the link to your video for those who haven't seen it yet: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hjVwPKMQDYk
It shows very well how little oil can be used on straight hair for best results.

heidi w.
December 7th, 2013, 02:55 PM
Thank you, Meteor, and for posting the link to my video.
Word to the wise: if I don't do it in the video, it means, don't do it.
heidi w.

December 7th, 2013, 03:32 PM
I also am severely anemic, but it doesn't do anything to my hair or nails - never has. I take a chewable vegan iron supplement daily, it also has Vitamin C, folic acid and B-12. I feel much less weak and dizzy with it! Anemia runs in my family, nothing at all to do with being vegan. My non-vegan cousin died from it.

December 7th, 2013, 07:48 PM
Ladyfey, I'm so sorry to hear that! :( How horrible... I had no idea anemia can be that dangerous! I honestly thought anemia is only life-threatening when you are losing lots of blood in injury or surgery or something.

I really hope all of us anemics will manage to keep it under control and not let it mess up our lives (or our hair). :)

December 8th, 2013, 01:12 AM
There are quite a few of us here who are anemic! For me, I was fortunate in a way because we realized my anemia was caused by very heavy periods due to fibroids. So at least we knew why.

My hair fell out (I'd say I lost at least a third to half) and the individual strands became thinner, overall it lacked shine and looked unhealthy. My nails became soft and broke all the time. Of course there were other non-hair related symptoms as well.

I was put on strong prescription iron tabs (twice a day with vitamin C) and as soon as I started, my hair stopped falling out). I've been on iron for two and a half years now and my ferritin levels have slowly increased from a 1 (that was scary!) to about a 30. Optimum levels are about a 60. I will stay on them until I reach that. I get my blood checked every 6 months.

I am veggie, so I have not changed my diet at all, it has been healthy (lots of veggies, beans, legumes, etc) and veggie for decades, it's just those stupid heavy periods that have caused all the damage. Oh, I am also on Tranexamic (sp?) Acid which I take during periods to slow down and decrease the amount of blood which is great because they allow me to actually function, work, etc.

December 8th, 2013, 05:44 PM
I agree with the others in do whatever you can dietary wise and keep taking the iron. If months go by with no change I'd look for a different doctor who is willing to make sure there is nothing else going on.

After reading this, I am going to have myself checked for this condition as it sounds too similar. It really does. I have other conditions but ... I have developed signs in the last year, even the nail problems. I guess I don't really have a lot to add.
I'm growing out my own henna and it's a process for me. I don't know if I could recommend it if you're already having issues. I am tempted at times to just cut the reddest at the bottom out. It's such a contrast and so different than the real texture of my hair. I think the contrast only gets worse the longer I use it. My hair texture has changed though so henna might be good for others, not trying to say anything bad, just my experience. It was really nice for years. But maybe so was my hair:rolleyes:

December 8th, 2013, 06:27 PM
I've been able to keep it at bay for now two years, I too had injections done because my hair was falling. I don't think you should worry that much if you keep your diet in check, to check iron levels takes I think 10 minutes ( I get it done at the doctor's) ou might just need to keep checking that the pills and the diet is working.

I was able to switch to prenatal vitamins and only take extra iron before my period (and during). If you juice, you could juice kale and spinach and lemons and drink that as a pick me up (with celery, I think it taste good but you could always put apples in there to mask the taste).

December 8th, 2013, 06:44 PM
I am severely iron deficient. I was born this way and I didn't find out it was a big issue until I blacked out one day. I am all better now though I guess; I take 500 mg of iron daily with 300 mg of vitamin C. I haven't noticed anything peculiar these days besides the ever-common random bruise or random bloody noses :). I hate red meat but I do eat rare steaks about 4 times a month to make sure I am consuming enough minerals...it's gross but I don't really like randomly passing out. My mom used to make me eat liver when I was a kid, which was quite disgusting to say the very least (eating organ meat freaks me out A LOT).

I do have a low red blood cell count because of my anemia, so I can't donate blood but I guess I'm okay with that :shrug:. Sometimes it scares when I think about eventually being a mother. I'm not sure how my body is going to handle me being pregnant...

December 8th, 2013, 06:49 PM
I take 1-2 tablespoons of Blackstrap Molasses each day (Plantation brand has 20% of daily iron in 1 tbsp). From what I understand, it's iron is easily absorbed by the body, and it is also high in calcium and potassium.

January 13th, 2014, 07:09 PM
I too have some anemia going on right now with pregnancy and had low ferritin before the pregnancy, so never that great of iron. Just wondering if it's normal to see some thin hair strands, (ALMOST like vellus hairs)intermixed in my medium coarse strands, and they don't seem to grow very long. I'm hoping it's not because those hairs are going to disappear and leave me with balding issues, but rather that it's from the anemia, and if I fix the issue, they will fall out and grow back thicker. Or maybe it's just normal to have some thinn-er hairs mixed into the salad!

January 15th, 2014, 11:29 AM
Mamaherrera, I haven't noticed anything like this. Just wanted to bump your question, hopefully other people can help.

I do have some finer hair and some coarser hair, but it's always been the case - probably genetic.

January 15th, 2014, 11:35 AM
Actually that's how I know my iron levels are low, if I start to catch medium to fine hairs. You can actually see it in the shed, if a coarse hair starts getting thinner in parts it's usually a sign of iron deficiency as far as I know. But it would be in the same strand, mine would have coarse ends but closer to my head would get thinner then back to coarse when my eating varies.

My hair is really coarse, and thick. One strand of my hair looks like 3 strands someone with medium thickness, so maybe it's easier to notice on people who's hair is usually coarser.

January 15th, 2014, 12:15 PM
these ones I've found because I've seen some short strands, very thin, shed, like 2-3 inches, and I'm like, where are these hairs coming from. My husband found some "fly-away" thin hairs dispersed throughout my head, like I said, not very many, short, and thin. but he said they were growing out of a pore that already had two thick hairs in it. Now have any of you noticed if you have pores that have more than one hair in them?? Maybe that's why???

January 15th, 2014, 03:13 PM
Mamaherrera, I'm not 100% sure I'm imagining well what's going on your scalp, maybe a picture (your own or just some similar picture from the Internet) could help. But it kind of sounds like you may have new growth. You mentioned that you are pregnant, and often pregnancy results in major spurts of hair growth (including more hairs showing up on scalp). Very often, when people have new hair growth, they describe a "halo" of short, tiny, thin, fuzzy hair strands that almost look like they don't belong on that head, because the texture is so thin and different. And sometimes that hair falls out and then regrows again, this time longer and thicker.

I feel like I should stop guessing. I really think you need to discuss it with your doctor and check your iron and ferritin more frequently. You said you are low-ish on iron, but did your doctor prescribe iron? Most anemic people get very high doses of iron prescribed to them, but you need to get your latest numbers checked and act accordingly.

While you are waiting for bloodwork to be checked, the best approach to safely increase iron is to eat more green leafy veggies, red bell peppers (extremely high in vit C) with dark meat (especially organ meats, like liver), combine naturally occurring iron with vitamin C, mix heme and non-heme iron sources in meals (this helps absorption) and avoid tannins (e.g. tea, coffee) and calcium (e.g. milk), which hinder absorption, an hour or so around your iron + vit. c consumption.

January 15th, 2014, 04:05 PM
Thanks for asking and trying to help. I know, it's hard to imagine. I can't show a pic, because these hairs he has found aren't on the top of the scalp, they're in the under layers. But what you describe, being tiny and thin, that's what they sound like. I had a big shed, and I was finding these hairs after the shed as well, still now, so maybe it is what you're describing, that would be a good thing. Maybe they have to cycle out a few times and then will get thicker. Silly him, poor him, trying so hard to see them, he pulled out two of them and with my pregnancy hormones, I almost started crying over those two hairs he pulled out!! Yes, my doctors seem to have no problem with my ferritin being 20, they say it's fine, and with the anemia I have with the baby, she didn't even seem concerned, just me. She told me just to take 325 of the regular iron and that's it. So frustrating when doctors don't seem to care that you have low levels, until you're dying practically. Just on my own, I'm trying to eat some of those things you mention. Hard to get my calcium for baby and me and space iron out, but I'm trying, it's hard though. But like you said, maybe since I had a long shed, maybe some of those hairs are cycling out. And I Just need to be patient., Like I said, no way to give a picture, but there's no halo, they aren't that close together, they tend to be more sparsed out, these thin hairs, not like there's a whole bunch of them together to produce a halo, but they aren't in just one area either. It's like (I'm just imagining a number) in 200 hairs, there's one of those, few and far in between. I will try and stay positive and tell myself, these little hairs will fall out and come back longer and thicker. Thanks!

January 15th, 2014, 04:20 PM
Oh yeah, the more you are describing, the more it sounds like regrowth actually! :) I hope that's what it is! You should baby those fine hairs (avoid all harsh styling, rough handling, aggressive combing/brushing), but don't stress too much if there's some normal shedding before they grow out long. Regrowth doesn't happen quickly.

Ferritin at 20 isn't bad actually, it just can be improved further. I was at 4 when I started taking iron and I was told that the necessary thing is to bring it up to 10. And after that it's really not clear if one should supplement so heavily, as some people will just live on more iron than others, and it's not an easy supplement for the body to digest. That said, pregnant women and women who just had a baby need A LOT of iron and often can't get enough of it in food alone, so do keep checking ferritin levels as your pregnancy progresses. And when you visit your doctor, show him/her your scalp and the little hairs. Hopefully, it's regrowth and the doctor should recognize it. :)
Best of luck, Mamaherrera! :) And congratulations on the baby! :)

January 15th, 2014, 04:51 PM
Oh these doctors here, don't know where you live, but even the dermatologists don't take more than five minutes to look at my scalp, and they will never take the time like my husband to find one of these thin hairs, trust me it's not easy, he has to have me out in the sun and spend a bit of time to find one. But they are there! You've given me some hope. Now if I can just forget about those two he pulled out :-)) Poor me, the more I worry about them, the more damage I do to them. Poor my hair though, hopefully after the baby I don't get through another major shed and them more of these hairs I'll probably find. I will try and be more patient then and expect them to cycle out for a couple times perhaps, before they become strong thick hairs. I guess I should be happy I don't have a ton.
What did you finally get your ferritin level up too?? And how much iron did you take to get it there?? Thanks, this baby is ready to pop any day, maybe tonight, I don't know, lots of people say the full moon will bring her out and about!! but I will miss the "almost non-existent" shedding I've got going on, thanks to her!!