It can be quite distressing to run your fingers through your once luscious mane only to feel a thin layer of strands. There are many possible causes that contribute to unintentional hair loss which is referred to as alopecia. It’s important to determine exactly WHY it’s happening through your medical doctor or naturopathic doctor so that appropriate corrective actions can be taken to remedy the situation.
The 4 Phases of hair growth:
Anagen (Growth) Phase: Your hair grows around half an inch a month and faster in the summer than in winter. The growth phase, or anagen phase, lasts an average of 3-5 years, so a full-length hair averages 18 to 30 inches. The length of the anagen phase determines the maximum hair length. In normal conditions 80-90% of hair follicles are in the anagen phase at any given time.
Catagen (Transition) Phase: At the end of the anagen phase, your hair enters the catagen phase. A short transitional phase that lasts approximately 10 days. During the catagen phase, the hair stops growing and detaches itself from the blood supply. The hair becomes what is known as a club hair.
Telogen (Resting) Phase: The telogen, or resting, phase follows the catagen phase. During the telogen phase, the club hair rests while a new hair begins to grow beneath it. This new hair will eventually take the place of the club hair. The telogen phase lasts for three months, and 10-15% of all hairs are in this phase at any one time.
Exogen (Hair Shedding) Phase: The exogen, or hair shedding, phase is the last part of the hair cycle. During the exogen phase, the resting club hair detaches and falls out. Every hair eventually sheds, and it’s completely normal to lose 50 to 100 hairs each day.
I just wanted to give you a brief understanding of hair growth. Here are the possible causes of excessive hair loss in women:
- Hormonal: Elevated Dihydrotestosterone (DHT)
- Scientists now believe that it’s not the amount of circulating testosterone that’s the problem but the level of DHT binding to receptors in scalp follicles. DHT shrinks hair follicles, making it impossible for healthy hair to survive.
- If you want to see if levels of DHT are contributing to your hair loss, consider getting a comprehensive DUTCH hormone test.
- Androgenetic alopecia: Male/Female Pattern Baldness
- The most common cause of hair loss is a hereditary condition called male-pattern baldness or female-pattern baldness. It usually occurs gradually with aging and in predictable patterns – a receding hairline and bald spots in men and thinning hair in women.
- Family history would be a risk factor for this condition.
- Fungal infection: Tinea Capitis
- This would present as patches of hair loss on the scalp.
- Ringworm of the scalp (tinea capitis) is a fungal infection of the scalp and hair shafts. The signs and symptoms of ringworm of the scalp may vary, but it usually appears as itchy, scaly, bald patches on the head.
- Stress: Telogen Effluvium
- Many people experience a general thinning of hair several months after a physical or emotional shock. This type of hair loss is temporary. Among the common causes are high fevers, childbirth, severe infections, severe chronic illness, severe psychological stress, and major surgery or illnesses.
- Telogen effluvium is characterised by thinning of the scalp hair a few months after a stressful event. The stress causes hair roots to be pushed prematurely from the anagen (growth) phase into the telogen (resting) phase.
- Traction Alopecia: Certain Hairstyles
- This condition is caused by localized trauma to the hair follicles from tight hairstyles that pull at hair over time. If the condition is detected early enough, the hair will regrow. Braiding, cornrows, tight ponytails, and extensions are the most common styling causes.
- Certain Medications
- Hair loss can be a side effect of certain drugs, such as those used for cancer, arthritis, depression, heart problems, gout and high blood pressure.
- Autoimmune: Alopecia Areata
- Alopecia areata is a common autoimmune disorder that often results in unpredictable hair loss.
- In the majority of cases, hair falls out in small patches around the size of a quarter. For most people, the hair loss is nothing more than a few patches, though in some cases it can be more extreme.
- NOTE: also rule out celiac disease (allergy to gluten) as this can lead to low levels of iron and subsequent hair loss.
- Nutrient Deficiency
- Certain nutrients are essential for healthy hair growth. These are: Iron (common), Zinc, Niacin, fatty acids, protein, Silica, Biotin, and Vitamin D. If any of these are in low supply in the body, then hair loss can occur.
- Risk factors for nutrient deficiency are significant weight loss, chronic dieting, over exercising and sweating and pregnancy.
- Thyroid Condition
- Common thyroid conditions such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Graves’ disease are autoimmune disorders which can sometimes result in hair loss.
- The hair loss is typically reversed after your thyroid hormone levels are normalized, but this may take some time.
So as you can see there are many factors that could be causing your hair follicles to flee. Ultimately you want to determine the root cause (no pun intended) of why you are experiencing hair loss so that the appropriate measures can be taken.
Here is a general list of possible treatments that can help rectify the HAIRassment that has taken place on your scalp (BAD JOKE ALERT :/).
Natural treatment options:
- Repletion of Nutrient Deficiencies
- If you are in fact deficient in any of the nutrients stated above, supplementing to restore healthy levels will allow the hair follicles to growing again.
- How do you know if you are deficient?
- You can get a blood test for iron and vitamin D deficiency, but the others don’t have any reliable tests so you just supplement if the symptom picture fits that of the nutrient deficiency picture.
- Signs and Symptoms of nutrient deficiency (in addition to hair loss):
- Zinc deficiency: Loss of taste & smell, weakened immunity, decreased appetite, weak nails
- Iron deficiency: (This is a common one) Shortness of breath, weak nails, pale skin, insomnia
- Niacin deficiency: Dermatitis, dementia and diarrhea
- Biotin deficiency: Rashes on skin, dry or scaly skin, dry eyes and fatigue
- Fatty acid deficiency: Dry eyes, excessive earwax, cracking and peeling skin and nails
- Protein deficiency: Fatigue, muscle wasting, fatty liver and weak nails
- Silica deficiency: Brittle hair and nails, thin skin, and increase susceptibility to wrinkles
- Vitamin D deficiency: Bone loss, bow legged, chronic low back pain, fatigue and depressed immunity
- Optimize Thyroid Health
- If thyroid tests come back showing hypothyroidism, then treating the thyroid should help return hair growth to normal.
- Topical Castor Oil
- Castor oil can be used on the scalp to help prevent and remedy hair loss and it is effective at this for several reasons. Its antibacterial and antifungal properties make it beneficial against folliculitis, dandruff, and scalp infections and its ricinoleic acid content helps increase circulation to the scalp and improve hair growth.
- I cannot find any studies, but there is plenty of anecdotal data that clearly indicates people getting great results with topical application of castor oil to the scalp.
- Essential Oil Blend
- A study was done that tested a specific essential oil blend for alopecia areata (autoimmune one). Daily application was shown to significantly improve hair growth in the treatment group compared to the control group.
- Low Level Light Therapy (LLLT)
- Based on reviewing the best available evidence about the effect of LLLT in alopecia, studies have found that the FDA-cleared LLLT devices are both safe and effective in patients with either male or famale pattern baldness who did not respond or were not tolerant to standard treatments.
- Usually treatment requires daily use for 10-20 minutes for a few months.
- Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP)
- This is when blood is taken from your veins, put in a centrifuge to separate the components and the plasma layer is injected into regions needing hair growth.
- Evidence of improvement after treatment with PRP is most commonly reported after the third month. It normally requires multiple treatments (3-5) over this time period to see results.
- Yearly maintenance may be required to upkeep the follicular gains.
- Quercetin, a well-documented potent anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory, was found to both treat and prevent the onset of alopecia areata in a mouse study.
- I wanted to mention this in case you were looking to explore adding additional supplements. I will note that there are limitations applying this study to human use because the quercetin was injected into the mice, so it might be difficult to determine and achieve a therapeutic dose.