We all love a luxurious head of hair. For women, it’s a sign of beauty and femininity. For men, it’s a sign of youth and vitality. Hair is an important part of our self-image. Its quite traumatic to notice tufts of hair falling out after each shampoo or your hairbrush loaded with more hair after each brushing. Many times men anticipate hair loss as they age. By the age of 50 nearly half of all men experience some degree of baldness. At the same age 1 out of 4 women also experience some form of baldness. Whether you are a man or a woman, hair loss can be devastating. What are the causes?
1. Stress– Both physical and emotional stress can cause or exacerbate hair loss. Hair loss from stress occurs months after a traumatic event such as surgery, illness, the death of a loved one, divorce or rapid weight change. Hair production usually shuts down for about 3 months as these follicles are put into a resting phase.
Other stresses include medical conditions and medications such as anemia, diabetes, lupus and thyroid imbalances. Drugs derived from Vitamin A, beta blockers, birth control pills, antidepressants and thyroid medications are some of the medications that have the potential to cause hair to fall out.
2. Hormones– Pregnancy is a common time when new mothers shed hair. High hormone levels produce thicker shinier hair, but after childbirth when hormone levels suddenly drop (starting about 3 weeks postpartum) hair may shed up to 10 months. I consider pregnancy and child birth a stressful event both physically, mentally and emotionally for women. Even though it is a joyful time, the body goes through such rapid changes.
Other hormone fluctuations that lead to hair loss is the transition into menopause as well as adrenal fatigue. Many women are very sensitive to changes in their hormone levels even though their hormone test results are within the “normal” range. Our hormones fluctuate every hour which is influenced by our environment and perceived situations. I encourage women to do a 24-hour urine hormone panel that measures estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, DHEA, and cortisol. This test looks at a woman’s 24-hour hormone output vs one spot picture in time of a hormone blood test. I also check certain blood tests such as thyroid function.
Androgens are a class of hormones produced by the adrenal gland in both men and women and in the ovaries of women and testes in men. Testosterone is an androgen that plays an important role in the cycle of hair growth. The enzyme, 5 alpha-reductase type 2, converts testosterone into its more potent form, DHT. Studies have shown that high DHT levels cause hairs to become finer and shorter and accelerates the number of hairs in the resting phase. An herb that inhibits this conversion of testosterone to DHT is Saw Palmetto. Studies have also shown that progesterone may also block the production of DHT for men.
Balance is key.
3. Diet and Absorption– Vitamin and mineral deficiencies, especially B vitamins, zinc and iron are notorious for causing hair loss. Excessive Vitamin A intake and protein deficiency can also contribute to hair loss. When you have a high processed fatty diet, plaque deposits can inhibit a healthy blood supply (and nutrients) to hair follicles. Starvation diets, rapid weight loss, gluten allergy and eating disorders can also trigger hair loss. Pancreatic deficiency, or lack of digestive enzymes can interfere with the absorption of essential amino acids. Gut pathogens, such as parasites, yeast and overgrowth of bacteria in the gut can also inhibit absorption of nutrients essential for hair growth.
4. Hereditary– We can’t forget about the genes that were passed down to us. Androgenic Alopecia, also known as male-pattern balding or female pattern baldness is inherited and affects about 40 million men and 20 million women in the U.S.
What can you do?
If it’s stress thats the culprit, then know that it’s almost completely reversible. Be patient and manage your stress with mindful meditation, yoga, and other relaxation techniques. Make sure you are getting adequate sleep to rebalance your stress hormone.
Hormone issues may be worth taking a look at if your hormones are in transition (usually over age 45-50). Get hormone testing done by an experienced practitioner, especially your thyroid level. Make sure you get a complete thyroid panel and not just a TSH. Many times this level can be normal but doesn’t give you the whole picture. Acupuncture is also helpful in re-balancing hormone levels.
If it’s your diet or malabsorption…get tested for nutrient deficiencies and allergies, digestive imbalances including pathogens, and blood sugar and free insulin levels. Clean up your diet and take a daily B-complex that includes 200 mcg of folic acid and 2.5 mg of biotin. Don’t forget healthy protein such as fish, lean meats, cheese, eggs and tofu.
Hair loss can be corrected if the cause is identified. Work with your health practitioner in finding the cause and the proper treatment for you.
References: Women’s Health Connection. “Concerned about Hair Loss?”, Volume 10, Number 2.
Aeron LifeCycles Clinical Lab Update. “Hair Today-Gone Tomorrow”, Volume 2, Number 9.
Hochwald, L. Natural Hair Boosters. Whole Living, Martha Stewart Publication, pp 56-58.