A woman’s hair really is an extension of her femininity. If she is having a good hair day the world is a better place. For men, going bald is just part of life. But for a woman hair loss is a terrifying ordeal. Today more and more women are suffering from thinning hair and the spotlight is falling on rogue hormones.
“Sometimes hair loss is associated with a simple root cause. Most of the time, there are hormonal imbalances such as thyroid, insulin, or testosterone,” explains Dr Sara Gottfried world-renowned holistic gynecologist and natural hormone balancing coach, “Thirty percent of women report serious hair loss by age thirty. By age fifty, that statistic climbs to 50 percent.”
When a man’s testosterone is in balance he is strong, lean, vital and virile. Even though testosterone works with progesterone and oestrogen to create a healthy libido, if it is even slightly too high in women it has dire consequences. High testosterone in women can lead to all sorts of problems including aggression, acne, facial hair growth and loss of hair on the head; this is clearly not sexy or fun. Testosterone literally deactivates the hair follicle, which promptly stops hair from growing. This is known as androgenic alopecia and affects 30 percent of women. The whole hormone orchestra needs to be in balance for good libido, weight balance and healthy hair.
Yet many anti-aging doctors today are handing out bioidentical testosterone to women with low libido issues. Experts like Dr Gottfried disagree: “So what’s wrong with giving people these massive doses of oestrogen and progesterone and testosterone? They’re often prescribed by people with limited training. You know, just fill up the hormonal tank, and that will help you not get old before your time. I just think there’s a real danger here and a lack of robust data.”
Stress, unhealthy food, chemical toxicity and unstable blood sugar levels can all lead to high testosterone. Even though androgenic alopecia is often labeled as hereditary, that just means that your predisposition needs some support from a good functional or integrative medicine practitioner. For some of us high testosterone can easily lead to oestrogen dominance. The enzyme aromatase has the nasty habit of converting testosterone into oestrogen adding weight gain to your list of woes. This story can easily lead to polycystic ovarian syndrome.
According to American endocrinologist Dr. Kenneth Blanchard, “If a woman is losing hair in partly a male pattern then, the problem is there is excessive conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone (DHT) at the level of the hair follicle. Evening primrose oil is an inhibitor of that conversion. So almost anybody with hair loss probably will benefit from evening primrose oil.” One can also get high levels of gamma linoleic acid (GLA) found in evening primrose oil from starflower (borage) oil.
Thyroid and Hair Loss
Your thyroid has the important job of regulating all your metabolic pathways. If the thyroid is under strain it redirects its resources to the most important areas, leaving hair growth at the bottom of the list. It is well documented in medical science that an underactive thyroid can result in dry and brittle hair that easily falls out. Yet a thyroid imbalance is often undetected in normal blood tests. Problems can begin to occur years before a doctor may detect the problem. Unlike androgenic alopecia, thyroid related hair loss does not result in damaged hair follicles and once the thyroid is healthy again hair growth will return to normal. This does not happen with allopathic thyroid drug treatments.
A low thyroid can also result in weight gain, insomnia and lethargy. There are many reasons why a thyroid can be underactive. The most common of which is Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, which is in fact an autoimmune disorder, not a thyroid problem. Even so it can still lead to hair loss, unfortunately the body can perceive hair as a foreign substance and attack it. For some it can be heavy metal toxicity or high radiation levels, for others it can be as simple as low minerals or low progesterone levels. Whatever the cause a good integrative or functional medicine practitioner will be able to help you to rebalance your thyroid. In most cases the thyroid is thirsty for selenium. Five to seven brazil nuts a day can provide more than enough selenium.
Today the word insulin resistance is on the tip of health practitioners’ tongues. This disorder is the precursor to type-2 diabetes. Insulin is in charge of regulating our blood sugar level and fat storage, as well as having a hand to play in heart health and hair growth. One study published in the European Journal of Cardiovascular Risk found that women with some markers of insulin resistance have a greater risk for androgenic alopecia, or female pattern baldness.
With the right support insulin resistance is reversible. But first cut out all sugar and refined foods, artificial sweeteners, trans fats and eat whole foods. This alone could do the trick.
According to Dr Gottfried oestrogen helps you to feel good when it’s in balanced. Yet too much estrogen can lead to many problems including depression, weight gain, fatigue and hair loss.
High oestrogen levels can be caused by unhealthy food, lack of exercise, stress (especially during perimenopause), or toxicity from exposure to endocrine disruptors (which are rampant in our food, water and plastic products). HRT is certainly a danger in this department, but even some anti-aging doctors can prescribe high levels of bioidentical oestrogen. Dr Gottfried says, “The Wiley Protocol gives you this whopping dose of estrogen that’s about four-fold what the FDA has approved as a safe upper limit, and so it sets you up for estrogen dominance, for high estrogens relative to progesterone.”
After pregnancy, for example, fluctuations in oestrogen levels can trigger sudden hair loss for many women. There is also a genetic component. The body has 5 metabolic pathways for breaking down and getting rid of oestrogen. If for instance, your liver is not methylating (breaking down old hormones) properly, oestrogen can build up in the body leading to oestrogen dominance. With DNA testing one can determine if any of the genetic pathways are compromised and discover the nutrients needed to support them.
Filling your diet with fibrous salads and vegetables will provide you with essential minerals and proteins, as well as helping to lower oestrogen levels by escorting them out of your colon. Keep the carbohydrates low and the good fats and proteins at a decent level. Plus working up a good sweat can help evacuate oestrogen through your pores.
Consistently high cortisol levels or any kind of physical or emotional trauma can trigger the telogen phase of hair growth: relationship issues, surgery, weight loss, eating disorder, car accident, illness, moving house. Any big stress can cause the hair to lock down in the shedding phase. The first steps in realigning cortisol levels is keeping the blood sugar level steady and getting good sleep.
Low Iron Low Lysine and Hair Loss
In one study, 90 percent of women with thinning hair were deficient in iron and the amino acid lysine.1 Lysine helps transport iron, which is essential for many metabolic processes. Since most iron supplements are not bioavailable, it’s best to get your iron from your food. Firstly up your daily dose of dark green leafy vegetables. Good sources of lysine and iron are foods rich in protein such as grass fed meat, pasture reared eggs, organic cheese (especially Parmesan), and dark fish (cod, sardines).
Lack of Fat or Protein
We now know that low fat eating is a myth; one that is creating weight gain and hormone imbalances. Fatty acids such as omega 3 are essential for healthy scalp tissue and stable hair growth. Hair grows on a programmed cycle that involves a growth phase, rest phase, and shedding phase. Restricting fats creates stress on the hair follicle and can force it into the telogen phase (resting and shedding phase) since there simply isn’t enough good fuel for hair growth. Bring more good fats into your diet including coconut oil, avocados, dark fish and hemp seeds.
Your hair is made from protein, without it you can’t make hair. Good sources of protein are dark green leaves, pasture reared eggs, spirulina, dark fish, avocados, olives, grass-fed meat, nuts and seeds.
Over Treating Your Hair
Your hair-care routine may not be as caring as you thought. Frequent shampooing, hair dye, peroxide, frequent blow drying or styling and layers of chemical products can easily traumatize your hair follicles leading to hair loss. The American Academy of Dermatology suggests that you let your hair air dry and limit hot devices (like flat irons and curling irons) to once per week or less.