Hair loss can affect just your scalp or your entire body. It can be the result of heredity, hormonal changes, medical conditions or medications. Anyone — men, women and children — can experience hair loss.
Baldness typically refers to excessive hair loss from your scalp. Hereditary hair loss with age is the most common cause of baldness. Some people prefer to let their baldness run its course untreated and unhidden. Others may cover it up with hairstyles, makeup, hats or scarves. And still others choose one of the treatments available to prevent further hair loss and to restore growth.
Before pursuing hair loss treatment, talk with your doctor about the cause of the hair loss and the best treatment options.
Hair loss can appear in many different ways, depending on what’s causing it. It can come on suddenly or gradually and affect just your scalp or your whole body. Some types of hair loss are temporary, and others are permanent… or not… things are changing fast in the hair regrowth world!
Signs and symptoms of hair loss may include:
- Gradual thinning on top of head. This is the most common type of hair loss, affecting both men and women as they age. In men, hair often begins to recede from the forehead in a line that resembles the letter M. Women typically retain the hairline on the forehead but have a broadening of the part in their hair.
- Circular or patchy bald spots. Some people experience smooth, coin-sized bald spots. This type of hair loss usually affects just the scalp, but it sometimes also occurs in beards or eyebrows. In some cases, your skin may become itchy or painful before the hair falls out.
- Sudden loosening of hair. A physical or emotional shock can cause hair to loosen. Handfuls of hair may come out when combing or washing your hair or even after gentle tugging. This type of hair loss usually causes overall hair thinning and not bald patches.
- Full-body hair loss. Some conditions and medical treatments, such as chemotherapy for cancer, can result in the loss of hair all over your body. The hair usually grows back.
- Patches of scaling that spread over the scalp. This is a sign of ringworm. It may be accompanied by broken hair, redness, swelling and, at times, oozing.
CAUSES of HAIR LOSS
Most people normally shed 50 to 100 hairs a day. This usually doesn’t cause noticeable thinning of scalp hair because new hair is growing in at the same time. Hair loss occurs when this cycle of hair growth and shedding is disrupted or when the hair follicle is destroyed and replaced with scar tissue.
The exact cause of hair loss may not be fully understood, but it’s usually related to one or more of the following factors:
- Family history (heredity)
- Hormonal changes
- Medical conditions
Family history (heredity)
The most common cause of hair loss is a hereditary condition called male-pattern baldness or female-pattern baldness. It usually occurs gradually and in predictable patterns — a receding hairline and bald spots in men and thinning hair in women.
Heredity also affects the age at which you begin to lose hair, the rate of hair loss and the extent of baldness. Pattern baldness is most common in men and can begin as early as puberty. This type of hair loss may involve both hair thinning and miniaturization (hair becomes soft, fine and short).
Hormonal changes and medical conditions
A variety of conditions can cause hair loss, including:
- Hormonal changes. Hormonal changes and imbalances can cause temporary hair loss. This could be due to pregnancy, childbirth or the onset of menopause. Hormone levels are also affected by the thyroid gland, so thyroid problems may cause hair loss.
- Patchy hair loss. This type of nonscarring hair loss is called alopecia areata (al-o-PEE-she-uh ar-e-A-tuh). It occurs when the body’s immune system attacks hair follicles — causing sudden hair loss that leaves smooth, roundish bald patches on the skin.
- Scalp infections. Infections, such as ringworm, can invade the hair and skin of your scalp, leading to scaly patches and hair loss. Once infections are treated, hair generally grows back.
- Other skin disorders. Diseases that cause scarring alopecia may result in permanent loss at the scarred areas. These conditions include lichen planus, some types of lupus and sarcoidosis.
- Hair-pulling disorder. This condition, also called trichotillomania (trik-o-til-o-MAY-nee-uh), causes people to have an irresistible urge to pull out their hair, whether it’s from the scalp, the eyebrows or other areas of the body.
Hair loss can be caused by drugs used for cancer, arthritis, depression, heart problems, high blood pressure and birth control. Intake of too much vitamin A may cause hair loss as well.
Other causes of hair loss
Hair loss can also result from:
- Radiation therapy to the head. The hair may not grow back the same as it was before.
- A trigger event. Many people experience a general thinning of hair several months after a physical or emotional shock. This type of hair loss is temporary. Examples of trigger events include sudden or excessive weight loss, a high fever, surgery, or a death in the family.
- Certain hairstyles and treatments. Excessive hairstyling or hairstyles that pull your hair tight, such as pigtails or cornrows, can cause traction alopecia. Hot oil hair treatments and permanents can cause inflammation of hair follicles that leads to hair loss. If scarring occurs, hair loss could be permanent.
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Sara Gottfried, M.D.
Integrative Physician; Author, ‘The Hormone Cure’ & ‘The Hormone Reset Diet’.
When half my hair fell out after giving birth to each daughter, I was alarmed. I went to my doctor, and a curious thing occurred: I was rudely dismissed.
I’m a doctor who takes care of women, so this was a confusing experience. There’s a strange bias that doctors have around women and hair loss — that we’re being vain. It turns out that it’s not vanity, it’s sanity. Hair loss is a major sign that something is awry.
To add insult to injury, my doctor next told me to use Rogaine. “Put it on every day. It won’t fix the problem but it will slow down loss. But there’s a catch — as soon as you stop it, the hair loss will take off again.”
Huh? Let me get this straight. I’m supposed to slime every hair follicle with Rogaine, a chemical that may or may not be good for me, and it just delays the inevitable? How is that a palatable solution?
It’s not. And for the 40 percent of my clients (1) who experience hair loss, I’ve developed strategies (no Rogaine required) that help regain not just your stressed tresses, but balanced hormonal health throughout your entire body.
The Ideal Hormonal Specimen (With Perfect Hair)
Picture the ideal hormonal specimen. Her hormones are perfectly balanced, and she has high energy throughout the day, stable moods, and no food cravings. Her full head of hair is glossy, and her skin is clear. She easily maintains her weight and her sexual energy.
So what’s wrong with the rest of us?
We’re human. Whether it’s a crazy schedule, an extra 10 pounds, or a diet deficiency, there are lots of reasons your lifestyle could be masking a hormonal imbalance and causing your hair loss. And ladies: There are plenty ways to address this problem without a future of buying Rogaine in bulk.
That’s why I’ve designed a system I call The Gottfried Protocol, a step-by-step, integrative approach to natural hormone healing that emphasizes lifestyle design first and foremost. It’s based on decades of research, my education at Harvard Medical School, my own experiences with hormonal imbalances, my belief in peer-reviewed, well-performed randomized trials to support my recommendations, and what I’ve learned from patients over the past 20-plus years of practicing medicine. The Gottfried Protocol engages only the top hierarchy of scientific evidence and has been proven in scores of women in my practice.
You’ve heard of thyroid issues — even Oprah has been diagnosed with one! (2) It’s estimated that about 60 million Americans, both men and women, struggle with thyroid problems. (3) Most don’t even know it. A low thyroid is one of the most common causes of hair loss in women.
Too Much Estrogen
Estrogen is a hormone that likes to dominate (and we’re not just talking about in the bedroom). Too much estrogen in your system, often a result of perimenopause or excess weight, can lead to depression, weight gain, fatigue and, you guessed it: hair loss.
Since we metabolize estrogen, your body should break it down — use it then lose it! — before estrogen builds up in your blood. But when we produce too much and can’t metabolize it fast enough, we run into problems, often evidenced in thinning hair.
Another possible reason for hair loss? Too much testosterone. That’s right: Women also produce the hormone testosterone. In fact, testosterone is what gets us in the mood, gives us self-confidence, and keeps us vital and sassy.
But if testosterone levels are too high in women — whether because of menopause, excess weight, or other causes — we see symptoms of male-pattern baldness and rogue hair growth on the face. The hairs on your head are falling out, but you’re finding new ones on your chin? Totally unfair!
Low Iron and Amino Acid Lysine
In one study, 90 percent of women with thinning hair were deficient in iron and the amino acid lysine. (4) Whether the result of an insufficient diet or another imbalance, we’ve also go a fix for this!
Ready to fill out those ponytails? Preventing thinning hair and bringing shine back to your ‘do means balancing, bringing harmony to your hormones, your lifestyle, and your diet. No gymnastics required.
The following solutions are general rules for hair-health. For a more customized approach to hormonal health, please refer to The Hormone Cure. There, you can take quizzes, read case studies and get tailored advice for the specific needs of your body. Let’s go!
Get your thyroid tested. Luckily, once diagnosed and treated and thyroid levels stabilize, hair loss will usually slow and eventually cease.
Eat fiber. Fiber lowers estrogen levels in the body — basically, you’ll poop and pee more estrogen out of your system. (5) Make sure your diet includes complete proteins like meat, poultry, fish or legumes, which are excellent sources of lysine.
Lose a few pounds. If you are obese or overweight, weight loss will reduce your excess estrogen levels and lower your risk of breast cancer and other conditions. (6)
Get your sweat on. Exercise decreases estrogen levels and lowers risk of breast cancer and helps you make more of the good estrogens. (7)
Don’t accept thinning, brittle, or coarse hair as your lot in life or “just another part of getting older.” These are simple, natural, hormone-balancing solutions are an integral part of The Gottfried Protocol. And the best part? Most of these strategies won’t just make you look better — you’ll feel healthier, more vibrant, and sexier too!
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- In Canada, most (81 %) men believe that physical appearance can influence the progress of their career and 1 respondent in 8 believes that hair loss can be an obstacle to employment;
- Most women (60 %) prefer men who have hair and the preference is markedly higher (74 %) among younger women (18 to 24);
- In Canada, 1 person out of 4 believes that it’s more difficult for a man who is losing his hair to have a romantic relationship; 40 % of the younger respondents (18 to 24) share this opinion;
- For Canadians showing hair loss, 1 out 3 women and 1 out of 4 men say they worry about it; younger men (18 to 24) express the most fears (41 %);
- People who seek consultations usually ask a doctor or hairdresser;
- One out of 4 Canadians with hair loss do not know who to ask for help.
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