Getting to the root of this distressing problem is the key to treating it
For many women, a healthy head of hair is a large part of what makes us feel feminine, so seeing it thin can really affect our self-esteem. But as many as one in three of us will suffer at some point, and hair loss specialists Maximum Hair have seen a 35% increase in female enquiries in the past few months alone. Why? ‘There’s no denying the stress of our lifestyles and unhealthy diets are playing a part,’ says Sally-Ann Tarver, president of the Trichological Society (www.hairscientists.org). And don’t just assume it’s an age related condition, either. ‘Yes our scalp and hair age with the rest of our body, but thinning hair isn’t inevitable,’ says Glenn Lyons of the Philip Kingsley Trichological Clinic (www.philipkinsley.com/clinics). It’s much more to do with lifestyle factors and genetics.’ So, what’s happening?
‘Our bodies are programmed to redistribute nutrients away from the hair to more essential organs if we don’t have enough of them to stay healthy,’ Says lyons, ‘ in this sense, a change in our hair is nearly always a sing of an underlying problem,’ These can include an overactive or underactive thyroid, while some medications, such as blood thinners, can affect thickness, too, so speak to your GP if you are worried.
‘A study of 1,000 women found that, of the 33% with thinning hair, 90% had low levels of at least one important nutrient, and a lack of iron is a common culprit,’ says Tarver. A protein called ferritin binds to iron, and ‘stores’ it. When the body’s level of ferritin declines, iron is taken from non-essential places – such as the hair – and distributed to other, more essential cells. Severe blood loss (through, say, an operation or heavy periods) can cause a deficiency, as can not getting enough from our diet.
Ensure you get 15mg of iron daily – that’s equivalent to eating porridge for breakfast, lentil soup and bread for lunch, and a tofu stir-fry with spinach and sesame seeds for dinner. And, as your hair is made from protein, up your intake of that, too. ‘Aim for 45g a day,’ advises Tarver. Good sources include lean meat, fish, pulses and seeds.
YOUR TENSION LEVELS
The stress hormones adrenalin and cortisol are known to affect follicles, which can lead to hair loss. ‘If your lifestyle is one of permanent anxiety – where stressful experiences follow one after the other – it’s likely you may experience long-term hair thinning,’ says Tarver. ‘While you might not be able to banish stress completely, do try relaxation techniques,’ suggests Tarver. ‘I encourage my patients to go for regular walks, join a social club, or try reiki or reflexology.’
Women can inherit a tendency towards pattern baldness, where sensitivity to the hormone DHT (converted from testosterone) causes the follicles to shrink. ‘This tends to strike around menopausal age – when our levels of testosterone rise – which is why many women believe thinning hair is just inevitable,’ says Tarver. Female pattern baldness normally affects the sides and top of the scalp, and is likely to affect other female relatives.
Daily use of hairdryers and straightening irons can cause irreparable damage to hair cuticles. ‘Our hair isn’t built to cope with extreme heat on a regular basis – it will dry out and break off,’ explains Tarver. Keep usage to a minimum, and use the right brushes. ‘ Studies have shown metal bristles damage the hair, so choose a brush with rubber bristles and a rounded ball tips to stimulate the scalp,’ advises Lyons, ‘I’d also recommended hollow ones to help disperse heat when styling, which helps to prevent damage.’
For some, however, these measures won’t help, and there are a number of signs that indicate you should seek specialist advice. These include being able to clearly see your scalp through your hair, or developing a bald patch; if your scalp feels itchy, inflamed or excessively oily; if your hair begins to break from the tip; or if more than five hairs are dislodged when you gently pull a small section.
‘A visit to a qualified trichologist is a must,’ advises Lyons. ‘You may find them more useful than a GP, who isn’t always trained to treat hair loss, which can be frustrating.’ Fortunately, most cases can be easily diagnosed, ‘ I usually identify the problem within minutes of speaking to the client about their diet, family history and other symptoms,’ says Tarver. If your trichologist suspects a nutrient deficiency or other health trigger, such as a thyroid issue or medication, they can refer you back to your GP for blood tests before treatment. ‘ Changing your diet and taking supplements is usually enough to treat the problem, though,’ adds Tarver.
When its more than a few hairs
‘Most of us normally lose around 100 hairs each day, so you need only feel concerned when it doesn’t grow back as it should,’says Lyons. If the hair falls out across sections in the scalp, it could be alopecia, a rare form of excess hair loss, It can affect anyone, although around 25% of sufferers have another family member with the condition. ‘It’s an autoimmune disease, where the affected follicles are attacked by the body’s own white blood cells,’ explains Tarver. If you’re losing large amounts of hair, see a trichologist.