Over 25 million American women are losing their hair and suffering the emotional distress that comes with this process. The latest research has shown that hormones seem to be the major player in this embarrassing condition. Fortunately, there are solutions in both nature and nurture that support hormone balance and a return to normal function.
While classic baldness has always been associated with men, what has become increasingly more common today is the “female pattern” hair loss. Women rarely lose hair to the extreme that men do, however, many experience a significant reduction in the diameter of the hair shaft leading to an overall hair thinning. This pattern most often develops around the onset of menopause. Before menopause 13% of women experience hair thinning compared to 37% that experience this after menopause.
The Three Critical Sex Hormones:
Women have a critical balance of 3 major sex hormones: progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone (androgens). When women stop ovulating at the onset of menopause, there are fluxuations of the various hormones. For many women this process can become extreme. Research has shown that lifestyle plays a significant role in the regulation of these hormones and the effects of middle-age hormonal fluctuations.
The major hormone involved in hair loss is called dihydrotestosterone (DHT) which is the result of testosterone being in contact with the enzyme 5-alpha reductase which is found in the skin and scalp. When DHT is present it interacts with the hair follicles cell membrane receptor and disrupts the process of hair growth. This process is called androgen alopecia and is caused by excessive androgenic hormones coupled with high levels of oxidative stress.
Excess Sebum and Thinning Hair:
Several researchers have reported a correlation between excessive sebum in the scalp and hair loss. Excessive sebum often accompanying thinning hair is attributed to systemic inflammatory conditions in the body and an enlargement of the sebaceous gland. The researchers believed excessive inflammation into the sebum causes a high level of 5-alpha reductase which clogs pores and further increases inflammatory processes.
Several factors are critical for reducing inflammatory conditions in the hair follicle. The first step is to inhibit the excessive androgenic hormone formation. Saw Palmetto is a very effective anti-androgen that blocks the cell membranes from absorbing high levels of DHT. This helps balance hormones in the body. Other DHT inhibiting nutrients include green tea extract and systemic enzymes.
The second step is to enhance intracellular anti-oxidant stores with glutathione boosting sources. Boosting glutathione within the cell protects the scalp and follicle mitochondria from oxidative stress. Low glutathione increases a molecule called Protein Kinase C which accelerates the loss of hair follicles. Major anti-oxidant sources that boost glutathione include N-Acetyle Cysteine, Inositol, Lutein, Quercetin, Resveratrol, Grape Seed Extract, and Zeaxanthin.
Cytokines serve as molecular messengers that regulate different inflammatory processes. One particular pro-inflammatory cytokine is TNF-a. When TNF-a is over-secreted in the sebaceous gland and hair follicles it causes rapid inflammation and hair loss.
Low vitamin-D and improper Omega 6:3 ratios within the cell can lead to increased TNF-a and elevated inflammatory pathways. Certain nutrients act specifically on the TNF-a pathway including Curcumin, Ginkgo Biloba Extract, Stinging Nettle Extract, Green Tea Extract, Fish Oil, Borage Oil/Evening Primrose Oil, and systemic enzymes.
Immediate Action Steps:
What you can do first is to address the factors that influence hair loss such as inadequate nutriton, sudden weight loss through crash dieting or illness, and stress which plays a major role in affecting all areas of our body, including our hair.
A good diet for healthy hair is anti-oxidant rich and with plenty of protein, iron and Vitamin D — which is thought to be important for hair growth – plus a good anti-oxidant supplement. Anti-inflammatory based herbs such as turmeric, ginger, and dandelion will help too and oddly enough so will regular exercise .
Why Hormone Balance Matters:
You can’t change the fact that you may be entering perimenopause, or have PCOS, but you can ensure you get your hormone balance right and that your progesterone and oestrogen levels are in the right ratio to redress the problem.
Hair renewal is a slow process: the average scalp has 100,000 hairs. Each follicle produces a single hair that grows at a rate of 1.25 cm (half an inch) per month. After growing for two to six years, the hair rests before falling out. It is soon replaced with a new hair, and the cycle begins again.
At any given time, 90% of the hair is growing, and the remainder is resting, and women have reported that supplementing with bioidentical natural progesterone has improved hair quality so it is thicker and glossier.
What can happen is that when progesterone levels fall as a result of lack of ovulation the body responds by increasing its production of the adrenal cortical steroid, androstenedione, an alternative precursor for the production of other adrenal cortical hormones.
Androstenedione conveys some androgenic (male-like_ properties – in this case male pattern hair loss. When progesterone levels are raised by supplementation the androstenedione level will gradual fall, and normal hair growth will eventually resume. Since hair growth is slow, it may take 4-6 months for the effects to become apparent.
Hair loss in women can be triggered by about 30 different medical conditions, as well as several lifestyle factors and as a starting point, hair loss experts recommend testing for thyroid problems and hormone imbalance.
A little known side effect of hormonal contraception is the potential for hair loss. The hormones that suppress ovulation can cause the hair to thin in some women, particularly those with a family history of hair loss. Sometimes hair loss begins when you stop taking the pill.
Other drugs linked to hair loss include blood thinners and medicines that treat high blood pressure, heart disease, arthritis and depression.