Hair loss is a very common symptom that can occur in both men and women, with a variety of possible causes.
Here we will explore some of the most common causes of hair loss, how it is treated, the emotional toll this symptom can have, and tips for coping with hair loss.
Hair Loss Overview
Hair consists of the follicle, which is under the skin, and the shaft, which is the strand visible above the scalp. The shaft of the hair is made of a protein called keratin.
Hair also follows a growth cycle which includes the:
- growing phase (anagen)
- transition phase (catagen)
- resting phase (telogen)
- shedding phase (exogen)
Different strands of hair throughout the head are in one of these stages at different times, with the majority being in the growing phase.
Many contributors to hair loss will disrupt this natural cycle, causing hair to go into the resting and shedding phases prematurely, which results in excess hair loss.
Hair loss can manifest in varying ways. It can develop all over the head in an even fashion or develop in patches in various places on the scalp. It can also manifest mainly on the hairline or mainly on the crown of the head.
Hair loss can also range from mild to severe.
It is “normal” to lose around 50 to 100 strands of hair per day, while an increase in this amount of shed is considered to be the symptom of hair loss.
Common Causes of Hair Loss
While hair loss can be genetic and also develop with age, some of the most common medical causes of hair loss include:
Zinc is an essential mineral that has many important functions throughout your body. One of these many functions is maintaining the growth and repair of the hair. Zinc is also involved in the functioning of the oil glands around the hair follicle.
Zinc deficiency can weaken the integrity of the hair follicle, resulting in hair loss.
Furthermore, the minerals zinc and copper have a close antagonistic relationship. When zinc levels fall, copper levels with rise and vice versa.
Zinc deficiency can contribute to the development of a condition called Copper Toxicity, explained much further here. Copper Toxicity can also cause hair loss, among many other possible symptoms.
Imbalanced thyroid function can cause hair loss on the head, as well as eyebrow (typically the outer portion of the eyebrow) and eyelash loss. Thyroid imbalance can involve an underactive thyroid, overactive thyroid, or autoimmune thyroid condition including Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis (underactive) or Graves’ (overactive).
The thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland that is found at the base of the neck. It is a very important part of the endocrine (hormone) system and plays a big role in regulating metabolism, energy production, cardiovascular function, digestion, and much more.
Thyroid imbalance can also cause the hair to become dry and brittle.
The hormones that the thyroid gland produces play a role in the development and maintenance of the hair follicle. When there is an imbalance in the production of these hormones (mainly the T3 and T4 hormones), the hair growth cycle is disrupted, most often going into the resting phase too early which leads to excessive shedding.
Estrogen dominance is a sex hormone imbalance where there is an imbalance between the hormones estrogen and progesterone.
Each hormone performs designated important tasks throughout the body. When estrogen dominance develops, which is a high estrogen level in relation to progesterone (not necessarily a “high” estrogen level, but a higher
level than is appropriate in relation to one’s progesterone levels), many symptoms and sex hormone conditions can manifest, including hair loss.
Rising estrogen levels will cause hair to remain in the resting phase for prolonged periods, which results in hair loss.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is a sex hormone imbalance which can involve the development of small cysts on the ovaries, overproduction of androgen hormones, insulin resistance, and more. PCOS can cause a number of symptoms, including hair loss.
PCOS increases the production of androgens, which are male hormones that are present in both men and women. These hormones include testosterone, DHT, androstenedione, and DHEA.
While an increase in all forms of androgens can lead to hair loss, increased DHT has a particularly notable impact on the hair. Increased levels of this androgen can shrink the hair follicle, resulting in hair loss.
Deficiencies in vitamin B12, B9, or B7 can all lead to hair loss.
Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) and vitamin B9 (folate) are both heavily involved in the production of red blood cells. Red blood cells help to carry oxygen throughout the body, which helps to feed the hair follicle, keeping it healthy.
When there is a deficiency in these vitamins, red blood cell production is reduced, which can result in hair loss.
Furthermore, biotin, or vitamin B7, is partly responsible for producing keratin in the body.
Keratin is a type of protein that makes up the structure and helps maintain the health of your hair, skin, and nails. When biotin is in low supply, not enough keratin is being made to maintain the health of the hair, which can result in hair loss.
Iron is an important mineral that serves many purposes. Iron is used to make hemoglobin, which is a protein in red blood cells that helps to transport oxygen throughout the body, as discussed above.
When iron is low, less oxygen is transported throughout the body, and hence less oxygen is available to nurture the health of the hair follicle, resulting in hair loss.
Any type of physical (surgery, accident, injury, etc), mental, or emotional trauma and acute stress can trigger hair loss as well.
When in this “fight or flight” nervous system state, the body is basically in survival mode. Physiological processes are prioritized by order of importance to one’s survival.
Hair growth, digestion, sleep quality, etc are all less important to your basic survival, so they aren’t attended to or given the energy and resources that they should be when in this acute state of heightened trauma and stress.
Prolonged stress can also cause hair loss, as discussed below.
Prolonged stress can lead to hair loss in large part because the stress response can catalyze the hair follicle to prematurely go into the resting phase, which results in hair shed. Stress hormones such as cortisol also have an adverse effect on the health of the hair follicle itself.
This can also happen because of the adverse effect that stress has on the immune system, which can result in a form of autoimmunity that targets the hair follicle resulting in hair loss.
- Various medications including hormonal birth control
A large quantity of medications can have the side effect of hair loss because of their adverse effects on the hair follicle, which disrupts the normal growth cycle of the hair resulting in premature hair shed.
Synthetic hormones found in birth control, hormone replacement therapies, etc can also cause hair loss by causing hormone imbalances within the body.
One such example is the birth control pill, which contains synthetic estrogen and progesterone that are intended to prevent ovulation. These added hormones often create a state of estrogen dominance and other imbalances, which lead to hair loss as described above.
A fairly well known cause of hair loss is chemotherapy, as this medication effects the cells on the scalp and the hair follicles. Not all forms of chemotherapy will lead to hair loss, but many of them do, as it depends on the type of medication.
This form of hair loss can be gradual or sudden and manifest in an even fashion, or in patches. Hair usually starts to grow back 3 to 6 months after treatment has stopped.
It is important to note that while deficiencies tend to be a more common nutritional cause of hair loss, excesses/toxicities can also contribute to hair loss. This can occur from too much of a vitamin or mineral in your diet, over supplementation, and via other avenues.
Treating Hair Loss
Like most symptoms, alleviating hair loss usually involves identifying and treating the underlying cause.
For example, if the underlying cause of one’s hair loss is a hormone imbalance as discussed above, when that imbalance is treated, the hair loss symptom will cease.
If the underlying cause is a vitamin deficiency, supplementation and increasing foods that are high in that particular vitamin in your diet would both be helpful.
In the case of anemia, low iron in the diet could be a contributing factor, or heavy menstrual flow is also a common cause of anemia. Getting to the root cause of why one is having excessively heavy menstrual flow would be the best avenue in that case. Increasing foods that are high in iron would be helpful in the case of low dietary iron intake.
While treating the underlying cause is the most effective way to treat any symptom, including hair loss, there are a couple helpful tools that can be utilized along the way to help stimulate hair growth and reduce excess hair shed:
Rosemary helps to stimulate blood circulation to the scalp, which can help to encourage new hair growth and slow hair loss.
To administer, you can add about 5 drops of rosemary oil to a carrier such as coconut oil and massage it into the scalp. Leave this on overnight, and wash out the following day.
- Natural hair thickening products
There are some natural products that contain ingredients such as biotin, avocado, keratin, and other elements that help to stimulate new hair growth and slow hair loss. These products are usually in the form of a hair mask, which is applied similar to a hair conditioner, but is left on longer (usually around 15 minutes, but sometimes as long as overnight).
The Emotional Toll
As people, we tend to have an emotional connection to our hair. I didn’t truly recognize this until I started watching extremely large clumps of my own hair coming out and going down the drain every time I took a shower.
It felt frightening and distressing…I wondered how far it would go and how much hair I would be able to hold onto. I began to dread taking a shower because the experience of losing so much hair was so cumbersome.
I became very aware of how I was handling my hair, as any form of manipulation would increase the amount that was falling out.
I noticed more hair appearing on my pillow, and hair all over the floor.
Over time, it became less shocking, but still felt onerous.
Regardless of the cause of hair loss, it can have a notable emotional impact on the individual experiencing it.
It is important to be tender with yourself as you move through this experience, and remember that our bodies are resilient.
Personally, while I lost approximately 3/4 of the amount of hair I had before, and experienced hair loss to varying degrees continuously for over 10 years, I kept a considerable amount of hair considering, albeit rather thin.
You can experiment with different hair styles, wigs, and hats as well.
My hair is growing back steadily and regaining its thickness as I continue to heal.
Remember that you are beautiful just as you are right this second, and always will be, absolutely regardless of your hair.
Tips for Coping with Hair Loss
- Talk about it
Experiencing hair loss can feel very isolating, frightening, and generally negative. It can be a difficult experience to cope with no doubt. Talking about your experiences and your feelings with a trusted loved one or a therapist is a very helpful way of moving through challenging situations and processing your emotions.
You can also journal your experiences as a way of organizing your thoughts and processing your emotions.
Try not to keep your thoughts and feelings bottled up. Expressing them helps you to move through the experience in a healthy way.
- Remind yourself of the resilience and strength of your body
Your body is designed to heal itself and as you move throughout your natural healing protocol, your symptoms will diminish. Remember how strong and resilient your body is and put forth effort to focus on that.
Symptoms can feel as though your body is betraying you, but they are actually a form of communication from your body indicating when there is an imbalance present.
Symptoms are temporary and your body is capable of amazing things.
Focus on the positive steps you are taking in working toward your healing. Celebrate each small step forward and each seemingly small success throughout your journey.
When there are a great deal of severe symptoms happening all at once, we can easily slip into a mindset where we are focusing on the negative the majority of the time…focusing on how uncomfortable the symptoms are and the challenge of experiencing them.
As mentioned above, remind yourself of how your body is designed to heal, and how you are taking the appropriate measures for it to do so. Feel strong and confident in your ability to heal.
This too shall pass as you take each step forward and progress each day in your healing.
As we’ve explored here, hair loss is a very common symptom with many contributing factors.
It can be a daunting symptom to experience, yet there are tools that can be utilized to cope as you move through this experience.
I wish you all the best on your healing journey and I’m cheering for you!
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You’ve got this, your future is bright 💜.