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Anaemia and Hair Loss

In the beginning of 2016 I noticed my hair was a lot thinner compared to the mountains of thick hair I’d had growing up! It became very noticeable after being diagnosed with PCOS (Polycycstic Ovaries Syndrome) however it seemed to get a bit healthier once I had managed to regulate my periods.

However this February I was under a lot of stress at work having to take on a lot of extra work which meant teaching many extra classes and working 7 days a week and alongside the stress of Paul competing in his first (and last!) body building competition which had us leading very separate lives. In March I began to really freak out at the rate my hair was falling out, it’s overall thinness and noticing hair actually missing on parts of my scalp! When I would wash my hair, my hands would be covered in hair that had fallen out during shampooing! I was also always so cold that I’d be dressing in many layers and sleeping in thick tracksuit bottoms and a jumper with 2 duvets over me! It was like the cold was in my bones!

After doing a lot of research the most prominent problem seemed to be a lack of iron suggesting I was anaemic. I used to be anaemic in my teens which was put down to being vegetarian and I was constantly tired. However my energy levels seemed to be fine for the current moment in time (I was clearly delusional and running on adrenaline). I ordered a gentle non-constipating iron tablet (20mg) and took 2 per day. I also booked to see my GP but the 1st appointment was 4 weeks away.

My hair loss became an obsession in the meantime. I was checking my hair easily 20 times a day in the mirror and asking others to look at it constantly. My anxiety was out of control with regular panic attacks. I felt like I was just about keeping my head above water but couldn’t always breathe. I continued like this for many weeks. I finally saw the GP who was a new doctor. Straight away she referred me for blood tests for iron and also my thyroid. I explained I’d already begun taking iron but she still insisted on blood tests. She also recommended a treatment that I could apply to the hair loss areas Regaine 4 months from Boots which is more likely to re-grow hair in women with thinning hair or hair loss. It is a foam applied once a day to the scalp. She was one of the most empathetic GPs I’d seen in a very long time and did not rush me out of her office unlike most would once your 5 minutes were up! She also prescribed me beta blockers to stop panic attacks and the feeling of anxiety which I was very great full for. I left feeling hopeful, booked a follow up appointment as per her request and headed straight for my blood tests.

I had to wait for 2 weeks for my blood test results but in the mean time I had the help of others to find me a thickening shampoo (Matrix full density shampoo – AMAZING), conditioner and Hairburst supplements for stronger thicker hair. I also stopped straightening my hair and embraced it’s mental curls which I had never been so thankful for! Ironic as I’d always moaned about it being so curly when I was young and now I loved it as it gave the illusion of thickness! And finally I decided to give my hair a break from all the blonde and dye it back to brunette in the hope the lack of bleach would prevent further breakage. The beta blockers were also helping me to remain calm and a good friend suggested I kept an elastic band on my wrist and to ping it every time I wanted to look or touch my hair to help keep the obsession at bay (weirdly enough this really made a difference! ).

I called the GP reception for my blood test results after a few weeks and I was shocked to be told the results showed all was fine. So I put it all down to stress and was upset that there was nothing in particular to blame other than stress. I decided to continue with the iron tablets as well as everything else and another week later I had my follow up appointment. I was in two minds whether to go as the results were fine however I needed another prescription for the beta blockers so I kept the appointment. I had noticed an improvement in my hair and the relief that Pauls competition was over made a huge difference in my mental state plus work had returned to normal thankfully. When I saw the GP she wanted to discuss my results but I explained I had already called the surgery and was told all was fine. She was shocked at this as the results she had showed I was anaemic! I was equally as shocked as I’d been told on the phone by the GP receptionist that I was fine. The GP results were showing my iron at level 6 and a normal range is between 20-200! I can’t imagine what they’d have shown when I wasn’t taking any iron the months before! I was prescribed 325mg of iron ferrous fumarate once a day to boost my levels rapidly. In order to prevent further hair loss, my iron needed to be at least level 40….and for regrowth it needed to be above level 70…so I had a way to go to get there!

After more research these prescription iron tablets had a lot of negative feedback in regards to people being very constipated so I decided to stick to taking the gentle non-constipating iron. 325mg of ferrous fumarate contains approximately 220mg of iron so I needed to take 8 of my other tablets a day. It may sound a lot but I would prefer less side effects of constipation! I also read that it is very important to take vitamin C alongside the iron as it helps your body to absorb the iron as it’s almost pointless taking it otherwise. Vitamin C occurs naturally in vegetables and fruits, especially citrus. Ascorbic acid can also be synthesised for use in supplements. Ascorbic acid enhances the absorption of nutrients such as iron. In studies about effects of ascorbic acid on iron absorption, 100 milligrams of ascorbic acid increased iron absorption from a specific meal by 4.14 times. This was something disappointingly not mentioned by the GP. Too be honest she also tried to deter me from taking the gentle iron but I guess they will always encourage prescription drugs!

After finding out about my PCOS, I had stuck to a diet rich in eggs, white meats and cut as much sugar from diet as possible including fruits in order to regulate my periods. However, research shows red meat increases the absorption of non-heme iron. Heme-iron is easily absorbed by the body and the best source of iron for people who are iron deficient. Beef, lamb and venison contain the highest amounts of heme-iron as compared to pork or chicken which contains low amounts of heme. I rarely ate any red meat but I have now incorporated beef into my lifestyle at least 4 times a week usually at breakfast. Eggs contain a compound that impairs absorption of iron. Phosphoprotein called phosvitin is a protein with a iron binding capacity that may be responsible for the low bioavailability of iron from eggs. This iron inhibiting characteristic of eggs is called the “egg factor”. The egg factor has been observed in several separate studies. One boiled egg can reduce absorption of iron in a meal by as much as 28%. It is important that I control my blood sugars so rather than eating more fruits, I now take 1000mg Vitamin C capsules alongside my iron supplements to enhance their absorption.

I am now taking Hairburst supplements which are a combination of vitamins, minerals and nutritional supplements designed to help maintain healthy hair. The reviews sounded amazing and Hairburst 3 month supply promises to help appear thicker as hair fall is reduced whilst improving hair condition.

Hairburst contains:

• Collagen and Siliica

• Biotin

• Vitamins A, B, C, & D

• Amino Acids

• Folic & Pantothenic

Hairburst is designed to combat the negative impact of poor nutrition, hair products, age and genetics.

Biotin, Selenium & Zinc contribute to the maintenance of normal hair.

Further research has also revealed that these foods prevent iron absorbtion:

Calcium (like iron) is an essential mineral, which means the body gets this nutrient from diet. Calcium is found in foods such as milk, yogurt, cheese, sardines, canned salmon, tofu, broccoli, almonds, figs, turnip greens and rhubarb and is the only known substance to inhibit absorption of both non-heme and heme iron. Where 50 milligrams or less of calcium has little if any effect on iron absorption, calcium in amounts 300-600 milligrams inhibit the absorption of heme iron similarly to nonheme iron. One cup of skimmed milk contains about 300 milligrams of calcium. When calcium is recommended by a healthcare provider, as is often the case for women trying to prevent bone loss, these supplements can be taken at bedtime. Calcium supplements are best taken with vitamin D and in a citrate rather than carbonate form.

Oxalates impair the absorption of nonheme iron. Oxalates are compounds derived from oxalic acid and found in foods such as spinach, kale, beets, nuts, chocolate, tea, wheat bran, rhubarb, strawberries and herbs such as oregano, basil, and parsley. The presence of oxalates in spinach explains why the iron in spinach is not absorbed. In fact, it is reported that the iron from spinach that does get absorbed is probably from the minute particles of sand or dirt clinging to the plant rather than the iron contained in the plant.

Polyphenols are major inhibitors of iron absorption. Polyphenols or phenolic compounds include chlorogenic acid found in cocoa, coffee and some herbs. Phenolic acid found in apples, peppermint and some herbal teas, and tannins found in black teas, coffee, cocoa, spices, walnuts, fruits such as apples, blackberries, raspberries and blueberries all have the ability to inhibit iron absorption. Of the polyphenols, Swedish cocoa and certain teas demonstrate the most powerful iron absorption inhibiting capabilities, in some cases up to 90%. Coffee is high in tannin and chlorogenic acid; one cup of certain types of coffee can inhibit iron absorption by as much as 60%. These foods or substance should not be consumed within two hours prior to and following your main iron-rich meal

Phytate is a compound contained in soy protein and fiber. Even low levels of phytate (about 5 percent of the amounts in cereal whole flours) have a strong inhibitory effect on iron bioavailability. Phytate is found in walnuts, almonds, sesame, dried beans, lentils and peas, and cereals and whole grains. Phytate compounds can reduce iron absorption by 50 to 65 percent.

It has now been almost 3 months since I have amended my diet, been taking iron supplements with Vitamin C, taking Hairburst supplements, washing my hair with Matrix thickening Shampoo (always shampoo twice), and applying Regaine for Women Once a Day Scalp Foam every night, treating my hair with coconut oil and Macadamia repair Masque. When I now wash my hair, very little comes out which is a HUGE change! My hair feels much thicker and has grown so much. The areas that were missing hair have now grown new hair thankfully. My anxiety is practically non existent and I no longer take the beta blockers which is a relief. Overall I am so happy with my hair changes and will continue with all these to keep thickening the hair and continue with the new hair growth. I make sure I take time out for myself to keep my stress levels done. Yoga and reflexology have made a huge difference and I feel much calmer and happier on myself overall. I never realised how much stress affects the body inside and out.

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