From conditioning to styling and brushing, hair, for most women, is their crowning glory and
most take great pains to keep it in tip-top shape. And when hair sheds, it can be embarrassing and alarming. To help, HEALTH speaks to an expert who explains why women lose hair and reveals pro-active steps we can take to prevent this from happening.
When Lisa shifted from the U.S. to Dubai, she says her hair began thinning and falling out gradually. She narrates, “At first it was just a little bit of hair in my hairbrush; I never paid much attention to it. Then suddenly it was apparent that my hair was falling so fast that my scalp was beginning to show. I panicked and began googling ways to make it stop. I used coconut oil, olive oil, hair masks, and even tried homeopathy but nothing is working! What do I do to stop this hair fall?”
What seems to be a very common problem in many women, hair loss is a very sensitive topic and one that seems to render advice from everyone and anyone. Yet according to hair expert Michael Ryan, at Vivandi Hair Spa in Dubai, there are some very real health related reasons why our hair sheds. “Female hair loss is not normal; if you notice a shedding, thinning, or reduced volume; this needs to be checked,” he asserts and in fact, hair fall can often be an indication of an underlying medical condition.
What It Looks Like
Ryan explains that he most commonly sees patients with a diffuse shedding, known as Telogen Effluvium, whereby the hair loses density and weight. “Most women complain that their pony tails are reduced by 50 percent,” he says. “Hair fall is very common in this region but there are many contributing factors which include diet, low vitamin D, and stress; which all play their part.” And while many believe this is a problem that affects older women, Ryan corrects this myth and explains that he starts to see females shedding their hair from around 18 to 22 years but it can be earlier, there is no definitive age. “It crosses all ethnic groups; however vegetarians are one of the most common groups as well as women who are completely covered and not exposed to the sun,” he says.
One reason, tells Ryan, for hair fall, is having a hypothyroid or low thyroid or hyperthyroid or high thyroid—and both are a common cause of hair loss.However the good news is that you can have thyroid levels tested by your doctor through a routine blood test, and he/she will be able to ascertain whether or not the readings are within normal range. However, Ryan explains that it’s important to be aware that when it comes to hair, readings within the ‘low-normal’ and ‘high-normal’ range can also cause hair problems.
“The levels acceptable to keep your vital tissues working adequately are not the same as the levels needed to sustain optimum follicle function,” he points out. This also applies to ferritin, iron and B12 levels, to name a few. If you find you have hyper or hypothyroid, Ryan asserts that your GP can prescribe medication to correct it, and this will help with your hair fall as well as any other symptoms you are experiencing.
Birth Control Pills
Certain birth control pills, adds Ryan, have an effect on androgens (male hormones) and can cause hair fall if your follicles are sensitive to them and you have a genetic pre-disposition. “These include pills containing Norethisterone, Levonorgestrel, Gestodene and Ethynodiol Diacetate; one of the most popular brands being Microgynon,” he says. “If you experience hair fall from a certain birth control pill, it’s easy to remedy by changing to a ‘less androgenic one.” However it goes without saying that you need to discuss your choice of contraception with your doctor or gynecologist.
While most women experience lush and shiny hair during pregnancy, the bad news is that immediately after delivery; the hair seems to go into overdrive and begins shedding faster than even before. Ryan says that while most women’s hair falls out less during pregnancy due to increased circulating estrogen, around fifty percent experience post-partum hair fall. “This hair loss occurs approximately two to three months after giving birth and is simply due to hormone levels returning to ‘normal’,” he says, but it is paramount to bear in mind that in most cases, the excess hair that falls out post-pregnancy is just the hair that was retained in the follicle during pregnancy. “Most post-partum hair fall resolves itself on its own, but eating a healthy balanced diet can also help,” he says.
One of the most common causes of hair loss in women is low ferritin levels, says Ryan, despite the case when red blood cell levels are normal. Ferritin, he explains, is a stored iron that helps produce hair cell protein. “Its levels are rarely tested in a routine blood test, but if you are experiencing hair loss or thinning, you should ask your doctor to check this,” he says, and even more so than with thyroid readings, low to normal ferritin levels can adversely affect your hair. He advises that there are many good supplements you can take to increase ferritin levels, but always consult with your doctor before choosing one. “Rest assured
though – as your ferritin levels reach a healthy figure, your hair will benefit immensely,” he says. “You can also help increase ferritin levels by eating red meat, such as steak and liver, twice a week as part of a well-balanced diet.”
Diffuse hair loss in females is not normal, asserts Ryan and in fact, it can be treated very successfully providing the cause has been diagnosed correctly.“During a consultation, a full medical history is taken wherein diet/nutrition, life style, and stress levels are all explored,” he says which then usually results in blood tests being obtained to establish the correct levels for optimal hair growth. These levels are very different than the levels for health.Once the hair fall is diagnosed, Ryan points out that he uses a combination of scalp therapies and nutritional supplementation to improve the hair fall. At home, treatment is usually prescribed as daily regime.
Prevention is Better than the Cure
We have all heard the saying “You are what you eat” and according to Ryan, this actually has great relevance to hair as it is a barometer of our health.“The reality is that those who try different diets and cut out major food groups are depriving their bodies,”he says, as we obtain 50 percent of our energy for our bodies through carbohydrates, 15 percent via proteins and 35 percent through good fats. We all need energy to synthesise our body’s skin cells which includes making new hair cells, he says, as this provides normal functioning for our body’s development and renewal. “Lacking in an essential food type will, in time, take its toll on the body,” he says.
Your Hair and Your Food
Breakfast is King:
The most important meal for your hair is breakfast, urges Ryan. “Breakfast is the most important meal for your hair because the energy levels of your hair follicles are at their lowest first thing in the morning, and they need a boost,” he says. “Dinner, however, is the least important meal for your hair so it is here that you could indulge or abstain.”
Choice or combination of the following:
• A serving of turkey ham
• Kippers or smoked salmon (or any other fish or meat) 180g (6oz) of low fat cottage cheese
* Fruits * Bread
* Cereals * Jam or honey
* Yoghurt * Juices
* Tea or coffee
Next is Lunch:
The second most important meal for protein, tells Ryan is lunch. Some ideal lunch suggestions are as follows:
• Minimum of 120g (4.5oz) of any meat, fish, eggs, poultry or 180g (6oz) of low fat cottage cheese
• Any vegetables, or salads
• Dessert in the form of fruit is preferred.
Eat between meals if you don’t eat for more than four hours. After this time, the energy to your hair follicles gets depleted. If you feel a little lethargic around late afternoon – so do your hair follicles, but you just don’t feel that.
Energy Boosting Snacks:
• Fruit – fresh or dried
• Raw vegetables
• Slice of bread or whole meal biscuit
Daily must do:
• Drink 1.5 to 2 liters of water
• Not too much salt or high fat content foods
• No black tea as there is evidence that drinking tea without milk can decrease iron storage.