Iodine, an essential mineral, may affect hair health and hair growth through its effects on thyroid function. Iodine is also sometimes prescribed as a topical treatment for certain conditions that cause hair loss on the scalp. To help prevent thyroid problems that may cause hair problems, it's important to get sufficient dietary iodine. Per the recommended daily allowances for iodine, adults need 100 mcg to 200 mcg of dietary iodine daily. You should not take iodine supplements without first consulting your doctor, however.
Iodine, Thyroid Function and Hair
Iodine is important for good health, including proper functioning of your thyroid gland. If you do not get enough iodine in your diet, your body will not be able to produce enough thyroid hormone, and you may develop a thyroid disorder such as a goiter, or hypothyroidism. Thyroid disorders have wide-ranging effects on various aspects of health, including hair production. According to WomentoWomen.com, thyroid disorders, which may occur due to iodine deficiency, are a common cause of hair loss among women. According to the University of Michigan Health System, hypothyroidism from iodine deficiency may result in dry, coarse hair, in addition to serious health consequences, such as increased cholesterol, heart failure and coma.
Iodine Deficiency Treatment
If you have hair loss or coarse hair that you suspect is due to an iodine deficiency-related thyroid disorder, your doctor may conduct tests to evaluate your iodine status and thyroid function. If you're diagnosed with a thyroid disorder from iodine deficiency, you'll likely be prescribed iodine preparations, according to the University of Michigan. However, iodine supplements may cause serious side effects, including bleeding, enlarged lymph nodes, hives and even death, so it is important to take iodine only as prescribed by a licensed health care provider. If you're concerned that you're not getting enough iodine in your diet, you can eat iodine-rich foods without risking any serious health consequences. Iodine is widely available in table salt, seafood, sea kelp, dairy products, and plants grown in iodine-rich soil.
Topical Iodine for Alopecia Areata
Besides its effects on thyroid function, iodine may also influence hair growth in another way. Iodine may be prescribed as a topical treatment to stimulate hair growth in people with alopecia areata, a common skin disorder that results in small, irregular bald patches throughout the scalp. While alopecia areata is not related to thyroid disorders, it often coexists with a thyroid disorder, according to MerckManuals.com. Topical iodine and other skin irritants may benefit people with alopecia areata by causing a mild allergic reaction that stimulates hair growth. According to an article published in "Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology, and Leprology," topical iodine may be prescribed for patients with alopecia as a first line of action; however, more aggressive treatments including corticosteroid injections may be prescribed if topical irritants don't work.
While iodine may affect hair growth indirectly via its effects on thyroid function, and directly, when applied as a topical treatment for alopecia areata, not all problems with hair growth and hair health are related to iodine deficiency. A number of factors may influence hair growth, including heredity, aging, medical conditions and deficiencies of other nutrients such as protein. Numerous diseases, including fungal infections, systemic lupus erythematosus and endocrine disorders may cause hair loss, as may many prescription medications, including chemotherapy drugs, oral contraceptives, ACE inhibitors, anticoagulants and others. It's also important to note that thyroid disorders causing hair problems are not always caused by iodine deficiency, and that getting too much iodine may also cause thyroid disorders.
- WomentoWomen.com; Hair Loss in Women; Marcy Holmes, N.P.; April 2011
- MerckManuals.com; Alopecia; August 2008
- "Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology, and Leprology"; Alopecia Areata; DM Thappa, et al.; July 2001
- "Revue Medicale de Liege"; Evaluation of the Role of Dietary Intake in the Occurrence of Alopecia; N. El Fékih, et al.; February 2010
- MedlinePlus; Iodine; April 2011