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Healthy Hair: your crowning glory



A healthy head of hair is much more than an expensive salon-job! When our patients tell us their hair is falling out more than usual, we take it very seriously. It can take a long time to regrow fallen hair, so the sooner that hair loss stops, the better.

 

Beyond that, hair loss is telling us that something isn’t quite right. We’d like to know what that is so we can help resolve it, and help the hair to regrow.

 

It is normal to shed about 50-100 hairs a day. We ask how someone measures their increased hair loss: is it that they see many more hairs in the brush after brushing, do handfuls fall out when washing their hair, or do they have to clean out the shower drain every week? That gives us a baseline to compare with as things improve.

In practice, we find that the most common factors causing increased hair loss are:

 

1) Anemia, particularly the iron deficiency type

2) Low thyroid hormone function

3) Liver congestion

4) Hormonal imbalances

 

Anemia is easy to rule in or rule out with a few simple, inexpensive blood tests. Iron deficiency anemia is the anemia that most commonly triggers hair loss. Testing hemoglobin, iron and ferritin measures this. Vitamin B12 or folate deficiencies are far less common causes of hair loss, and can also be tested with simple inexpensive blood tests.


Low thyroid hormones often cause hair loss of the outer 1/3 of the eyebrow, as well as from the scalp, so eyebrows can be a clue. Thyroid hormone production can be screened for with a thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) blood test. This is an indirect measure of your thyroid function. To find out just what the actual hormone levels are, including what the thyroid gland makes (T4), as well as the active form (T3), you need to test them directly. You will likely have to pay for these tests. 


Liver congestion is harder to test for with blood tests. A liver can be “congested” in Chinese medicine terms, or a bit sluggish in Western terms, without showing anything on blood tests.

Many of us live in urban areas, or are exposed to agricultural chemicals, or may consume highly processed food wherever we live. This puts a heavier load on our livers than our ancestors ever had to cope with.


If iron and thyroid tests are normal, we usually find that hair loss turns around by attending to the liver, and supplying nutrients that help hair growth. For most of us, liver detox can help - but do remember it’s best done in the spring!


To give the body what it needs to support new hair growth, we find that the nutrients below are commonly helpful. They tend to work best in a combination supplement. 

 

  • Biotin - the vitamin best known for supporting healthy hair, but often not enough on its own

  • Vitamin C

  • Vitamin D

  • Vitamin E

  • Calcium

  • Magnesium

  • Selenium 

  • Zinc

  • Silica, often from bamboo extract

  • Herbs: horsetail, avena sativa, nettles, gotu cola and rosemary

When the problem is general hair thinning all over the scalp, this approach, over time, almost invariably sees hair falling less, and baby hairs growing back, then growing longer. 

 

We also know that hormones affect hair, and naturopathic doctors have lots of tools for analyzing and working with hormonal imbalances.

 

Many women notice that their hair is thicker and glossier than ever during pregnancy, when female hormone levels are high. Contrast this with a common complaint in menopausal women, of generalized hair thinning, due to lower levels of female hormones.


Male pattern baldness (which happens in women as well as men) is caused by the body’s conversion of one kind of testosterone to a different form, called DHT (Di hydro testosterone). DHT directly damages hair follicles. How much DHT your body makes is strongly genetic, which is why male pattern baldness runs in families.


So if your hair is falling faster than usual, look to your iron levels, your thyroid function, your liver and your hormones. You may want to consult a naturopathic doctor to solve this puzzle. 


By the way, there is an auto-immune condition called auto-immune alopecia. In this condition, hair is usually lost in spots or patches, rather than as generalized thinning. Because this alopecia is an auto-immune condition, where the body is reacting inappropriately and causing inflammation, it is much harder to treat, and so definitely requires professional guidance.

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