Let’s face it: we love our hair. It’s a big part of our identity, which is why having a “bad hair day” can be such a bummer. However, an even bigger emotional blow and sensitive subject is hair loss. Society is not as kind to nor as understanding about hair loss for women versus men. Let’s take a look at this symptom associated with hormone changes and what you can do about it.
What is hair loss?
Around perimenopause and menopause, women may begin to see more strands in the drain when they shampoo their hair or become alarmed by the number of hairs in their brush. Most women experience general thinning of their hair on the sides, front, or top of the head rather than bald spots.
Such hair loss in women is called female pattern hair loss, and it generally increases with age, especially following menopause. The degree of hair loss varies across different ethnic groups.
Why am I losing my hair?
Hair thinning and hair loss among women is usually the result of an imbalance of hormones. More specifically, as production of estrogen and progesterone declines, so can the amount and thickness of the hair on your head. Falling hormone levels also causes hair to grow more slowly and to become much thinner.
As estrogen and progesterone levels decline, the production of male hormones (androgens) rise. Androgens cause hair follicles to shrink, which in turn can lead to hair loss on the head. Ironically, androgens may cause some facial hair (“peach fuzz”) to appear in some menopausal women.
Although menopause is the most common culprit in hair loss for women around middle age, other factors also may be involved. Genetics play a role—look at hair loss among both the female and male members of your family. If you are undergoing extreme stress, an illness, or have a nutritional deficiency (which may result from crash dieting), your hair may be among the victims. A doctor can take a blood test and/or a thyroid test to rule out these causes.
How can I treat hair loss naturally?
You can hold onto your hair during your menopausal years! Here are a few lifestyle changes you can incorporate right now.
- Be natural. Use of hair dryers, straighteners, curling irons, extensions, and hair accessories that pull or stress the hair should be eliminated or reduced significantly. If you feel you must dye your hair, use all-natural products only.
- Protect against the environment. Wear a swimming cap in a pool because chlorine contributes to hair breakage. A hat is also recommended if you spend a lot of time out in the sun or wind to protect against breakage and drying.
- Check your medications. Some medications, such as blood thinners (e.g., heparin, Coumadin), ace inhibitors, beta-blockers, thyroid medications, some antidepressants, and cholesterol drugs contribute to hair loss. Talk to your doctor about alternatives.
- Eat healthy. An all-natural, low-fat diet can protect against hair loss. Healthy oils, such as omega-3s (found in flaxseed, walnuts, almonds, tuna, salmon, herring, and mackerel), olive oil, and coconut oil should be included, as well as green tea, nuts, and lots of fruits and vegetables.
- Exercise daily. In addition to helping control weight and improve mood, daily exercise also works to maintain hormonal balance. This in turn can promote healthy hair growth.
- Try laser. Use of low-energy laser light, performed by a professional therapist, may help ward off hair thinning.
- Reduce stress: Stress contributes to hormonal imbalance and hair loss, so help keep it in check. Take time every day to practice stress reduction, such as meditation, yoga, tai chi, deep breathing exercises, and other relaxation methods.
- Stay hydrated. Don’t get so busy that you forget to keep your body well hydrated for better hormone balance. Skip the sugary drinks and focus on pure water, perhaps infused with berries, cucumber, lemon, or oranges.
when to see a health provider
You may want to call your doctor if you experience any of the following:
- You are losing your hair in an unusual pattern
- Your hair loss is accompanied by itching or pain on your scalp
- The hair loss is very rapid
- Your scalp is scaly, red, or otherwise abnormal
Hair loss is not uncommon among women of menopausal age. Two bits of good news: in the vast majority of cases the hair loss slows and stabilizes; and there are lifestyle changes you can make to help protect and preserve the health of your hair.