The scalp contains approximately 100,000 strands of hair and on average we lose about 50 to100 strands per day. Aging and medication use, among others can cause visible changes in the hair's structure which can lead to female hair loss.
A Single Strand of Hair
A single hair strand is composed of two parts: the hair shaft, or the visible part of the hair, and the hair root. The hair root is found below the skin and contained within a tube-like structure called the hair follicle–where hair growth occurs.
Each hair follicle goes through four phase cycle:
- Anagen: During the phase, which lasts about three to four years, hair is actively growing.
- Catagen: During this transitional phase, the hair follicle begins to shrink and wrinkle.
- Telogen: During this resting phase, which lasts a relatively short period of three to four months, the hair has reached the end of its life cycle and falls out. These hairs are easily removed by the act of brushing, combing, and shampooing.
- Mesanagen: Hair growth returns.
Generally, the time span for a full cycle varies from two to five years per hair follicle, with 10-15 percent of the hair on the scalp being found in the telogen phase. Stalled growth and hair loss occurs when a larger percentage of hair is found in the telogen phase. If a bald spot develops, it is often due to a large batch of telogen hair follicles.
Hair Loss Causes
There are many causes of female hair loss and curing the problem may be simply a matter of changing a diet or reducing stress. However, disease and genetics are issues not easily circumvented, as are problems related to those discussed below.
Diet and Supplements
Hair (as well as nails and skin) is composed of keratin, which is a type of protein. Therefore, low-protein diets can compromise the integrity of the hair. In addition to protein, our hair requires the benefits derived from a variety of vitamins and minerals, such as B-complex, vitamin D, calcium, copper, and zinc.
More is not always better when it comes to the nutritional needs of the body. Take for example DHEA-it is a precursor to both male and female sex hormones, and naturally produced by the adrenal glands. DHEA levels begin to decline after age 30 and have been related to complaints of low sex-drive in women. Unfortunately, the long term effects of DHEA have also been associated with significant hair loss.
Every woman, at one time or another will experience hair loss as the effects of aging and decreasing levels of estrogen associated with menopause can trigger such events. Other hormonal shifts from birth control, menstruation cycle, perimenopause, and even pregnancy have been associated with hair loss.
More serious hormonal imbalances related to polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), thyroid disorders, insulin resistance, testosterone levels, and adrenal disorders can manifest itself in dramatic changes in the hair structure.
Infection and Inflammatory Conditions
A rash-like extremely itchy condition called folliculitis results from inflamed hair follicles. It is triggered by ingrown hairs, allergic reactions, yeast infections, or skin disorders.
Alopecia areata is an autoimmune condition characterized by patchy bald spots on the head. Alopecia, skin infections, and inflammatory conditions are best diagnosed and treated by a dermatologist.
It is common knowledge that one of the many side effects of chemotherapy drugs is major hair loss. But did you know that many commonly prescribed drugs also have the potential to cause hair loss? This can include medications such as:
- High blood pressure medications, specifically beta-blockers and ACE inhibitors.
- Mood stabilizers
- Hormone replacement therapy
- Weight control medication
- Lupus medications
- Parkinson's drugs
Drug-induced hair loss can occur in one of two ways:
- By causing the hair to prematurely enter the telogen (resting) phase and fall out,
- By preventing the cells from dividing and growing normally during the anagen (active) phase.
Also problematic is the fact that the outward signs of hair loss may not be visible for several weeks to even months of taking the medication.
In conclusion, hair loss can be caused by a variety of conditions, some of which are easy to treat and cure while others are more serious and require more stringent methods of care. The bottom line is: see a doctor before you self-diagnose and treat hair loss. The condition that you see on your hair (or skin) may signal something more serious going on inside your body.
Disclaimer: Dr. Mundorff is a Registered Nurse and Board Certified Naturopath, and not a medical doctor. The information in this column is for educational purposes only and should not be used to self-diagnose and treat diseases. Naturopathy is a complementary practice to health care and should be used in conjunction with a competent health care practitioner. Many herbal and homeopathic remedies can actually be contraindicated in many health conditions, with certain prescriptions, and over-the-counter medications. Please consult your physician before starting any alternative modalities.
Image: Chema Hernández