Mark Stengler, ND
"Not only is my hair falling out in clumps, but it also has no shine to it,exclaimed Maria, a 49-year-old accountant..
"Not only is my hair falling out in clumps, but it also has no shine to it,"exclaimed Maria, a 49-year-old accountant. "What's causing this, Dr. Mark? Any ideas?"
"Certainly," I replied. "A number of things contribute to hair loss and hair quality in both men and women. Hormone imbalance is one, and considering that you are going through menopause right now, it's probably connected. Also, genetics, stress, malabsorption and nutritional deficiencies can be possible causes."
Let's review these areas and see what the underlying causes are, starting with a little background information about hair. Similar to skin cells, hair grows and sheds regularly. It's considered normal to shed 50 to 100 hairs per day. More rapid hair loss begins in both sexes by age 50 and tends to accelerate after that. A human adult body has an average of five million hairs, including 100,000 to 150,000 on the scalp.
Genetics and hormones determine the most common reasons for hair loss, known medically as alopecia. Male-pattern baldness is characterized by a receding hairline and loss of hair, especially on the crown of the head. By age 40, two-thirds of Caucasian men are noticeably bald. Female-pattern baldness is characterized by a general thinning of hair all over the head and a moderate loss of hair on the crown or hairline. It also occurs between the ages of 30 and 40 and often becomes more apparent during and after menopause. About 50 percent of children with a balding parent of either sex will inherit the dominant baldness gene.
Besides age and genetics, the main culprit in balding appears to be an overabundance or overactivity of the male hormone dihydrotestosterone (DHT) within the hair follicle. DHT is a derivative of testosterone and is driven by an enzyme called 5-alpha reductase, which is produced in the prostate, adrenal glands and scalp. The activity of this enzyme tends to increase with age, especially in men.
Japanese researchers recently reported that excessive sebum (oil) production in the scalp is another cause of hair loss because it contributes to both high 5-alpha reductase activity and clogged pores (which causes malnutrition of the hair root). Animal fat in the diet is believed to increase sebum production. Medical researchers in Asia also believe that hair loss is caused mainly by insufficient blood supply to the scalp.
The effects of stress can cause hair loss and thinning in both sexes. Generally, this is reversible once levels of stress have calmed down or the person has dealt with the stress sufficiently. In addition, various autoimmune and other systemic diseases can lead to hair loss, including many things from psoriasis and thyroid disease to cancer.
Other reasons for hair loss/thinning may include pharmaceutical medications, strict dieting (causing malnutrition), heavy metal toxicity, severe illness, thyroid imbalance and fluctuating hormones during menopause. The last reason can be reversed using natural hormone balancing protocols recommended by a knowledgeable doctor.
Several different nutrient deficiencies can contribute to hair loss, brittleness or thinning. When it comes to hair loss, the most common in women is iron deficiency.
Healthy Hair with Good Nutrition
Protein is essential for the development of hair. Quality protein sources such as legumes, nuts, seeds and cold-water fish may improve hair quality. Many vitamins and minerals are involved in hair growth, and so plenty of vegetables, fruit and grains should also be included in the diet.
Several different nutrient deficiencies can contribute to hair loss, brittleness or thinning. When it comes to hair loss, the most common in women is iron deficiency. A blood test by your doctor is needed to see if this is occurring.
Essential fatty acids: most nutrition-oriented doctors have observed that essential fatty acid deficiency contributes to dry, listless hair. Food sources include walnuts, eggs, fish, olive oil, flax seeds and flax oil. I recommend a formula containing both omega-3 fatty acids (from flax or fish oil) and omega-6 from evening primrose or borage oil. It can take four to six weeks before improvements are seen.
Biotin: used to improve both nail and hair quality (particularly brittle hair). Food sources include brewer's yeast, soy beans, eggs, mushrooms and whole wheat. It's generally found in a B-complex supplement, but for therapeutic use, I recommend 2,000 to 3,000 micrograms daily for at least two months.
Zinc: required for proper cell division and the most active mineral involved in enzymatic reactions in the body. Good sources include fish and seafood, eggs, grains and pumpkin seeds. Interestingly, zinc helps reduce the activity of alpha-5 reductase, which may be why it helps some cases of hair loss. I recommend 30 milligrams daily along with 3 mg copper.
MSM (methylsulfonylmethane): a valuable hair supplement. It's a great source of sulphur, an integral component of amino acids, the building blocks of protein in the hair. Green vegetables are a natural source of MSM. Standard dosage is 3,000 mg daily. People commonly report that MSM improves hair strength and sheen.
The Digestion Connection
Poor digestion and malabsorption can be an underlying reason for nutritional deficiencies and hair loss or poor hair quality. I recommend patients take full-spectrum digestive enzymes with meals and, in some cases, especially with the elderly, the use of betaine hydrochloric acid capsules with meals.
Herbs for Hair
Saw palmetto: has been used historically in Europe and North America for hair loss in both sexes. Interestingly, it has been shown to block the effects of DHT on prostate cells and may have the same effect on hair follicles. A therapeutic dosage of saw palmetto is 320 to 400 mg daily of an 85 per cent liposterolic extract taken internally.
Rosemary: small amounts (three to five drops) of rosemary essential oil can be added to shampoo to improve scalp circulation. Apply once daily. You can't fight your genes. But with these therapies, over the course of several months, you should at least be able to slow hair loss, improve hair quality, and achieve stronger, shinier locks.
Supplements for Healthy Hair