Thinning hair, noticeable bald spots, receding hair line, large clumps of hair showing up in your hair brush or shower drain, these are typically things you hear about from men, not women. More and more though, we are contacted by women who are experiencing hair loss who want to know if this is a sign of something wrong with their hormones and how they can fix the problem. Fortunately, hair loss is not a sign of infertility, but is a side effect of hormonal imbalance which can impact your fertility.
Many women feel confident, feminine and more attractive when their hair looks good. The time and energy a woman puts into her hair is often a statement of style and an affirmation of beauty; it’s even an expression of self love.
Our hair is a permanent accessory that is part of our identity. Well, maybe not so permanent. Style, beauty, femininity, confidence, attractiveness and self love can all fall to the floor when a woman’s hair begins falling out.
Women are bombarded with the message, through modern media, that “when my hair looks good, I can deal with anything.” So, what is a girl to do when her hair starts falling out against her will?
Education is a powerful first step! Learning the underlying cause(s) and how to naturally support the body in recovering or achieving balance will help ease fears and help you move forward with the best ways to rebalance hormones and foster the regrowth of hair.
Why Does Hair Fall Out?
While it is normal, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) , “… to shed between 50 and 100 hairs a day,” if you feel like or see that your are losing more than that, it’s more than normal shedding. It’s hair loss.
The events that lead to hair loss in women all impact female hormone balance. The hair follicle is androgen sensitive, meaning it is sensitive to the fluctuation of male hormones. Contributors to hormonal hair loss in women can be the reasons listed above, however, more often can be associated with:
Birth control use
Birth control pills contain artificial progestins that act like male hormones, known to shrink and damage the hair follicle. An overabundance of male hormones in women could potentially contribute to insulin resistance as well.
Low thyroid function
This is indicated especially if hair loss is accompanied by fatigue, unexplained weight gain, aching joints, constipation, dry skin, feeling cold all the time, poor sleep, etc. Hair follicles are sensitive to thyroid hormones.
Hormonal imbalance between estrogen and progesterone, or due to PCOS as a result of:
- high blood sugar (insulin) levels
- excess adipose tissue (body fat)
- elevated levels of androgens (testosterone) in women
Low levels of certain nutrients within the body (poor diet), for example vitamins A, E and iron may result in hair loss.
Androgenic alopecia, hair loss when androgen levels are not too high, is an indicator of inflammation. Hair loss is just one sign of inflammatory issues like Celiac disease or gluten intolerance. Naturopathic Doctor Lara Bridden says, “Inflammation hyper-sensitizes your hair follicles to a normal amount of androgen. Reduce inflammation by avoiding food sensitivities such as wheat and/or dairy, and by correcting intestinal permeability.”
Giving birth and breastfeeding
During and after pregnancy, estrogen levels may frequently rise and then dip back down quickly. This sudden dip is what leads to hair loss after giving birth, which can be normal and should stop as hormone levels balance again. If hair loss is accompanied by a myriad of other symptoms post pregnancy, there may be a deeper issue beyond normal hormone fluctuations, such as thyroid function. “But exhaustion, feeling down, difficulty losing weight, intense struggle to produce enough breast milk, and hair loss aren’t always just a normal part of having had a baby,” says Dr. Aviva Romm. If you are experiencing any of these issues post pregnancy, do talk to your doctor about what you are going through.
Signs of Excessive Hair Shedding
- a widening part
- a ponytail becomes noticeably thinner
- receding hairline most notable first at the temples
- seeing more than usual (for you) hair on your pillow after a night’s sleep or in your hair brush when styling your hair
- pulling handfuls of hair from your head when washing your hair
What Can Be Done About It?
There can be any number of different factors contributing to your hair loss. If you’re reading this and thinking, “well I have that and that, and am going through that,” then you may already have an idea of what is a contributing cause for you. You may already be doing much of what is suggested here and may learn of additional ideas to consider trying.
If, however, you aren’t so sure that any of the causes listed above are a problem for you, then a good place to start may be to talk with your healthcare provider about testing. It is important to learn the root cause – especially if dealing with infertility – because that which is causing hair thinning and shedding may also be contributing to your inability to conceive.
Testing with your healthcare provider that may prove helpful in determining a cause(s) are:
- thyroid levels (a complete thyroid panel that measures T3, Reverse T3 and thyroid antibodies may be most helpful)
- nutrient levels – vitamins A, E, C and B vitamins, zinc and iron levels. Ask that serum iron, ferritin (should be at least 50ng/ML) and Total Iron Binding Capacity be measured (a more thorough way to know if iron levels are low and to determine anemia)
- insulin levels
- hormone levels – estrogen and androgens like testosterone and dihydrotestosterone (DHT), the hormone that is known to slow hair growth
After testing, consider beginning to make specific dietary and lifestyle changes and using natural therapies if any of these areas are determined to be contributing factors to your hair loss.
Hair loss is stressful! Stress, illness, nutrient deficiencies, hormonal imbalance, taking medication like birth control and systemic inflammation can all be causative factors. It is important to address the root cause and move forward from there.
The tricky part is that it is believed that the cause of hair loss most likely happened three months prior to beginning to see hair fall out. So, the underlying cause may not be easy to pinpoint. Natural hair re-growth will take time. Just as it can take 3 months after an event to realize that hair is falling out, it can take just as long, or longer, to begin seeing hair re-growth if the cause has been addressed. It is important to be patient! There is hope!
As you work to learn the cause of why hair loss is happening for you and support the body in preventing it from happening, might I offer a reminder from the words of “The Queen” herself, Beyonce, “A woman is most beautiful when she smiles.”
– Bauer, J. (n.d.). Can Low Iron Levels Cause Hair Loss? Retrieved from http://www.joybauer.com/healthy-living/low–iron-hair-loss.aspx
– Bridden, L. (2013, March 19). The Pill, Thyroid, and 4 Other Causes of Hormonal Hair Loss. Retrieved from http://www.larabriden.com/causes-of-hormonal-hair-loss/
– Chase, B. (n.d.). 7 Reasons to Try Grape Seed Extract for Hair Loss. Retrieved from http://www.progressivehealth.com/grape-seed-hair-loss.htm
– Do you have hair loss or hair shedding? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.aad.org/public/skin-hair-nails/hair-care/hair-loss-vs-hair-shedding
– Gottfried, S. (n.d.). Hair Loss, Hormones and How to Regain Your Luscious Locks. Retrieved from http://www.saragottfriedmd.com/hair-loss-hormones-and-how-to-regain-your-luscious-locks/
– Helt, A.M. (n.d.) Personal communication.
– The Science: Hair Growth. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.intelligentnutrients.com/proof
– Kane, E. (n.d.). Hair Thinning in Women. Retrieved from http://dremilykane.com/2001/09/22/hair-thinning-in-women/
– McAndrews, P. (Ed.). (n.d.). Causes of Hair Loss. Retrieved from http://www.americanhairloss.org/women_hair_loss/causes_of_hair_loss.asp
– Romm, A. (2015, October 20). Thyroid Problems After Pregnancy: Ending Unnecessary Postpartum Suffering – Aviva Romm. Retrieved from http://avivaromm.com/thyroid-problems-after-pregnancy