Hair loss is a phenomenon that affects a large proportion of the population, both male and female. It is thought that in the USA alone, there are 56 million people currently experiencing some degree of hair thinning or baldness.
Often times it can creep up on you, and leave you wondering how on earth it has happened…
In this article we’ll explore the most common causes of hair loss, how to identify the cause, and how to choose the best course of action.
Why do we lose our hair?
There are several reasons why hair loss may start to occur, but broadly speaking, they can typically be explained by one of the following root causes:
1. Natural hair loss
For many people, hair loss is just a part of the natural ageing process.
The average adult loses around 100 hairs from their head every single day, simply as a result of the ageing process. Natural thinning can sometimes seem more apparent in people with longer than average hair, but the rate is typically the same for everyone.
Many of these hairs are subsequently replaced by replaced by new ones, however for a variety of reasons (which we will discuss below), some may not grow back fully.
2. Patchy or sudden hair loss
Sudden or patchy hair loss is often a sign of stress, or even as a result of an underlying disease or health condition. It is important to consult a medical professional if you experience any of these symptoms.
Genetics is the most common cause of hair loss, especially in males. Estimates indicate that more than 80% of cases of male pattern baldness are hereditary.
That’s not to say that it cannot be avoided. If preventative steps are taken as soon as the hair loss is detected, baldness can be avoided.
Direct causes of hair loss
There are also more direct causes of hair loss that are often easier to identify and deal with. Some of these include:
1. Hormone changes
Testosterone and DHT
One of the main mechanisms behind hair loss is the enzyme 5 alpha-reductase, which converts testosterone into the hormone dihydrotestosterone (DHT).
When DHT is formed, it reduces the size of hair follicles in people with a genetic predisposition to hair loss, and over time, the smaller follicles produce shorter and thinner hair. Men typically have much more testosterone in their bodies compared to women, which is thought to be the main reason why baldness is much more common in males.
Some people choose to take medications that stop the interaction between testosterone and the alpha reductase enzyme. Other opt for more natural solutions such as a saw palmetto supplement, although evidence for its effectiveness is limited.
The Thyroid Gland
The health of the thyroid gland can also impact hair loss.
Although it is not always linked, thinning of the hair is a very common symptom of an underactive thyroid gland, or hypothyroidism.
If you have a thyroid issue, it is best to consult a medical professional. If a problem is confirmed, your doctor may prescribe medication or suggest dietary changes.
Sea vegetables such as nori, kelp, dulse, kombu and wakame are rich in the mineral iodine, which has been shown to support a healthy thyroid gland. These foods can be enjoyed in a variety of East Asian dishes, or taken in supplement form.
As well as making dietary changes, it may be worth investing in a water filter, to filter out minerals such as fluoride and chlorine. These chemicals can prevent the body from absorbing iodine and lead to complications.
2. Poor circulation of blood in the scalp
Just like any other part of the body, our hair needs a good blood supply to provide micronutrients and amino acids needed for healthy growth.
Minerals such as zinc, iron, selenium, magnesium and calcium are all involved in the production of healthy hairs.
The proteins collagen and keratin provide the hair with structural integrity. These proteins are made up of chains of amino acids, which need to be delivered via the blood. If the blood supply is low, no amount of supplementation will be able to hold back the baldness.
Smoking, pollution, diet and many other factors can cause reduced blood flow to the scalp. You’ll notice that these are largely factors that we can control ourselves. Avoiding smoking, getting out of the city, and improving your diet are all changes that can make a big difference.
You may also want to consider trying specific exercises that improve blood flow. Yoga inversions such as downward facing dog, headstands and handstands are great to start with.
Regular head massage can also pay dividends. Not only does it condition the scalp, improve hair strength and reduce stress levels, when done right a good head massage can increase blood flow and nutrient availability to the head.
3. Stress and Anxiety
Although we have never had so much access to entertainment and technology, modern living often comes with a price. Most people experience some degree of stress in their lives.
Our bodies are designed to cope with short term stressor, but chronic stress that occurs over long time periods can cause significant damage.
As well as increasing the risk of developing a number of nasty illnesses, chronic stress can impact hormone levels, increasing cortisol. If not dealt with soon, this can have a knock on effect on the liver, and lead to increased DHT levels. This increase in DHT reduces the size of hair follicles, leading to hair loss and thinning.
Effective remedies to stress include relaxing activities such as meditation, yoga, reading or walking. Sometimes it may help to get your heart rate up and engage in some high intensity exercise, like a martial arts class. Getting a good sweat on and letting some aggression out can be an effective way to calm your body down.
4. Dietary choices
Health is a complicated picture, with many different components that are all linked. When you do not eat a healthy diet, this can have a knock on effect and prevent many normal bodily functions from working properly – including the growth of healthy hair.
So make sure that your diet is based mainly on fresh, whole, plant foods such as fruits, veggies, wholegrains, legumes, nuts and seeds.
More specifically, research suggests that fat found in animal products such as meat and dairy may have adverse effects. The fat increases sebum production, an oil produced by the scalp that often combines with environmental pollutants and dead skin to form a layer of plaque, which blocks the nutrient supply to the hair.
Meat can also act to boost testosterone levels, which may sound desirable, but can in fact worsen the problem. More testosterone can mean higher DHT levels, which means more hair loss.
Aside from reducing your consumption of animal products, you can increase your consumption of foods that have been shown to aid in hair growth:
- Brazil nuts are rich in selenium, a mineral that helps to improve hair strength.
- Wholegrains are heart healthy and contain the minerals zinc and magnesium, which are both involved in the growth of healthy hair.
- Leafy greens are iron rich, increasing blood flow and nutrient availability to hair follicles.
- Berries are rich in vitamin C, which increases the availability of iron.
- Legumes are rich in protein, providing the amino acids needed to maintain structural integrity in the hair.
5. Hair care habits
As mentioned above, excess sebum produced by the scalp often interacts with environmental pollutants, dead skin cells and hair products, leading to plaque buildup. This plaque suffocates hair follicles, reducing nutrient availability and leading to thinning.
Here are a few techniques you can explore to improve your hair care habits:
- Regular head massages with essential oils can help to break down plaque and free the hair follicles.
- Showers in the morning have also been shown to reduce sebum production.
- Aloe vera is a natural ingredient in some shampoo and conditioners that can bring plaque to the surface and break it down. It also has alkalizing properties that help to reduce inflammation.