Hair loss and hair thinning: a few causes and solutions

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.

10 thoughts on “Hair loss and hair thinning: a few causes and solutions

  1. Lynne

    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?

    1. Marjorie Post author

      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: 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.

  2. Sam

    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.

    1. Marjorie Post author

      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.

  3. michael

    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

  4. Susan

    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.

    1. Marjorie Post author

      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.

  5. James

    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.



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