Solutions for hair loss in women

Good Health
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
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Bad hair days can dent our self-confidence, but what can you do if your hair starts falling out? Herbalist Margaret Gore explains.

If you've started to notice more hair than usual collecting in your comb or brush, or feel your scalp is more visible than it used to be, don't panic. There are some natural remedies that can help restore your locks.

Hair loss can be caused by a number of factors, such as when you're under stress or after childbirth, illness or surgery. In these circumstances, a healthy diet and exercise can help your hair regrow in about three to six months.

However, the most common (and upsetting) type of hair loss some women may experience is pattern baldness (also known as androgenetic alopecia), which is caused by a hormone imbalance. Minor degrees of pattern hair loss occur in more than 55 percent of women as they age, but only about 20 percent of women develop moderate or severe hair loss.

How hair grows

Hair grows from follicles under the scalp. The follicles supply oxygen and nutrients to the hair root (also known as the bulb), which stimulates hair growth. Each hair normally grows for about three years and then goes into a resting phase. After the resting phase, the next hair starts to grow out of the follicle and, as it grows, it pushes the original hair out. This cycle continues throughout life.

Why it falls out more frequently

There are two main hormones that affect hair: oestrogen and testosterone. It's when their ratios are unbalanced that problems occur.

Oestrogen improves a woman's hair and makes it grow faster and stay on her head for longer. Higher oestrogen levels is the main reason a woman's hair improves when she's pregnant and why when the oestrogen levels return to normal, it then sheds approximately three months after the baby is born.

Oestrogen also buffers the effects of testosterone. If, for some reason, testosterone is comparatively higher than oestrogen, then some women who have a genetic predisposition, can experience hair loss.

Who may suffer?

Young women suffering disorders of the ovaries, adrenal glands, pituitary, hypothalamus, liver, or thyroid may also experience hair loss.

Women during peri- and post-menopause, when oestrogen levels naturally start to drop may also experience hair loss.

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Thinning out

Patterns of androgenetic alopecia include:
  • Overall thinning of the hair, often more towards the back.
  • A thinning over the entire scalp, more noticeably towards the front but not along the hairline.
  • Thinning over the entire scalp, with hair loss from the frontal hairline.
  • Hairs that pull out easily.
  • Weaker hairs that break frequently.

What happens

We all produce testosterone, but certain women are more sensitive to this androgenic hormone than others. In these women, testosterone interacts with an enzyme called 5-alpha reductase (5-AR) to form the hormone dihydrotestosterone (DHT) in the hair follicle.

DHT makes the hair follicle go into its resting phase much faster than normal and, over time, the hairs produced become thinner and thinner with each growth cycle, until they are so small they are hardly visible. This is called miniaturisation.

What you can do?

Women under 40 should consult their doctor for tests to check their hormone levels and establish any underlying cause. Older women may want to consider hormone replacement therapy (HRT), with advice from their GP, to normalise their oestrogen levels. In either case, their hair will return to normal as the balance of oestrogen and testosterone levels are restored.

The main topical medication is Minoxidil (Rogaine), which is applied to the scalp. It can take at least four months before you see results, and has some side-effects, such as dry, itchy scalp and irritation. The other drawback is that it has to be applied to the scalp twice a day, and hair may fall out again if treatment is discontinued.”

Nutrition

Eating the right foods and taking supplements can go a long way to improving the balance of your hormones and preventing hair loss. Here's how:
  • Drinking at least three cups of green tea a day helps prevent testosterone from being converted to dihydrotestosterone .
  • Eat plenty of apples, as their skin contains procyanidins that help promote healthy hair growth.
  • Cut back on pro-inflammatory foods such as saturated fats.
  • Organic licorice can help balance hormone levels, so chew a couple of pieces a day. If, however, you suffer from high blood pressure, avoid eating it as it could make the condition worse.
  • Boost your protein levels, especially non-animal proteins such as soy, nuts and legumes.
  • Take gamma-linolenic acid (which is found in evening primrose, blackcurrant seed or borage oils), as it helps inhibit 5-alpha reductase .
  • Increase your consumption of fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, and essential fatty acids including flaxseed.
  • Take a multivitamin and mineral supplement that includes biotin, vitamin B6, vitamin E, magnesium, manganese and zinc.

    For the complete story, see the March 10, 2010, issue of Good Health.


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