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A common complaint we hear in the naturopathic clinic is hair loss. Do you think that hair loss is a condition that only affects older men or a few women as they hit menopause? Think again.
What we are seeing today are young, healthy women in their twenties and thirties with hair loss, and there are plenty of them. One is six women lose their hair; some lose small amounts with others losing considerably larger amounts. Premature hair loss is more common in women than you think, but there are various steps you can take to help prevent it.
Statistics show that a staggering thirty percent plus of 25 to 35-year-old females suffer from the devastating condition of hair loss- among them Elin Nordegren, the former Mrs Tiger Woods. The stress and strain of 21st-century living is one of the main culprits, and a person’s altered stress mechanism involving amongst others the adrenal, pituitary and thyroid glands, which produce hormones such as cortisol, adrenaline and thyroid stimulating hormone are primarily responsible.
According to an experienced trichologist (hair specialist) Dr Bessam Farjo: ‘Women are leading increasingly stressful lives, with pressures that didn’t exist for their forebears. ‘They are now having to maintain successful careers as well as fulfilling the role of wife, mother and homemaker”. “Their increasingly stressful lives is clearly playing a role in their hair loss”.
The body reacts to stress in various ways such as reduced adrenal and thyroid function, as well as by producing more free radicals, which cause damage and, in some cases, hair falls out. In addition, there are other reasons why premature hair loss is increasingly common these days: crash dieting, low iron levels as well as certain medications such as chemotherapy which can all have an impact.
According to psychologist Dr Linda Papadopoulos: ‘In our culture, hair is bound up in notions of womanhood and sexual attractiveness,’ Plus, we live in such an appearance-driven society that our looks often become one of the largest factors contributing to our self-esteem.’
Hair loss is common as we age
We all naturally lose between 50 to 100 strands of hair a day – who hasn’t pulled out hair from their hairbrush or bath plughole? But at what point should we seek help? According to English hair expert Philip K Kingsley: ‘The simplest way to judge excess shedding is if you see more hairs than usual falling on a daily basis – over a period of at least a month – when you shampoo, brush or style’.
Hair loss due to stress
Very few medical doctors are fully trained to advise on hair disorders, so see a trichologist for a consultation and diagnosis if you detect a noticeable thinning. There are many doctors however who do understand the important connection between low thyroid and adrenal function and hair loss, particularly if the patient’s case history points to a period of short term very high-grade or a continued stressful lifestyle prior to the hair loss. And to illustrate, a classic example of high-grade acute stress affecting hair loss is that of Elin Nordegren, who admitted her hair fell out when she had to deal with the stress of husband Tiger Woods’ affairs. Elin would have suffered from very acute stress which would have affected many aspects of her health, including sleep issues, appetite and weight fluctuations, digestive issues and hair loss.
Improve your diet when under stress: more protein
One of the most important improvements you can make with your diet is to increase a number of first class proteins you consume, particularly lean meats, fresh fish, free range poultry and eggs. Your hair is made up of protein, so it’s important to increase your protein intake.
Have your iron levels checked
Low iron levels need investigation as to the cause, but a simple blood test can determine whether you lack iron or not – and if it’s below the recommended level, taking iron tablets or eating more green leafy vegetables, pulses and meats can stimulate hair growth.
Correct assessment and treatment of stress
It is important to correctly assess and treat the underlying reasons for your hair loss, whether the cause is a dietary, lifestyle or one of several other factors involved. For this reason, I recommend that you visit an experienced practitioner who can assess and treat accordingly. Make sure the healthcare professional you are consulting has experience treating people with hair loss and before you do go for a consultation, do some self-assessments – did you or do you suffer from stress? Do you take any medications which may affect your hair growth, or do you have any underlying nutritional deficiencies?
Hair loss can be slowed right down and stopped in most cases. If you do suffer from stress, which is one of the commonest causes, I would recommend that you visit a health-care professional fully conversant with adrenal fatigue and hypothyroidism.
By Eric Bakker ND