For men and women, aging brings some degree of hair loss or thinning. While we may not all be sporting a shiny bald head, both men and women can lose a significant amount of hair after the age of 40 or so. For women, this often coincides with menopause and declining hormones and can be especially distressing.
Men typically can inherit male-pattern baldness and it’s normal and well-accepted. Hair loss is quite common in women as well, especially if they are post-menopausal. Let’s tackle some of the reasons for this hair loss.
Genes vs. Hormones
Male-pattern baldness, as well as female-pattern baldness can be attributed to a condition called “androgenetic alopecia”. AA is one of the most common forms of hair loss in both men and women. The hormone at play here is a a substance called dihydrotestosterone, which is a form of testosterone.
About half of men over the age of 50 and half of women over 65 have this form of hair loss, while younger people can be affected as well. It’s thought that people have certain hair follicles that are either susceptible or resistant to dihydrotestosterone.
In a study published in the International Journal of Trichology, it was found that female patients with progressive hair loss had a strong correlation between hypothyroidism (low thyroid) and hypertension (high blood pressure). Many of these people were also low in vitamin D as well. So, while many think that genes are the cause of hair loss, hormonal imbalances and nutrition come into play as well.
In fact, many health professionals are beginning to note that hair loss can be due to diet, nutrition, stress, and other environmental factors as well. This means that some degree of hair loss can be controlled after all.
Hormonal imbalances most definitely come into play when it comes to hair—for both men and women. Hormones that affect hair loss include:
- Imbalance in estrogen in relationship to testosterone levels in women. After menopause, women’s levels of both progesterone and estrogen decrease significantly. Estrogen affects hair growth and quality. When levels of testosterone are too high, and estrogen is too low, hair thinning, and excessive hair loss can occur—especially post menopause or perimenopause.
- Low levels of thyroid hormone for both men and women affect hair growth and quality as well. As women approach menopause, their levels of progesterone drop drastically. Low progesterone affects thyroid function and can cause hypothyroid conditions. This in turn, can cause hair loss and slow regrowth.
- Testosterone levels in men or women. While this may occur naturally, it also can happen with testosterone hormone therapy supplementation.
- Insulin resistance can cause a loss of hair in both men and women and can be one of the symptoms of pre-diabetes or diabetes.
Hormones that are either too high or too low can affect hair growth. Both hyper and hypothyroid conditions can cause hair loss and thinning. Additionally, too high levels of testosterone or too low levels can also affect your head of hair.
Diet and Nutrition
Nutritional status can affect hair growth and dietary deficiencies will cause hair thinning, breakage, and slow hair growth. Some of the key nutrients that affect hair growth include:
- Iron deficiency or anemia can be one of the primary causes of hair loss in pre-menopausal women, especially. Iron contributes to hemoglobin which supplies nutrients and oxygen to hair follicles. Vegans and vegetarians often report hair loss.
- Zinc is an essential mineral used by hundreds of enzymes. It is thought zinc shortage affects protein synthesis and cell division, affecting hair growth. For many men, it’s a combination of low zinc and copper that causes hair loss. Not only does zinc deficiency cause hair loss, but the remaining hair can be brittle and break off more easily.
- Selenium is an essential trace element necessary for proper thyroid function which affects hair growth.
- Biotin, Folate, and Niacin are all part of the B complex vitamins. Deficiencies can occur in people with gluten sensitivity or celiac disease and other malabsorption conditions. A B vitamin deficiency can also be caused by alcoholism, and certain medications. Vegans often have B vitamin deficiencies.
- Vitamin D plays a role in hair follicle cycling and affects the hair follicle’s growth and dormant states. Low levels of vitamin D may cause hair to thin or stop growing. Risk factors for vitamin D deficiency include inadequate sun exposure, dark skin, obesity, gastric bypass, and fat malabsorption.
- Vitamin A has been shown to activate hair follicle stem cells, however high levels of vitamin A can cause hair loss. Since vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, too much vitamin A can accumulate in the body, especially when taken as a supplement.
- Protein malnutrition can also result in hair thinning and loss, due to the lack of specific amino acids. Many vegetarians and vegans often notice hair thinning after being on a strict vegetarian diet.
People with vitamin and nutrient-related hair loss may lose more than just the hair on their heads. Damage to hair follicles can also cause the eyebrows and lashes to shed, if bad enough. Eating a diet rich in animal-based protein, healthy fats and fresh vegetables should suffice to help balance nutrient deficiencies. In cases of malabsorption or GI issues, extra supplementation may be necessary if hair loss is a problem.
Health status has a lot to do with hair loss and hair growth. There are many contributing factors that can create health conditions that lead to hair loss. Some of those include cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes or pre-diabetes and hypothyroidism. Autoimmune diseases can also be a trigger for hair loss as well, although many autoimmune conditions create more patchy hair loss than just thinning hair. Celiac disease, Crohn’s disease and other GI conditions can also create problems with your hair.
For these, simply getting rid of the sugar, processed grains and gluten can definitely put you back on the path to good health and a shiny, healthy head of hair.
One other health condition that is worth mentioning is having had Covid-19. Having Covid can affect people in different ways. Some can have a more severe version of the disease, while other have had a milder form. However, Covid and other contagious illnesses can have some long-term effects, including hair loss, otherwise known as telogen effluvium.
Many people notice hair loss a few months after recovering from a Covid infection. In fact, for those who were hospitalized, more than 20 % lost a significant amount of hair in the 3-6 months after recover.
Hair loss is a common response to physical stress such as a serious illness, surgery, or other types of physical trauma. Other studies that include people with milder symptoms suggest that hair loss after COVID-19 may be much more common than that.
A healthy, balanced diet that includes naturally raised animal protein, a variety of fruits and vegetables and a healthy intake of fat will help you regrow your tresses. Be sure to supplement if you or your doctor feel you may have nutritional deficiencies. There are other natural methods to help stimulate growth such as rosemary essential oil, omega 3 fish oils, coconut oil and even onion juice. Medical intervention can mean a prescription to Rogaine or Propecia to help promote growth.
Hair is an outward expression of your body’s health in addition to genetics. Take care of your health and your hair and skin will glow.
What’s been your experience with hair loss? Did you notice hair loss if you’ve had Covid? What other health conditions have you experienced that caused hair loss?