Hair loss was one of the first symptoms of hormonal imbalance that I experienced at age 18, and it was definitely one of the worst.
I'd always had a head full of shiny, thick, healthy hair in my childhood and teens, but it soon became thin, fragile and lifeless.
My parents took me to several different specialists, where I was told that my hair looked 'normal' and my blood tests were 'fine.'
I thought that surely something must be happening in my body that's causing this problem, I mean, non of my friends had to deal with this!
One doctor did identify that my ferritin levels (iron stores) were low at around 20 ng/ml, which could be contributing to my hair loss. He explained that he likes to see levels around 80 ng/ml to prevent/reverse hair loss, but still, no one questioned why my iron levels were so low, when I was eating iron rich foods and didn't have heavy periods.
(My period had actually gone MIA at this point, but that's another story!)
I was prescribed iron supplements for a few weeks, which didn't really do anything apart from make me constipated, and that was pretty much the only help I was given...
I remember taking a shower one day, trying to carefully rinse a conditioning hair mask from my scalp, desperately avoiding using my hands in case I caused any more hair to fall out.
By this point my hair had already lost half its volume.
After stepping out the shower I patted the excess water from my hair with a towel, not rubbing, brushing or tying up to dry, because I was so petrified of making things worse.
I looked down at the plug hole, which was blocked by a huge clump of hair, then into the mirror to see my hairline had receded another few millimeters and my scalp was starting to show.
This needed to stop.
My mission was to find the answers for myself and get to the root causes of my symptoms, which at this point also included amenorrhea (lack of period for over 3 months), cystic acne and hirsutism (facial/body hair growth).
Types of Hair loss in Women
It is not uncommon for women to experience hair loss at certain times of their lives, often during periods of hormonal fluctuations, such as menopause and post-partum.
Hair loss is a normal process, with the average person shedding about 50-100 hairs a day, however, if you notice you are shedding at an increased rate it is important that you intervene as soon as possible and address any underlying imbalances.
Before I share some of my top recommendations to prevent/reverse hair loss naturally, it is important to understand that a complex symptom like this is often multifactorial, meaning that it is usually not just one thing that's causing it.
There are many different types of hair loss that can all indicate different root causes and driving factors.
Also known as male pattern hair loss, this is the most common type of hair loss in both men and women. In women, hair loss tends to occur along the hairline and can cause the 'receding look' many older males deal with. The scalp usually becomes visible in women, but doesn't lead to total baldness.
When androgens (male hormones) increase, it has a negative effect on hair follicles, causing a shorter hair growth cycle, which results shorter and thinner hair strands on our head.
This is common in women with PCOS due to the imbalanced ratio of male and female hormones. The hormone dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which is 3x more potent than testosterone, is commonly elevated. This can cause the hair follicles to shrink, along with other symptoms like cystic acne, hirsutism and irritability.
The enzyme is responsible for DHT production is known as 5-alpha reductase. This pathway is up-regulated by insulin resistance, inflammation, stress and nutrient deficiencies.
This is an abnormal hair growth cycle, often triggered by a stressful event. This could be a mental/emotional stressor such as divorce, loss of a loved one or financial difficulties, however it may also be physiological stress.
Hormonal fluctuations, nutrient deficiencies, consuming food you are sensitive to, certain medication use, poor gut health, rapid weight loss, under-eating and over exercising are all types of physiological stress that can trigger hair loss in some people.
Telogen Effluvium can lead to diffuse hair shedding, but usually with an acute onset, around six weeks to three months after the stressful event occured.
Alopecia Areata is one type of female hair loss caused by autoimmune disease.
The main function of the immune system is to project your body from various diseases and injuries, however, when you have autoimmunity, your immune system becomes 'confused' and begins to attack your own tissues.
Instead of providing the proper protection, the immune system attacks the roots of hair follicles, often resulting in patchy hair loss. Thankfully, missing hair often grows back within 2 years if the root causes are addressed.
Other autoimmune conditions include celiac disease (affects the small intestine), rheumatoid arthritis (affects the joints), hashimotos thyroiditis (affects the thyroid), multiple sclerosis (affects the nervous system) and psoriasis (affects the skin). When you are diagnosed with one autoimmune condition, you are much more likely to develop further autoimmune diseases.
Because our immune system is primarily located in the gut (around 70% of immune tissue resides there), it is very important to focus on gut health for this type of autoimmune condition. Identifying food intolerances, clearing chronic yeast or bacterial infections and restoring the integrity of the intestinal barrier would be the first steps to take, in order to calm the immune attack.
Too much thyroid hormone (hyperthyroidism) and too little thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism) can both lead to hair loss.
The thyroid gland, which is a butterfly gland located in the neck, is responsible for metabolism and the growth/renewal of cells, including that of the hair follicles. Thyroid related hair loss tends to be diffuse, causing overall thinning.
The thyroid is very sensitive to environmental stress, especially toxins such as heavy metals and compounds in the halogen family such as fluoride, bromine and chlorine. In the elemental table (throwback to science class), these elements are in the same family as iodine (a crucial thyroid mineral). When levels are high from our tap water (fluoride & chlorine) or high bread and fizzy drink intake, this can displace iodine and may therefore negatively affect thyroid function.
Other nutrients important for thyroid function include tyrosine (an amino acid from protein), magnesium, iron, zinc, selenium, vitamin A, vitamin D and B12. A poor diet, lacking in these nutrients and/or poor absorption due to a digestive issue should be investigated.
Although your GP may have told you your thyroid levels are 'normal', you could still have imbalances. A full thyroid panel needs to be performed to test TSH, T4, T3, reverse T3 and antibodies.
This is the extreme version of Alopecia Areata. Instead of patchy hair loss, this version causes all of the hair on your scalp to fall out. The main difference between Alopecia Totalis and Alopecia Universalis is that Totalis only affects the scalp area while Universalis causes hair loss on your entire body.
Again, this is an autoimmune condition, therefore gut health needs to be investigated, followed by toxic exposures, nutrient deficiencies and adrenal health.
This pattern is often associated with hair loss due to chemotherapy treatments. The drugs inhibit cell growth activity in order to prevent cancer from spreading to other parts of the body, which unfortunately affects hair cell growth as well.
These drugs also affect the lining of the digestive tract, hence why nausea, bloating, loss of appetite and diarrhoea are common side effects of chemo.
Food should be easy to digest and highly nutrient dense post treatment, to try and provide crucial nutrients to regrow hair and recover the immune system.
Certain styles of hair such as tight ponytails, braiding, weaving or hair extensions can cause this type of hair loss. These hairstyles stress the hair follicles by constantly pulling them outwards.
Try to take a more natural approach when styling your hair (see below for my recommendations).
It is important to figure out which type of hair loss you are dealing with in order to address the root cause.
Today I will specifically be discussing hormonal hair loss , however most of the recommendations can benefit all types of hair loss through improving the health of the follicles overall.
If you are still not sure what is driving your female hair loss, it is likely to be hormonal.
Other signs of hormone imbalance include fatigue, hot flushes, PMS, acne, weight gain, feeling cold, period problems, dry skin, mood swings, cravings and insomnia.
Natural Solutions for Hormonal Hair Loss
Please remember that I am a Naturopathic Nutritional Therapist, not a doctor and the advice I share is not designed to replace conventional medical care.
The following recommendations are simply things that I have found to be successful in my own personal experience and with my clients.
Restore nutrient deficiencies
Our entire body is created using the food we consume, our hair included! We need vitamins, minerals, proteins and fatty acids to create luscious locks and also to keep our hormones functioning optimally.
There are certain nutrients that are particularly beneficial for healthy hair, skin and nails. These are sulphur, B vitamins, EFA's, vitamin A, iodine, biotin, zinc, selenium, silica and amino acids from protein.
Sure, you can go out to the store and buy a 'Hair, Skin and Nail supplement' containing many of these nutrients, however, point A - that supplement is probably very poor quality and ineffective, and point B- you need to start with food first before taking any supplement!
Make sure you are eating 7-10 portions of colourful, diverse vegetables per day, high quality protein and healthy fat at every meal, and you are going to be meeting a lot of those requirements already.
Supplements may be necessary, but I always recommend working with a practitioner who can create a protocol for your specific needs.
Some of my favourite nutrient dense foods for healthy hair are wild salmon, organic eggs, oysters, high quality organ meats, dark leafy greens, rosemary, nettle and sea vegetables.
Topical scalp treatments
Caring for your scalp is critical when trying to prevent hair loss and stimulate new growth. Lathering your hair and scalp in coconut oil, once a week, for a few hours before washing is a great way to nourish the hair follicles. Coconut oil also has antimicrobial effects, therefore it can be helpful if you are dealing with a fungal or bacteria infection that's contributing to your hair loss.
Adding a few drops of rosemary essential oil and massaging it into the scalp will give you extra benefit as rosemary promotes hair growth, strengthens the roots, and eliminates dandruff. A raw apple cider vinegar rinse is another natural remedy to benefit the hair and scalp.
Frequently washing your hair isn't recommended, as this can strip the hair of its natural, protective oils. The body can then overcompensate by producing even more oil, similar to what happens when we use harsh, drying facial products. Washing your hair twice per week is ideal, using non toxic products.
Use non-toxic products
'Going green' with your personal care products is very important , not just for hair loss, but for the health of your whole endocrine (hormonal) system.
Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that interfere with our own hormones, one of the most harmful preservatives found in many conventional products are phthalates. They commonly hide as 'fragrance' or 'parfum' on an ingredients list, unless the label specifically says something like “made using only essential oils” or “100% natural.”
If the ingredients list on your shampoo is 15 items long, you should probably put it down. I also recommend avoiding Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and other similar names, as these are the foaming agents that we associate with cleanliness, however these chemicals can be scalp irritants.
My favourite non toxic brands are Green People, Odylique, Neals Yard Remedies, MooGoo, Dr Hauschka and Tropic Skincare. If you are in the US, my go to company would be Beauty Counter.
*Please note I do not have any affiliation with these companies.
Avoiding heat and tight hairstyles is an easy way to improve the health and quality of your hair. Let your hair air dry after washing (if you're not super curly) and wear your hair down regularly or use scrunchies, headbands or large claw grips to keep your hair off your face.
If you have significant hair loss and feel self conscious, I would recommends wearing hats or consider buying a wig (which can look very natural these days!) as a short term option, while you work on the other factors.
Extensions, dyeing, bleaching, perms and weaves are another things to avoid when trying to prevent hair loss and promote hair regrowth, as some of the harsh chemicals used are known to damage hair follicles.
To be honest, the majority of people won't even notice your hair. You may pay attention to other peoples hair, because of your own issues, however most people don't even look at the other persons hair when talking to them!
Improve circulation and blood flow
In order to ensure our scalps are receiving adequate blood flow and circulation , we should incorporate certain practices into our daily routine. These include brushing our scalp and hair , (although scary, can be very helpful), inversions (try tipping your head upside down for a few minutes each day or practice your headstands at a yoga class), daily exercise (improves whole body circulation, hormone function and oxygenation) and dry body brushing (including the upper body and neck area).
Sluggish or stagnant blood and lymph flow can affect the delivery of nutrients to our bodies, at a cellular level.
Stress can directly cause hair loss, but it also affects the delivery of nutrients to the scalp and the quality of regrowth. Cortisol (our main stress hormone) actually has the ability to negatively impact gut health, hormonal balance, thyroid function and nutrient status, which are some of the biggest causes of hair loss.
These recommendations will help to reduce 'stress' on the hair directly, but we cannot forget about stress management in everyday life. Learning to change our mindset and perception around stress, slowing down, saying no and participating in a mindfulness practice like meditation will not only support our hormones, but the health of our entire body.
Find out 5 effective ways to manage stress and reduce cortisol levels by clicking here.
Want to know if your body is sending you physical signs that it is stressed the heck out? Read this post.
Addressing the underlying hormone imbalances
Last, but certainly not least, in order to fully recover from hormonal hair loss, you need to rebalance your hormones. When our hormones are in balance, life is just so much better. Periods are a breeze, our mood is stable, our weight remains healthy and we look healthy.
In my opinion, hair loss is a cry for help, from your body. It is trying to tell you that there are underlying imbalances that need to be resolved. Left untreated, hormonal imbalances can lead to chronic health issues further down the line, such as type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, breast cancer and cardiovascular disease.
You have the power to prevent some of these things from happening to your future self.
Looking back I believe there were several factors driving my hair loss...
I had several nutrient deficiencies including low ferritin, elevated androgens due to PCOS, stress from under fuelling my body and over exercising, which lead to high cortisol and a sluggish thyroid .
So you could say it was the perfect storm, in my case!
Luckily it wasn't permanent. After addressing my root causes, implementing the recommendations I shared today, and most importantly, balancing my hormones, my hair is almost back to how it was.
It takes time, self love and patience.
There are going to be days when your hair looks awful because of all the baby hairs and regrowth, but you gotta stick with it and be grateful for the process.
Let me know ladies, have you ever suffered with hair loss? What techniques, supplements or products did you find to be effective? Leave your comments in the section below!...
If you would like to schedule a free 30 minute 'Hormone Troubleshooting' phone call with me, click here. In this call you will discover the next steps you need to take, in order to improve your hormonal health. You will also find out how I work with women and help them overcome their hormonal imbalances and hair loss.