Female hair can be absolutely devastating for many women. Hair forms a strong part of their identity and self-image. Thick, lustrous hair is often associated with femininity, and when hair begins to thin, women panic.
Hair loss does not necessarily have to happen. There are plenty of medically explicable reasons why hair loss occurs, and a qualified health care provider can help you assess and address the issue.
I’ve included some common reasons why hair loss occurs in order to help women gain a sense of control over their hair and their appearance.
What causes hair loss?
There are a great number of causes of hair loss, from physical trauma, to medicines, to pregnancy, to increased testosterone, to diet, and science still has much to uncover about the exact mechanisms and triggers of hair loss.
Shedding of the scalp hair occurs when an increased number of hair follicles go into the telogen, or dormant, phase, which causes diffuse thinning of hair over the scalp. Sometimes, the follicles fail to re-enter the active growth, or anagen phase, which causes the scalp to lose more hair than it can replace.
Different types of hair loss undergo different combinations of anagen and telogen phase disruption, yet the result is always concerning.
What are the types of hair loss?
Alopecia areata – an autoimmune condition where the immune system erroneously attacks the hair follicle. This condition can result in patchy, well demarcated hair loss that spontaneously resolves over time.
Androgenic alopecia – most commonly known as male pattern hair loss, an excess of DHT (the potent male hormone dihydrotestosterone) causes increased shedding of scalp hair.
Telogen effluvium – a reduction in hair follicles within the scalp through an increase in hair stuck in the resting, or telogen phase, causing a dormancy and general loss of hair follicles. A diffuse thinning of the scalp may be more severe in some areas than others. Chronic stress and dietary deficiency are common causes.
Anagen effluvium – diffuse and rapid whole-head hair loss common in chemotherapy patients. Complete hair loss is possible and will resolve shortly after the cessation of the drug regimen.
What needs investigating?
Nutrient deficiencies – many nutrients have been implicated in healthy hair growth, from B vitamins to minerals such as iron and zinc to amino acids such as arginine and lysine. A balanced diet with adequate protein and vegetable intake is crucial to offset any potential deficiencies that may be causing hair loss. While some of these nutritents are routinely checked by a health care provider, it is important to have them tested and consult with a professional to establish whether you are truly deficient before supplementing, as nutrients have different levels of toxicity and can be very harmful in excess.
Medications – chemotherapeutic agents are not the only drugs that cause hair loss. Some antidepressants can also cause hair loss, as can some medications that alter hormones, such as birth control pills.
Check with your healthcare provider in order to confirm whether hair loss is a prominent side effect for your medications, and weigh the pros and cons of your options. Perhaps another medication or alternative is appropriate for you.
Thyroid – a classic symptom of hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) is hair loss. Skin will also by dry, along with lower body temperature, slower bowel function, weight gain, fatigue, and a cluster of other complaints. If you haven’t had your thyroid checked in a while, it might be a good idea to get it checked up with your doctor. Most doctors, however, only run TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) tests, which may be a poor indicator of true thyroid function, so enlisting the help of a functional medicine specialist or complimentary healthcare provider who is well versed in thyroid and hormone conditions is worthwhile if many of your symptoms fit the hypothyroid picture.
Androgens – androgens are male hormones that are normally present in certain amounts in the female body. Certain conditions, such as PCOS which I’ve written about previously (hyperlink to PCOS Tea blog), result in an increase in male hormones such as testosterone and DHEA-S. Through the 5-alpha reductase pathway, these hormones turn into dihydrotestosterone (DHT) which can result in hair loss. Insulin resistance–either diabetes or prediabetes–as well as stress, can contribute to PCOS symptoms such as hair loss. Working with an experienced practitioner can help you gain some control over your underlying hormonal imbalance.
What can you do to help stop hair loss?
Reduce stress. Easier said than done, I know, but stress causes measurable hormonal changes that, through many different mechanisms, can contribute to hair loss. Whatever helps you deal with your stress, do more of it, or experiment to try and find your best stress-busting routine. Yoga, meditation/mindfulness, exercise, art/creativity, aromatherapy are all wonderful methods shown to reduce stress, but you must find the combination that works well for you. Research shows that reducing stress is increasingly critical not only for your hair, but for your long-term health as well.
Eat a balanced, gluten-free, low-glycemic diet. There is a small but growing body of evidence that correlates hair loss with non-celiac gluten sensitivity, but there are more reasons to eat a clean and nutritionally dense diet.
Eating adequate protein, vegetables and fruit can help correct nutritional deficiencies contributing to hair loss, but a low glycemic diet can help ease the symptoms of PCOS if this condition causes your hair troubles. While ruling out PCOS is important especially if you have irregular menstrual cycles, you can begin by decreasing your refined carbohydrates and sugar intake to encourage proper hormone function and preserve your luscious locks.
Treat your scalp. Some small but promising studies show rosemary essential oil to be at least as effective to stimulate hair growth as minoxidil (Rogaine).
Many topical hair loss solutions work by encouraging blood flow to the scalp, as decreased scalp blood flow is one mechanism by which hair loss occurs. Increasing blood flow, after all, increases nutrient delivery to the hair follicle which is crucial to the health of the hair. Always dilute essential oils with a carrier oil such as castor, coconut or almond oils to avoid skin irritation.
While sticky, castor oil is one of my favourite household health and beauty tools and is stimulating to the scalp. Regular scalp massages and exfoliation can increase the health and vitality of the skin.
Not all types of female hair loss have the same cause, so prudent action to assess the root of hair loss is key. Be sure to see your health care provider or doctor in order to develop a more targeted treatment plan that addresses the underlying cause of your falling hair, but implementing the above suggestions can improve the health of your hair by improving your health overall.
Try some of the above strategies for healthy hair growth, and remember to be patient, because regrowing hair can take a long time, and see a practitioner to determine what’s behind the hair loss and stop it in its tracks.