Hair Loss – By Dr. Alan Christianson:
Hey, there! Dr. Alan Christianson here. Let’s talk about your hair. This is an important subject. Often, when someone is concerned about their hair, they are almost apologetic and feel they shouldn’t be worried about it, but it is a big deal. It is not only important psychologically (how you feel about yourself and about how others see you), but it is also important medically. Your hair is part of your connective tissues. It is part of your body’s building blocks and main structure. It is kind of like the canary in the coal mine in terms of being an early indicator that your body is not rebuilding itself properly. So, it is important to have healthy hair for both medical and vanity reasons.
Your main building blocks are your hair, skin, nails, muscles, blood and organs. These are the main things we build out of our protein, our collagen and our connective tissues (in this order of priority).
So, whenever your body is not rebuilding itself as well as it could, the first thing it skimps on is your hair, skin and nails, and the hair comes first. Our bodies almost have a sense of knowing that they’ve got to preserve the heart and the liver, but when they are short on some pieces, they let the hair go by the wayside. This is how it works out. Every part of our bodies is always building and wearing out. If the building slows, the wearing down gets a leg up, and there is more loss then there is growth.
So, I want to talk about the big things that affect your hair and what you can do about them. A top cause of hair loss is thyroid disease. This is true for both those who know they have thyroid disease and those who don’t. If your hair is not at its best, and you don’t have clarity on your thyroid health, now is a great time to get clarity. Find someone who understands how to detect thyroid disease at its early stages and can treat it very thoroughly. Here is the thing that is counter intuitive: We often think hair problems mean we have low thyroid function. Well, too much thyroid function can also cause hair problems. This is also true for those on thyroid treatment. If they are getting more then they need, it can be just as bad as getting less then they need in regard to their hair health.
Thyroid disease is caused from the immune system attacking the thyroid. The immune attack alone can affect the health of your hair. So, even when you have the best amounts of thyroid (or you are making the best amounts, but your immunity is on overdrive) you can still have hair problems. It is really important to keep your thyroid function and anti-bodies under control because that can affect the health of your hair. In the realm of hormones, we have the adrenals, which are the little things on top of our kidneys.
The adrenals make two very powerful hormones that are very relevant to hair. The first one is DHEA. DHEA is short for dehydroepiandrosterone. It is a hormone that regulates our growth and our metabolism in a lot of different ways. It also regulates how much oil is in our skin and our connective tissues. Like the thyroid, we can have too little or too much DHEA. When DHEA affects our hair, the most common problem is there is way too much of it. There is a condition, called Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), where women can get ovarian cysts. In that condition, their bodies often make too much DHEA. DHEA is an androgen, kind of a masculine type hormone. So, in the same way men can get head hair thinning from their hormones, if women have too much DHEA, their hair can also thin. This is also a concern for taking supplemental DHEA. If you are very low in it, and you are responsibly dosed, it can be a wonderful thing. However, if you are getting more then you need, it can cause hair thinning.
The other big adrenal hormone is cortisol. Cortisol is kind of a Goldilocks thing like thyroid – you don’t want it too hot or too cold, but just right. Too little or too much cortisol, or your body making cortisol at the wrong time, can throw off hair growth. Any of these patterns can cause your body to be in a mode of poor repair, where it is not fixing itself properly. Cortisol is affected by many factors, including our diets, toxins we’re around, our total stress load and getting deep, restorative sleep in which you can repair yourself and rebuild your tissues. So, healthy cortisol is essential to good hair.
I want to talk about some nutrients, as well. There are many products and supplements on the market, and I want to clarify which of these is important. One of the most relevant nutrients, especially for women concerned with hair loss or thinning, is iron. You lose blood with your menstruation, which means you lose a little bit of iron, as well. It is very common that the amount of iron your body absorbs is not enough to replace the little bit of iron you lose during that time. So, many menstruating women can fall behind in iron. This is common, yet it is also important. It can be a simple cause of hair loss. It also tends to cause symptoms of fatigue, easier headaches and tendencies toward more muscle fatigue, muscle pain and short-term memory changes. So, it is a big deal. You want to know your ferritin levels. They should not be too high or too low – probably between about 60 and 100 is best. There are other iron markers that are important, but ferritin is an easy one to watch. Let’s talk about iron in the diet.
Green foods are great foods, but, unfortunately, they do not provide much iron. So, red meat or iron supplements are the better choices. The next big part of the diet is protein. Hair is made from protein. It is also what your skin, nails, muscles, bones and organs are ultimately made from. We use protein to both rebuild our bodies and also as fuel. So, we burn some proteins and store others that are used to make up our physical mass. Our dietary protein may be enough for us to burn, but may not be enough for us to rebuild. Some foods that have protein may have so many calories, you have to use all the protein just to burn them. If your only source of protein is nuts, seeds, cheeses, beans or legumes, you will have so many non-protein related calories from them, you may only get enough protein to burn and not enough to rebuild.
So, it takes quality protein in the diet and that is a big thing to think about when you hair is not healthy. Now, no hair discussion would be complete without talking about biotin. People think if anything is wrong with your hair, just take mega doses of biotin, and you will turn into a Chia Pet! Hair will just sprout from everywhere! I have to say this is not true. Biotin was the last B vitamin we ever discovered. A lot of people were consuming high amounts of raw eggs in the 1950’s and 1960’s, which created a deficiency disease. Raw egg whites leach biotin from our bodies. That creates a biotin deficiency, which can cause hair loss. Nutrients do not fix problems that are caused from something else.
So, if your hair loss is not from biotin deficiency, all the biotin in the world is not going to make a difference. Biotin is a good nutrient to get in your supplementation, and it is in a lot of your foods very abundantly. Deficiencies of it are so rare, we barely learned about it a few decades ago. So, do not put a lot of weight or stock into biotin. Don’t think that mega doses of it will change things, as they tend not to.
The last big concept about hair and hair loss has to do with your being like a time capsule. Hair health is related to what was going on with your health maybe three, six or even twelve months ago. So, whatever you are doing right now does not affect your hair right now. Our follicles go through cycles of being active and dormant. Because the hair grows so slowly, the lag time between something that is affecting your health having an effect on your hair is lengthy. This is important to realize so you can identify things that are working against your hair growth. You fix your thyroid. You get your adrenals healthy. You get enough protein back in your body. That is cool, but you will not see your hair better tomorrow.
Unfortunately, it does take that three, six, or twelve months to see a big positive shift in the new hair coming out. As always, your health can change. This one just takes a little patience, unfortunately, but it can turn around for the vast majority of people. Thanks for tuning in and take great care. We will talk real soon.