Just when you think your life/health/soul couldn’t be beat down anymore. . .your hair starts to fall out. As women, we are very protective of our hair. It shows your personality, and shelters you from physical and possibly emotional harm. In my life, I’ve had three separate episodes (episodes = MANY months) of hair loss. The first time I experienced clumps of hair falling from my head in the shower, I was devastated. I hadn’t yet been diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and didn’t know what the f*** was going on!
There are so many causes of hair loss in women, and it’s much more common than you’d think. In fact, it’s been reported that up to one in every four women will experience hair loss or thinning at some point. That’s a lot of ladies!
Thankfully, there are ways to slow or reverse hair loss in women. Before you can do that though, you must figure out what the heck is causing your hair loss in the first place!
Causes of Hair Loss in Women
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome or PCOS is a hormonal disorder characterized by cysts on the ovaries, excess androgens and insulin resistance. PCOS has a lot more to it, but a main symptom for many PCOS cysters is hair loss. This type of hair loss is called androgenic alopecia, and is caused by excess testosterone. The excess gets converted into DHT, a ‘bad’ form of testosterone that at the skin/scalp level causes hair to fall out. Part of the reason that testosterone gets converted into DHT is chronic stress, so self-care is very important for PCOS. Women with PCOS may notice hair loss mostly at the temples, hairline and top of the head, rather than an all-over loss.
Another leading cause of hair loss in women, having an underactive thyroid can cause your hair to fall out. This type of hair loss often happens throughout the whole head, not necessarily leaving patchy areas as in androgenic alopecia. Due to the lengthy life cycle of your hair follicles, you may not notice hair loss until months after seeing thyroid symptoms or being diagnosed hypothyroid. Hair growth actually depends on thyroid hormone, and too little thyroid hormone can cause hair loss- not just on the head but all over the body. Note that hyperthyroidism can also cause thinning of hair.
In perimenopause, menopause AND postmenopause, women can experience hair loss. In fact, up to 40 percent of women experience hair thinning in this part of their life. The reasons for this hair loss are complex. Firstly, your hormone production goes down as you age, and this may ampliyfy the effects of androgens in your body. This may cause something like the androgenic alopecia mentioned above. Not only this, but the thyroid gland often slows as well during this time, adding insult to injury. Lastly, if you are also iron deficient, this could add to menopausal hair loss.
Vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and nutritional compounds are essential to our health. We literally ARE what we eat. No joke. So if you’re eating a diet high in processed foods (think boxes, bags and cartons) or lots of fast food (I’m looking at you, McDonalds!) you will absolutely not be getting all the nutrients you need. Even eating vegetables from your supermarket may not give you what you need. Eating organic or locally grown foods, in the whole and natural state will go a long way.
One of the main nutrients missing for women experiencing hair loss is Iron. This mineral helps keep us energized, oxygenated and also prevents hair loss. If you’re unsure of your levels, get your doc to check Ferritin. Grab a supplement if you end up being low.
Stress can be an evil (but physiologically necessary) beast. I wish I could come up with a new name for it that has a positive spin! Anyways. . .
Chronic stress will help the body in creating all of the imbalances mentioned above and more!! Stress doesn’t allow our bodies to create the right hormones in the right amounts at the right time. So your thyroid takes a hit, your reproductive hormones are out of whack (hello, extra DHT!) and your nutrient status becomes dangerously low. You may go through some kind of emotional or physical trauma (like me losing my grandmother this spring) and not notice hair falling out until after the fact, due to your hair’s lifecycle.
Thankfully, most hair loss can be reversed, or at least stopped or slowed down. I have been extremely fortunate to be able to tame my PCOS hair loss. Here’s a great hair treatment I use weekly, and some ideas of what to look for in a hair loss supplement.
Be patient – your gorgeous hair will reappear!