Whether you are young or old, finding clumps of hair in your brush and the slow thinning of your luscious locks can be traumatic -- especially if you are female. Statistics reveal that it affects nearly 21 million women in the U.S. alone. The first step to determining the treatment for hair loss is to identify the cause, of which there are many. Even the pattern of hair loss can help to establish the root source. For example, women may lose hair from the crown of the head -- similar to male-pattern baldness --with an elevation of testosterone levels whereas nutritional deficiencies may cause generalized hair loss over the whole head. Let's look at a few of the possible causes and some options for proper treatment.
Losing your locks: Common Causes
Pattern baldness or permanent hair loss is simply the result of genetic programming. Increased hair shedding or temporary hair loss can be caused by a host of different reasons, including poor nutrition, genetics, imbalanced hormones, medications such as chemotherapy, radiation treatment, infections, chronic stress, and rapid weight loss, to name a few. Certain illnesses and diseases can also cause hair loss or hair shedding. Examples include anemia, low thyroid hormone levels, lupus, and sometimes cancer. In most of these cases, hair loss is not permanent.
Recommend Blood Tests
In all cases of hair loss, I think it's also important to ensure that the following blood tests are completed by your doctor:
• TSH, free T3, free T4, and thyroid antibodies to assess thyroid gland function. All should be completed to properly diagnose a thyroid condition that may result in excessive hair loss. (Note: Optimally, your TSH should be less than 2.5).
• Ferritin (This is the storage form of iron. Low iron (<70) is a very common cause of hair loss).
• Vitamin B12 and folic acid (either of these nutrients in low levels may cause hair loss).
• Copper and zinc (excess copper relative to zinc may result in hair loss).
• Dihydrotestosterone (high levels of this hormone is related to hair loss in both men and women).
• Progesterone and estradiol (low levels of estrogen may cause an increase in hair loss).
• DHEAs and cortisol (High levels of cortisol or low DHEAs may contribute to hair loss).
• Free and total testosterone (high levels of testosterone in women may accelerate hair loss).
• Biotin (a deficiency of biotin can cause progressive hair loss).
Treatment Options for Healthy Hair
Sometimes dropping weight too quickly or participating in a fad diet or extremely low carbohydrate diet that is not nutritionally sound can cause imbalances in the body, resulting in increased hair shedding. Following a healthy weight-loss program can prevent this from happening. The Hormone Diet, which is balanced in protein, carbohydrate and healthy fats may help to prevent such nutritional deficiencies.
Hair problems that are caused by nutritional deficiencies may be corrected by a proper diet as well as supplements. The principal nutrients that are involved with healthy hair growth include vitamin A, certain B vitamins, the vitamin biotin, vitamin C, the minerals copper, iron, and zinc, as well as sufficient protein intake and water.
Iron: Iron's main job is to carry oxygen in the hemoglobin of red blood cells. Iron deficiency can lead to a condition called anemia and to possible hair loss or increased hair shedding. Anemia can be easily diagnosed with a blood test and is characterized by fatigue, weakness and general poor health. Anemia can be caused by more than just iron deficiency. The reference daily intake for iron is 18 mg. The recommended daily allowance of iron increases during pregnancy and breast-feeding.
Zinc: Dandruff and hair loss are both conditions associated with zinc deficiency. Zinc is a mineral that promotes cell reproduction and tissue growth and repair. Zinc also functions in the maintenance of the oil-secreting glands attached to hair follicles. The reference daily intake of zinc is 15 mg for the average adult.
Vitamin B6, B12, folic acid and biotin: All three of these B vitamins are essential to the normal formation of red blood cells or the hemoglobin (iron-containing) portion of red blood cells. The primary function of hemoglobin is to carry oxygen from the lungs to tissues in the body, including the hair. Healthy and strong hair is dependent on a constant supply of blood and oxygen. A deficiency of these B vitamins can cause reduced blood and oxygen supply to the hair, leading to increased hair shedding, damaged hair, and slow re-growth. Although uncommon, sometimes a biotin deficiency can also contribute to hair loss. The reference daily intake for biotin is 300 mcg for the average adult.
Vitamin C: A vitamin C deficiency can cause the hair to be susceptible to problematic splitting and breaking. Usually this only occurs with severe deficiency and can be reversed when vitamin C intake is increased. Vitamin C is essential to producing collagen, a connective tissue that gives structure by holding tissues in the body together, such as the tissue in hair. The reference daily intake for vitamin C is 60 mg for the average adult. People who smoke need twice as much vitamin C as non-smokers, in my opinion. Many of my patients take an increased dose of vitamin C based on individual bowel tolerance levels.