As a woman, the realization that you are losing hair can be both a scary symptom and a blow to your self confidence. Although it is common to go through periods of increased hair loss, this is not a normal symptom and typically is a signal your body is sending that something is not right. There are many different causes of hair loss, but with some investigation and a few lab tests the cause can be pinpointed and treated.
Hair Growth Cycle
One of the important aspects of understanding hair loss is understanding the growth cycle of hair. Hair growth consists of 3 main phases; anagen, catagen, and telogen phases. Each strand of hair on the human body is at its own stage of development. Once the cycle is complete, it restarts and a new strand of hair begins to form.
The telogen phase is known as the resting or shedding phase and lasts 3-4 months. This means that the cause of hair loss can sometimes be related to events or changes that occurred 3-4 months prior. Being aware of this timeline and linking your hair loss to a stressful time period, or a change in diet or lifestyle 3-4 months ago can help pinpoint potential causes of hair loss.
5 Causes of Hair Loss
1. Low iron
Having low iron is the most common cause of hair loss. Ferritin, the storage form of iron, actually lives in hair follicles and helps hair stay in the anagen or growth phase. If you have noticed an increase in hair loss the first thing to get checked should be your ferritin levels. For proper hair growth your ferritin levels should be above 40 and ideally between 70-90.
Acute stressful events are common causes of abrupt hair loss. Typically this hair loss occurs 3-4 months after the stressful event so connecting the dots can be difficult. A rise in the bodies stress hormone, cortisol, is what causes this increased hair loss. Decreasing stress through lifestyle changes (meditation, mindfulness, exercise, sleep) as well as incorporating herbs that can help modulate the stress response can help reduce stress and decrease hair loss.
A low level of thyroid hormone leads to a decrease in sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG). The role of SHBG is to bind free testosterone. With low thyroid hormones, SHBG is decreased and free testosterone in comparison is increased. Free testosterone causes hair follicles to shrink and hair to fall out. Assessing the function of your thyroid gland may be needed to rule out an under active thyroid as the root cause to your hair loss.
Women with PCOS can have elevated blood levels of testosterone and dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which is an even stronger male hormone. Elevated levels of this hormones can lead to hair loss as well as acne. Other symptoms that indicate PCOS include long menstrual cycles, trouble losing weight, and acne. PCOS is a complicated metabolic condition that should be treated by a health care practitioner. Treating the underlying causes of PCOS will help with associated hair loss.
5. Alopecia areata
This is an autoimmune cause of hair loss resulting in a patchy hair loss pattern. In autoimmune disease the body attacks itself mistaking it as a foreign invader, and in the case of alopecia areata the body is attacking the hair follicles. Treatment for any autoimmune disease involves decreasing inflammation, redirecting the immune response and removing any food or environmental triggers.