Millions of women worldwide struggle with hair loss. Human hair growth passes through four stages. At the end, a hair is shed, and a new hair begins to grow from the follicle. However, a stressful lifestyle, poor diet, hormonal imbalances, and certain illnesses can cause excessive hair loss and pattern baldness in women.
Strong hair is a sign of overall health and well-being. While it’s normal to shed a few hairs every day, if shedding increases noticeably, it can indicate increased stress or a serious health problem.
There are many reasons why a woman might start losing her hair. But before we dive in, let’s learn about the four stages of hair growth.
The anagen stage is the growth phase of the hair and the longest phase in the cycle. Each hair on your body grows from a follicle—a pore that houses the root bulb of the hair. Most of the hair on your scalp is in the anagen phase, which can last from three to seven years, depending on genetic disposition, hair health, and hair placement (eyebrow or beard hair has a shorter lifespan than the hair on your scalp).
The catagen stage is the resting phase at the end of the active growth period. It is marked by changes occurring deep in the hair follicle under the scalp. This phase lasts up to ten days as the hair separates from the follicle.
The telegen stage is the dormant phase—the follicle remains inactive for three to four months. No more than 10–15% of your hair is in the telegen stage at any one time as follicles in various stages are distributed across the scalp.
The exogen stage is the moment when the hair finally detaches from the follicle and is shed. It is normal to shed 50 to 100 hairs every day while brushing or washing.
It is normal to experience some hair loss at one point or another. When the body is exposed to stressors—physical or psychological—vital body functions and organs are prioritised, and essential nutrients such as vitamins and minerals are diverted from non-essential systems such as hair.
Hair loss is often temporary, and by making a few lifestyle changes, your overall health will improve, and your hair will regrow. But sometimes, hair loss can signal a more serious condition that needs to be addressed. This article will walk you through the main reasons women experience hair loss and will provide suggestions for how you can improve your well-being and grow strong and luxurious hair.
From improper hair care to reproductive system events, many different things can disrupt hair growth and cause excessive hair loss. The five most common causes of alopecia are hormonal imbalance, reproductive events, stress, poor diet and weight loss, illness and medication.
A hormonal imbalance occurs when your body produces too much of one hormone and too little of the others. A common hormonal imbalance in women is oestrogen dominance and a lack of progesterone. Hormonal fluctuations happen throughout the menstrual cycle due to lifestyle choices and reproductive events such as puberty, pregnancy, and menopause.
Surprisingly many women go undiagnosed for hormonal imbalances caused by endocrine conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or an underactive thyroid. The two conditions are interconnected; women with an underactive thyroid don’t necessarily have PCOS, but women with PCOS often have an underactive thyroid.
PCOS is incurable and occurs due to hormonal imbalances—excessive androgens (male hormones) and oestrogen dominance. While there is no cure for PCOS, the condition can be ameliorated by modifying your diet, being active, and reducing stressors.
Learn more about PCOS and fertility.
Sex hormones such as oestrogen and progesterone are responsible not only for reproductive and sexual health but also for general health, including hair growth. When drastic hormonal fluctuations happen, for example, during pregnancy, breastfeeding, or menopause, hair loss is not uncommon.
Pregnancy demands a great deal from the mother’s body as her physical resources now go into supporting the new life developing in her uterus. Likewise, a breastfeeding mother’s body channels nutrients into the milk it creates to keep her newborn well-fed and healthy. If there aren’t sufficient nutrients in her system to cover all requirements, vital components are redirected from non-essential places, such as the hair.
Women going through menopause may experience hair loss because of the sudden drop in oestrogen levels that occurs at this time. Thinning hair and female baldness can also be a result of ageing. Ageing is inevitable no matter how well we take care of ourselves.
Stress is often the main culprit for hair loss. But we aren’t talking only about stressful life events. Your physical body is put under stress if you live in a polluted or unhealthy environment, aren’t eating sufficiently nutrient-dense foods, and don’t give your body enough care and rest.
Many people have noticed unusual hair loss during the COVID-19 pandemic. Experts believe that this is due to increased stress triggers and isolation.
Hair loss due to stress can be classified into three types:
To grow strong and healthy hair, your body needs sufficient amounts of vitamins A, E, D, and B and minerals such as zinc and selenium. Your hair is mainly made of protein, and if you are not getting enough essential amino acids from the protein in your diet, you may also experience hair loss. Most people get the essential components for healthy hair in the food they normally eat, but if you restrict your diet or cut out entire food groups, you might notice that your hair is thinning, which may result from vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
The body also experiences rapid weight loss as stressful, especially if restrictive dieting and excessive exercising are the tools you use to achieve your desired weight. Intense exercise increases the stress hormone cortisol levels in the body, accelerating vitamin and mineral depletion and can cause more rapid ageing.
Several diseases can cause rapid hair loss. This may be due to stress or a lack of essential minerals and vitamins supporting hair growth. Some people experience hair loss after a major surgery or other traumatic events. Cancer and cancer treatment are now well-known for causing hair loss. Chemotherapy, targeted therapy, radiation therapy, and stem cell/bone marrow transplants are all treatments used to kill cancer cells. Unfortunately, they also affect your hair cells. It is common for patients undergoing cancer treatments to partially or entirely lose their hair.
However, when the treatment is over, the body can recover and continue with its natural functions, such as growing healthy hair.
Sometimes the body recovers from hair loss on its own. If you have been living through a stressful period that is making your hair fall out, the shedding will generally end once you feel more balanced again. However, if your hair keeps falling out, there must be a cause. See your doctor for testing. Tests for diagnosing hair loss include the hair pull test (to see how many hairs come out with a sharp tug), densitometry (to measure the thickness of the hair shaft), testing for syphilis, doing a complete blood count, and testing hormone levels, iron levels, and thyroid levels. In some cases, a scalp biopsy is recommended.
There are a few lifestyle changes that can improve your hair health. They can be adopted for their own sake or in addition to the primary treatment for a more serious condition.
Stress can be a real threat to your health. It can cause chronic inflammation, mental health problems, and other disorders. Learning to cope with stress can improve your life significantly. Common methods that have helped many people include psychotherapy, yoga and meditation, and maintaining a regular exercise routine.
Unfortunately, we can’t eliminate the stressors from our lives. The only way to reduce tension is to support your body from within. Getting enough sleep, spending time in the sunlight, and eating nutritious food will help you feel more grounded and relaxed and improve your stress tolerance. Light physical activity is also necessary to support your body’s many processes and systems that keep us in good health. But bear in mind that too much exercise is also stressful to the body. If you exhaust yourself overdoing cardio and not giving yourself enough rest to recuperate, it can worsen your hair state. Choose a sport that gives you satisfaction. You don’t need to hit a gym every day to see your mental and physical health improve. Even a short walk or a swim now and then can have a significant impact on your well-being.
Your hair needs sufficient vitamins, minerals, and protein to grow healthy. The best way to fuel your body and maintain good health is to get your calories from nutrient-dense foods. Some of the best foods for hair health are grass-fed beef, eggs, fish, fruits, and berries. Support your body by eating a variety of nutritious foods regularly.
If your diet seems to be lacking some essential nutrients, consult with your doctor about the kinds of supplements to add. Nowadays, people take myriad synthetic vitamins and minerals without researching their quality or actually knowing whether they have a deficiency that should be addressed. Many over-the-counter nutritional supplements may contain the vitamins and minerals they claim to contain, but not in a form that is accessible to the body. To be safe, always ask your health practitioner’s input first.
Essential oils can be powerful aids for stimulating hair follicles to regrow your hair. Several studies have shown that natural essential oils such as lavender, rosemary, and lemongrass all positively affect hair health. They can be used to soften and replenish dry or frizzy hair.
Like other systems in your body, your hair has a natural way of cleaning and hydrating itself. However, many of us live in polluted cities and expose our hair to harmful substances by simply going about our daily business. Most supermarket shampoos are full of synthetic components such as sulphates, silicones, and parabens. These ingredients are there to make your hair look shiny, make the product last longer, and smell nice, but they can also have harmful effects on your hair, especially in the long run.
If you are satisfied with the results of the hair care products you use, even if they are high in synthetic substances, you can continue using them. But if you notice that your scalp and hair feel dry, or you are experiencing increased hair loss or sebum production, look for more natural and chemical-free options.
Hair loss can be stressful and embarrassing. In most cases, you can restore your hair to full health with minor dietary and lifestyle changes. However, if you suspect that you are experiencing shedding as a symptom of malnourishment or a more severe health condition, consider testing to identify the root cause.
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