What You Will Learn in This Article
- The Four Main Causes of Hair Loss
- Micronutrient Deficiency Causes of Hair Loss
- Autoimmunity Causes of Hair Loss
- Environmental Causes of Hair Loss
- Solutions to Stop Hair Loss
- Topical Solutions for Hair Regrowth
- DIY Recipes
Hair loss has been one of the symptoms I’ve personally struggled with on and off for years. This is a topic that is not only close to my heart but one that I have researched extensively – to share it with you today, hoping that you will find a solution, too.
Hair loss is one of the most frustrating symptoms a woman can deal with in her life. Our hair is an integral part of our sense of beauty and attractiveness and our way of expressing our style and personality. Thinning hair or bald spots can be devastating and destroy our self-confidence.
To make things worse, it’s difficult to find a clear cause of hair loss, which makes it seem nearly impossible to find the solution. The truth is, there can be a number of causes and therefore, a number of solutions. After all, each person has a unique set of genes, hormonal imbalances, deficiencies, and surroundings.
Let’s dig in.
What I need you to remember is that hair loss is a sign of an internal imbalance or deficiency, therefore topical solutions (such as creams, shampoos, magic oils and such) will only have limited or temporary results. You need to focus on resolving the underlying causes.
The causes of hair loss can be divided into four main categories:
- Micronutrient Deficiencies
Each of these causes can contribute to the development of others or may act as a perpetrator – keeping you in a state of imbalance. For that reason, your hair loss may be due to more than one of these causes, each of which will need to be addressed.
First, let’s look at the influence of hormones.
Hormonal Causes of Hair Loss
Hormones are one of the “usual suspects” when it comes to hair loss. If you haven’t already, you can take our Hormone Quiz to find out if your hair loss is in part related to hormone issues.
The most common hormonal imbalance leading to hair loss is thyroid imbalance. Thyroid conditions are some of the most under-diagnosed or misdiagnosed hormonal disorders. Part of the reason for this is that conventionally recommended lab ranges are too broad, which causes doctors to overlook a lot of people with clear thyroid-related symptoms. This article will guide you on which tests to have done to get a more accurate and comprehensive assessment of your thyroid.
Thyroid function can be too low (hypothyroid) or too high (hyperthyroid). Hypothyroidism occurs when your thyroid is unable to produce enough thyroid hormone (T3 and T4) for your body’s needs. The most common cause of hypothyroidism is the autoimmune condition, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. To learn more about low thyroid and symptoms to watch for, check out this article.
Hyperthyroidism is exactly the opposite: your thyroid produces too much thyroid hormone (T3 and T4) for your body’s needs. Hyperthyroidism may be autoimmune or may have other causes. Autoimmune hyperthyroidism is known as Graves’ Disease. Learn everything you wanted to know about thyroid problems in women here.
The way the thyroid is involved in hair loss (often accompanied by brittle and dry hair) is that the hair follicle has a receptor site for thyroid hormones. The thyroid hormone binds to the receptor site and turns hair growth on or off, and both insufficient and excess thyroid hormone can cause hair to shed. Adequate levels of T3 and T4 hormones cause the growth part of the hair follicle cycle to last longer, causing increased (normal) hair growth.
They also encourage pigmentation of the hair. In an animal study which followed up the experiences of a couple of patients, those with low levels of thyroid hormone experienced a return of hair color after proper levels of the hormone were administered.
For thyroid-related hair loss, the pattern tends to be thinning all over the head or hair loss on the sides of the head.
High testosterone is another potential suspect for hair loss. High testosterone in women occurs when there’s insulin resistance and blood sugar levels stay high; Sex Hormone Binding Globulin (SHBG) levels are then suppressed. In fact, low SHBG can be used as a marker of metabolic syndrome and both men and women.
When SHBG is low (in part due to poor liver function), testosterone is allowed to build up in the blood, as it isn’t being bound by SHBG and gets converted to dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which is a more potent form of testosterone. DHT can be hard on hair follicles, leading to hair loss which tends to occur on the crown and front of the head – above the forehead.
Dihydrotestosterone (DHT) is a sex hormone that is produced from testosterone. It plays a role in male pattern baldness as well as frontal hair loss in women. In women who have a genetic predisposition to hair loss, an enzyme within the hair follicle (5-alpha reductase) binds to testosterone and converts it to DHT, which then binds to additional receptors deeper within the hair follicle. Over time, the DHT causes a disruption in the normal life cycle of the hair, either killing off the hair follicle or causing less growth.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal condition that commonly occurs in women of childbearing age. It is characterized by high levels of testosterone and other androgens (male hormones) and is common in those with high blood sugar levels, insulin resistance, and obesity. It can also occur after the use of birth control. The name comes from the cysts that may grow on the ovaries (although 30% of women with PCOS don’t have ovarian cysts). The excess circulating androgens convert to DHT by the enzyme 5-alpha reductase and ultimately causes hair loss in some women. Have you been diagnosed with PCOS? If you are not sure, take our Hormone Quiz.
Insulin resistance is an underlying imbalance behind a number of hormone conditions. It increases free testosterone, which may lead to hair loss. In a study of 100 male patients with androgenetic alopecia (AGA), there was a statistically significant association between AGA and markers for metabolic syndrome. Fasting serum insulin was higher than in controls. Insulin is found in hair follicles and it’s possible that it helps regulate the metabolism of androgens and affects the hair growth cycle by its conversion to DHT. Insulin resistance, with its associated reduced blood flow and oxygen levels, contributes to the miniaturization of hair follicles, leading to balding.
Many women don’t know if they have insulin resistance or a sugar imbalance. You can either pull out our recent blood results to see if your fasting glucose was in functional ranges (not what the lab range shows you!) which is below 89 mg/dL, HA1C is in the 48 to 54% range and insulin 2 – 15 IU/mL range. Unlike the ranges offered by lab companies, these are ranges for healthy people.
Estrogen dominance is another common imbalance that can lead to hair loss. Estrogen can either be too high or too low with this condition. When the “dirty” estrogens; estrone (E1) and estradiol (E2), get out of control, you can experience hair loss (as well as other not-so-fun symptoms like thyroid nodules and lumpy breasts). Learn more about estrogen dominance, the symptoms, the causes, and what you can do here.
Again, you can do the Hormone Quiz or read this article to see if you might be dealing with an estrogen imbalance. The good news? Estrogen dominance is one of the easier hormone imbalances to reverse. Start by supporting your liver by eating the foods that help detox and nourish it.
Stress can cause hair loss! High cortisol due to stress can also contribute to hair loss. This is where adrenal fatigue and HPA axis dysregulation comes in. Even a relatively short, high-stress period can accelerate hair loss. Studies indicate that cortisol may be produced via a peripheral HPA-like process within the hair follicle without any influence of the blood supply from the rest of the body. This cortisol even seems to reflect the onset and cessation of environmental stressors, just like the actual HPA axis in the body. According to a 2016 article published in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, high cortisol from stress outside or inside the body reduces the production of certain elements needed for hair growth and increases the breakdown of hair supportive elements (hyaluronan and proteoglycans) by about 40%.
If you’re not sure if you have high cortisol levels, you can get them tested using the DUTCH urine testing, which you can order here.
There are three main organs or systems that manage your endocrine (hormone) system: your gut, your liver, and your blood sugar balance. Getting these three back on track with diet and supplementation will go a long way toward getting your hormones in balance and your hair back and healthy.
Solutions for Hormone-Related Hair Loss:
- First, find out if you have these hormone imbalances. You can order your own tests here. (You’ll find a coupon code there for $20 off)
- Address hormonal imbalances with our Cooking For Hormone Balance cookbook
- Do the Thyroid Detox to reset your hormones in 12 days.
Micronutrient Deficiency Causes of Hair Loss
Nutritional deficiencies may also contribute to hair loss. Some of the most common deficiencies associated with thinning hair include Vitamin B12, Biotin (also known as Vitamin B7), Iron, Zinc, Silica, and Essential Fatty Acids (study) – particularly Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA).
Vitamin B12 (otherwise known as cobalamin) is needed for the production of healthy red blood cells, which are needed for delivering oxygen and nutrients to the base of the hair follicle. Not only that, but B12 has been shown to actually affect DNA synthesis and promote the growth of new cells, including hair. In an Austrian study, researchers found that hair follicles cultured in a substrate containing B12 showed more hair shaft elongation (growth) than the control. Read more about B12 and the other B vitamins here.
Biotin is a B vitamin that is needed for the production of keratin, which is a structural protein that makes up hair, skin, and nails. Biotin-deficient cells have been shown to be more susceptible to damage from stress. That specifically includes fibroblasts, which produce collagen and are responsible for hair growth. Dermatologists at Cleveland Clinic have been known to prescribe biotin for hair loss. Biotin deficiency may be caused by gut dysbiosis, drug-nutrient interactions, bariatric surgery (leading to decreased absorption), smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and over-consumption of raw egg whites.
Iron deficiency or anemia can also cause hair loss. Iron deficiency, along with thyroid disorders, is one of the two most common conditions associated with hair loss – I see it especially high in vegetarians and vegans. A study of over 5,000 women between the ages of 35 and 60 found that women with excessive hair loss tended to have low iron stores. Another study found that depleted iron stores due to low intake of L-lysine were the main cause behind excessive hair shedding (chronic telogen effluvium). This article, which confirms the L-lysine and iron combination, recommends a serum ferritin level of 70 micro g/L as a measure of adequate iron stores.
Zinc deficiency alone was associated with alopecia (hair loss) in an article published in the journal, SKINmed. Hair loss stopped within 3 weeks of high dose zinc supplementation and in 4 months there was no evidence of alopecia at all. In another article, a combination of zinc deficiency and biotin deficiency was associated with alopecia and total body hair loss. Zinc is needed for several hormones to function properly. Read more about how zinc affects your hormones here.
Silica is a trace mineral that comes in many forms. Silicon is the element on the periodic table that is a component of silica. Water-soluble silica, in the form of orthosilicic acid, is the main form absorbed by humans. Silica is present throughout the body but is highest in connective tissue, including hair. For every gram of hair, 90 micrograms are made up of silica. A double-blind, placebo-controlled study of women aged 21 to 75 with self-perceived thinning hair was given a silica-containing supplement or a placebo twice daily for 180 days. The result? Significantly more silica-supplemented women reported improvements in hair growth after 90 days, with additional improvements after 180 days. A deficiency in silica can also lead to poor production of collagen, an important component of hair. Test tube studies have shown that silica stimulates type 1 collagen production.
Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA)
Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA) Deficiencies in essential fatty acids have been linked to hair loss in some. Gamma Linolenic Acid is an anti-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acid that is found at higher levels in plant seed oils, such as evening primrose oil, borage seed oil, and black currant seed oil. According to Dr. Andrew Weil, GLA improves hair texture and makes it stronger and less brittle. GLA is also a powerful DHT inhibitor (by way of blocking 5-alpha reductase) and so prevents its destructive effects on the hair follicles.
Lack of Protein
Lack of protein has been shown in animal studies to contribute to hair loss. The best protein source that is also great for hair health is collagen. A 2016 study out of Japan found that as the body ages, the damaged DNA causes the collagen in hair follicle stem cells to be broken down. Collagen is of vital importance in the maintenance of healthy hair follicles and healthy hair growth. Learn about the other benefits of collagen here.
Solutions For Deficiency-Related Hair Loss:
- Vitamin B12 – Included in Wellena B Maximus
- Biotin – Included in Wellena B Maximus
- Iron – try our favorite Organ Complex or include some liver in your diet! Also, check your stomach acid levels.
- Silica – Organic Bamboo Extract. Bamboo contains 70% silica.
- Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs), especially Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA) – Wellena GLA Maximus
- Collagen Complete
You can get the Hormones Balance Supplement Guide here.
Autoimmunity Cause of Hair Loss
Autoimmunity is a state in which the body’s immune system attacks its own body’s tissues. Some common autoimmune conditions include rheumatoid arthritis, in which the joints are attacked and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (mentioned earlier), in which the thyroid is attacked.
Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease of the skin and its outgrowth (hair). In this case, the body’s immune system wages a war against the hair follicles. The result is hair loss that occurs in round patches, most often on the scalp. In this case, the real problem is not so much the health of the hair, but the health of the immune system.
Alopecia areata tends to have a genetic component, and patients may have a family history of alopecia areata. Don’t despair if that’s the case for you. Genes are only one component of the three key elements of autoimmune disease, according to autoimmune expert, Dr Alessio Fasano. When the environmental trigger is removed and the gut is healed, it’s very possible to live free of symptoms.
Solutions For Autoimmunity-Related Hair Loss:
- Follow the diet recommended by Terry Wahls, MD in her book, The Wahls Protocol.
- Heal your gut – Learn about leaky gut, how it impacts hormones and autoimmune disease, and how to heal it here.
Environmental Causes of Hair Loss
Heavy Metal Toxicity
Heavy metal toxicity is another possible contributor to hair loss, particularly mercury and lead. If you have ever lived in a highly polluted area (perhaps China?), if you have a history of low stomach acid, if you’ve had mercury fillings, if you’ve eaten a lot of tuna or other high mercury fish in the past… you may be dealing with heavy metal toxicity. Heavy metal toxicity can contribute to hair loss by disturbing the hair growth cycle.
A review study found strong evidence linking hair loss with these elements: thallium, mercury, selenium, and colchicine (a medication used for gout). Other potential hair loss-promoting compounds include boric acid, vitamin A, botulinum toxin, chemicals from the fungal species P. cornu-damae (a fungus that grows in Japan), and synthetic opioids, but these have fewer studies and evidence.
Read my story with heavy metals and hair loss here.
Another consideration when it comes to hair loss is what kind of chemical treatments you have had done on your hair over the years. Certain hair salon services, such as perming, break down disulphide bonds that hold together the chains of keratin that give the hair flexibility and strength. If keratin gets broken down in the hair follicles, hair loss may occur. Even the sulfates in shampoo can break down the protective oils that coat the hair, leading to drying and more breakage. You can easily find sulfate-free shampoos to eliminate this potential cause of hair loss.
It is possible that mites are behind your hair loss. Demodex folliculorum and Demodex brevis are two species of microscopic mites found on humans. They don’t usually cause symptoms unless they activate the immune system or are present in large amounts. They live in or near hair follicles. They may cause inflammation or altered hormone metabolism (increased DHT) that leads to androgenetic alopecia. Mites may actually be a result of androgenetic alopecia, rather than the cause.
Solutions For Environmental-Related Hair Loss:
- Address heavy metals by consulting with Wendy Myers or a Functional Medicine Doctor. They can help you do chelation safely.
- Do the Thyroid Detox
- Mites – Tea tree oil (5 drops in 2 oz of carrier oil). Apply topically.
- Check your medications to see whether hair loss is a side effect. Then bring up your concerns with your doctor.
Topical Solutions to Hair Regrowth
I think it’s a great idea to add some topical solutions while addressing the underlying causes we covered above – but really, you will get the best results when you focus on fixing the root causes of your hair loss.
For ALL hair loss, these short-term topical solutions (while doing the other balancing, restoring, and detoxing) include:
Rosemary essential oil is commonly used in topical treatments for hair loss. It may work by increasing blood flow, by lowering inflammation, or due to its effects as a DHT inhibitor. In this study, rosemary essential oil was comparable to the hair loss treatment, minoxidil.
Nigella sativa oil (black seed oil, black cumin oil) is a fatty oil (not essential oil) which is a powerful antioxidant. Oxidative stress due to any of the above causes (insulin resistance, stress, toxicity) may be behind hair loss, and Nigella sativa may help. An animal study showed its potential in protecting against chemotherapy-induced hair loss.
Fenugreek is an Ayurvedic herb that has been used for centuries as a medicine. Fenugreek has long been known as a hair growth tonic. Now studies are showing it to stimulate blood circulation to the hair follicles and to act as a natural DHT blocker to prevent miniaturization and subsequent hair loss.
Where to Start?
There are quite a few ideas listed above for the causes of your hair loss. Read over the linked symptom lists and check out the testing options to get right at the root cause (pun intended) of hair problems. You can either take our hormone quiz or order labs here.
However, no matter whether your hair loss is due to hormones, deficiencies, autoimmunity, or environmental causes, it absolutely vital to get your diet on track to support your efforts. You really can use food to help balance your hormones, correct your deficiencies, lower your inflammatory response, and support your detoxification ability.
To find out how to start balancing your hormones with food and get your body back into GROWTH and repair, check out my book, Cooking for Hormone Balance.
Feature photo by Tyler McRobert