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While losing your hair won’t kill you, it can be mortifying for a woman. And while our grooming choices sometimes impact our crowning glory, often the cause of thinning hair involves looking past the mirror – into the health of some important body systems.
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The hormone effect
Whether we’re talking about insulin, thyroid, estrogen, or testosterone, hormones play a significant role in your health, and the health of your hair. In fact, one of the major causes of hair loss in women is testosterone. Yes, you know of it as a male hormone, but women have a little bit of it too. Problems arise when testosterone becomes excessive in relation to other hormones, leading to conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome and acne. When it comes to your hair, testosterone combines with an enzyme called 5-alpha-reductase in the hair follicle, and creates another hormone called dihydrotestosterone (DHT). DHT suppresses the hair follicles, causing fewer and thinner hairs to be created. Eventually, the follicle ceases to function and hair is permanently lost. This is the same process that occurs in male pattern baldness and is known as androgenic alopecia, but women don’t lose hair the same way men do. Rather than the receding hairline, women typically experience gradually thinning all over the head. Ladies may also notice loss of some body hair, and while this might not be such a bad thing, facial hair might become coarser.
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Women also start to notice their hair thinning as they approach menopause and afterward as estrogen levels start to decline. This is because estrogen is essential for a helping hair to grow and remain on the head. If you experienced luscious locks during pregnancy only to go back to your regular head of hair after the baby was born and estrogen levels returned to normal, you’ve seen the effect of estrogen first hand.
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The importance of balancing hormones becomes obvious. Work with a qualified health care practitioner to evaluate your hormones levels, and make adjustments where necessary. Avoid exposure to hormones that can further tip the balance in the shedding direction: for example, testosterone is often used in products to restore sex drive. The supplement DHEA converts to testosterone in the body, so it should also be avoided if you are experiencing androgenic alopecia.
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Other factors that can result in hair loss include stress or trauma, cigarette smoking, rapid weight loss, ring worm and other parasites, and the use of some drugs. Metal poisoning may be a factor, along with chronic disorders including insulin resistance, autoimmune disease, abnormal liver or kidney function. While fretting over lost hair might seem trivial, hair loss can suggest a potentially serious underlying health condition that women must address with their medical advisor. If you don’t get satisfaction from your doctor, find another who will take your concerns seriously. Research also indicates that women with androgenic alopecia tend to have low levels of iron in their blood. If you are losing your hair, have your iron checked; low iron can lead to anemia. Hair loss is not simply an issue of vanity. Don’t accept the ‘wait and see’ approach: the sooner you address the problem, the sooner you can resolve it!
*Hot Stuff : Avoid extreme heat when using appliances to style your hair, as it can cause hair to dry out and break. Set your blow dryer to ‘cool’ to minimize hair damage; limit straightener or curling iron use to once or twice weekly. Be sure to use a rich conditioner or treat yourself to a conditioning treatment with coconut oil or olive oil: slather oil onto hair. Apply shower cap, and wrap head in a towel. After 20 minutes, shampoo hair as usual. Hair will be nourished and incredibly silky.*
Thyroid function is a factor in hair loss in everyone: men, women, and children. Be sure to have your doctor check your thyroid health if you are losing your hair. If tests come back normal, talk to an alternative care practitioner about functional thyroid imbalances: while you might not register as medically imbalanced, you could be on your way. Fortunately, acting early can prevent more serious conditions later on.
By Lisa Petty
Originally published in Alive