Shedding up to a 100 hairs per day is normal. Shedding large amounts of hair so that your coif appears thinner and limp does warrant concern. An inordinate amount of hair left on your brush every time you style can be a sign of a health problem or a nutritional deficiency. Before you diagnose yourself, do consult your doctor. Consider, though, that ensuring you get enough of certain nutrients and calories may help your problem.
Even healthy people can experience extreme or sudden hair loss, such as those with alopecia areata (a type of hair loss). Major life changes could also lead to a temporary increase in the amount you shed. If you’ve lost 20 pounds or more, recently had a baby, experienced extreme stress, had a high fever or are recovering from illness, stopped taking birth control or had a major operation, you may lose more hair than usual a few months after the triggering event occurs. In these cases, you probably don’t need to worry about a nutritional issue being the cause, and the loss will likely resolve itself on its own.
Iron Deficiency or Anemia
Serum ferritin concentrations, a level of iron in your blood, can be a factor in hair loss. If your hair loss is accompanied by sallow-looking skin, heightened fatigue, shortness of breath, weakness, rapid heartbeat and brittle nails, consult your doctor to see if you have iron-deficient anemia. Women with heavy menstrual cycles or those who have recently given birth or are pregnant; men or women who have undergone physical trauma or major surgery; people with chronic gastrointestinal issues; and vegetarians and vegans are among those most at risk. Do not diagnose yourself and take supplements, as too much supplemental iron can also be harmful. Iron is found in foods such as red meat, fortified cereals and grains, and oysters.
Lack of Protein
Your body may actually turn off new hair growth in the absence of adequate protein, because it’s reserving the nutrient for more important functions such as muscle and organ operation. A deficiency of protein takes two to three months to become evident. Vegetarians and vegans who aren’t diligent about consuming enough nuts, seeds, soy and beans, and anyone else who doesn’t consume much in the way of eggs, poultry, fish and meat, are at risk. When you consume more protein, extreme hair loss will halt—but it may take a few months before you notice your hair filling back in. The average adult needs approximately 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day.
If a person is anorexic or bulimic, hair loss is possible. In both disorders, the body doesn’t absorb adequate nutrition or calories. The body shuts down hair growth in an effort to conserve energy. An increase of calories to adequate levels to support age, growth, gender and activity will resume hair growth.
This article has been reviewed by board-certified dermatologist Dr. Emmy Graber.