Hair loss can be quite a distressing symptom to experience, as it can impact our emotional state and even shift our sense of identity, affecting quality of life.
Hair shedding is a natural process and we can naturally lose up to 100 strands of hair per day so don't be alarmed or beat yourself up if you find hair clogging up your drain, this is completely normal.
However if this becomes excessive then it's worth looking into. Nowadays many more women seem to be experiencing hair loss and at a younger age.
Though some may leave it untreated others may turn to supplements, medications, hats, or even wigs to cover up the loss of hair.
There are many different types of hair loss that can occur including hair thinning, Androgenic Alopecia, Alopecia Areata, and Telogen Effluvium.
There can also be many different causes to hair loss including genetics, chronic or high stress, medications, thyroid disease, fungal infections, injury or damage from hairstyling or chemicals, hormonal imbalances, nutrient deficiencies, and autoimmune disease.
Common causes of hair loss
In order to properly treat hair loss it's important to get down to the root cause as this will determine the appropriate course of action.
One of the most common but under-diagnosed reasons for hair loss is dysfunction with the thyroid gland. Any form of thyroid disease can result in hair loss.
Why? The thyroid is responsible for overseeing our metabolism and energy use, and thus hair growth. Thyroid hormones are essential for the development and maintenance of the hair follicle.
It is recommended to routinely assess your thyroid with a full panel, TSH isn't enough, as thyroid dysfunction is very common but can go unnoticed for years.
It seems like stress is the cause of everything these days...
And for good reason! As the pace of our lifestyle as well as our list of responsibilities continually increase we are also seeing a rise of stress levels collectively. It is said that 75-90% of all doctor's visits are stress related. So how does stress affect our hair?
Stress related hair loss is typically associated with telogen effluvium, a temporary state of hair shedding.
A particularly stressful event can cause a delayed reaction in the hair follicle by moving it into the telogen or resting phase resulting in hair shedding up to 4 months after the stressful event.
It is of course important to address the stressor and support the body with proper nutrition, lifestyle changes, and supplements as necessary however it will take some time to restore hair growth fully, which can look like a matter of months.
Many hormones can influence the rate of hair growth and shedding and these include testosterone, cortisol, estrogen, and progesterone.
PCOS is a condition characterized by high testosterone, which when converted to its more potent form DHT can be particularly damaging to the hair follicle.
Though estrogen is a hormone that is vitally important for healthy looking locks too much of it isn't good either.
When we experience an estrogen excess state we consequently experience low progesterone levels and progesterone may improve hair growth as it has been shown to decrease conversion of testosterone to DHT acting as an androgen blocker (1).
But too little estrogen is also a problem because in the right amounts this hormone has a protective role against hair loss and helps to keep the hair follicle healthy (2).
Another case of the Goldilocks principal this is why it is worth investigating any hormonal imbalances you may have as these hormones influence the entire body.
Insulin and thyroid hormones are also largely implicated in hair loss as mentioned previously.
There are many nutrients that are required for hair to grow healthy and strong as they can impact hair growth and hair structure.
Studies have shown associations between certain nutrient deficiencies and patterns of hair loss, the most common being low status in iron, zinc, amino acids, and selenium (3)(4).
Other nutrients that are involved in keeping our hair healthy include vitamin A, vitamin C, and the B vitamins (5)(6).
Though many supplement formulas targeted towards hair loss contain a variety of vitamins and minerals it's important to verify your own levels to make sure you are supplementing correctly and avoiding the risk of toxicity.
Preventing Hair Loss
You know what they say, offense is the best defense. And when it comes to our health, being proactive by maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle is essential if we want to maintain healthy looking locks for as long as possible.
Adopt an anti-inflammatory diet
The Mediterranean diet is the classic example of an anti-inflammatory diet focused on plenty of antioxidant rich fruits and vegetables paired with quality protein and has been shown to help reduce Androgenetic Alopecia.
Sufficient protein intake from sources such as chickpeas, beans, and quality animal products is also a really important factor to consider when it comes to hair health as our hair follicles are mostly made up of the protein, keratin.
Deficiency of amino acids is an additional risk factor for hair loss (7)(8).
Focus on nutrient density and variety
In order to decrease your risk of deficiencies the best way to do this is to increase the variety of your diet and choose nutritious foods. As discussed above, this will look like a whole foods diet centered around plenty of fruits and vegetables but also including healthy fats and protein.
In order to prevent the risk of nutrient deficiencies we recommend checking your nutrient status regularly with your health care practitioner.
Reduce damage done to your hair
We all want beautiful looking hair but many of the beautifying styling tools available such as blow drying, perms, curling irons and hair straighteners as well as the harsh chemicals found in most products can do damage do the hair follicle and scalp. Search for alternative and non-toxic products instead and try to let your hair dry naturally, it's time to own the natural look!
Keep your blood sugar balanced
Insulin resistance and diabetes are also conditions that can trigger hair loss and more specifically Androgenetic Alopecia. This is commonly seen in women diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome due to excess male sex hormones circulating in the bloodstream, also known as androgens.
It's important to regularly monitor your blood glucose and insulin levels in order to avoid conditions such as insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome.
There are many ways we can practice good blood sugar balancing such as a whole foods diet, intermittent fasting, regular and balanced meals, and regular exercise.
Laurence Annez is a Certified Nutritional Practitioner and Health Coach, specializing in PCOS and women's hormones. She also holds a degree in Creative Writing and has extensive experience writing on health and wellness topics. Laurence's mission is to inspire and motivate individuals to take control of their own health and reach their ultimate health goals.