What are the causes of hair loss and unhealthy hair?
We see a lot of patients who complain of hair loss and it can be very difficult to treat successfully, unless we understand and address the causes of hair loss.
Hair loss in women can be caused by hormonal imbalances such as –
- Lack of progesterone production by the ovaries – this is common in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome, gynaecological problems and after childbirth.
- Menopause – when the production of oestrogen and progesterone decline rapidly.
- Excess male hormones, which can be due to genetic factors, obesity or polycystic ovarian syndrome
- The oral contraceptive pill and contraceptive hormone implants and injections
- Thyroid gland problems – both overactive and underactive
Not many doctors know that hair loss in women can be helped by prescribing natural progesterone. This is best given in the form of a cream and doses range from 30 to 200 mg daily, so some trial and error is required. Natural progesterone is very safe and its beneficial effect on hair growth will show after 3 to 4 months of use.
Excess male hormones cause male-pattern hair loss or balding in women – the hair thins in the frontal-temporal areas and the top of the scalp. In such cases blood tests may reveal very high levels of male hormones (androgens) for which it will be necessary to use a hormone to suppress and block the effect of these male hormones. An excellent prescription hormone to block the excess male hormones is called Cyproterone acetate – this is an anti-male hormone and also exerts progestogen like effects.
Thyroid problems will need to be treated with thyroid hormone (either thyroxine, known as T4, or thyroxine and triiodothyronine, also known as T3, or natural porcine thyroid extract). Iodine, selenium and zinc will help to support optimal thyroid function and thus improve the condition of the hair. If you have hair loss, have a urine test to check your body’s level of iodine – if it is too low this is a contributing factor to your sluggish thyroid and thus your hair loss.
Immune factors are also important in the genesis of hair loss and can cause diffuse hair loss or patches of baldness known as alopecia areata. This is an autoimmune condition whereby the immune system attacks the hair follicles. The hair follicles become inflamed and damaged and may eventually be destroyed. When patches of complete hair loss occur, this is called alopecia areata– it can vary in severity from one patch to total baldness and the hair loss can affect the whole body.
In autoimmune hair loss, eating gluten-containing foods can worsen the condition, therefore gluten should be eliminated from the diet.
Some prescription medications can increase the rate of hair loss. These include blood thinners, cholesterol-lowering drugs, and some drugs used to treat high blood pressure, gout, arthritis, depression and heart problems.
Nutritional deficiencies are a common cause of hair loss and can occur in women taking antacid drugs or those with gastrointestinal problems causing poor absorption.
Chronic diseases such as kidney disease can cause hair loss.
Some hair care products, styling methods and unconscious habits like pulling or twisting the hair can lead to hair loss.
Other things that cause hair loss include stress and chemotherapy used to treat cancer or transplant rejection drugs.