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This Unknown Side Effect of Menopause Affects Over 40% of Women

Think women are safe from hair loss? These results may surprise you.
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No woman wants to face menopause, but the process is inevitable. With menopause come symptoms like hot flashes, mood swings, and unwanted hair growth.

If that wasn't enough, over 40 percent of women also face hair loss during menopause, according to hair expert Paul M. Friedman, M.D., a clinical assistant professor of dermatology from the University of Texas Medical School at Houston.

Many women are surprised to learn that they are also in danger of hair loss as they age just like men. So, how do so few women realize their hair might be at risk?

How women lose their hair

It turns out; women lose their hair differently than men. As women age, their hair follicles shrink; leading to hair that is literally thinner, according to Web MD. Female hair loss may also be caused by other factors, such as slower hair growth, brittle hair shafts, changes in estrogen levels, thyroid levels, and genetic propensity toward hair loss can all lead to a reduction in the thickness and number of hairs on your head. Rather than losing your hair in a large patch, women tend to see thinning throughout their head, and may not even be aware of the problem until it is too late to reverse.

Female hair loss (androgenic alopecia): does it really happen?

Female hair loss is known as androgenic alopecia. Androgen hormones are responsible for hair growth and sex drive in both women and men. Over-production of androgen hormones (common during menopause), can lead to an increase in hair loss in women.

According to a 2009 article published in Harvard Health Publications titled “Treating Female Pattern Hair Loss,” nearly every woman eventually loses some of her hair. Surprisingly enough, hair loss can start any time after puberty for most women. The majority of women, however, do not notice thinning hair until around menopause, because that is when hair loss increases.

The life cycle of hair and it's role in androgenic alopecia

According to the 2009 Harvard Health Publications article, hair has three stages of life.  Hair grows from follicles on the scalp. In the active growth phase (known as anagen) hair continues to grow for two to seven years. In the transition phase (called catagen), the hair shaft moves toward the surface of the skin in preparation for falling. In the third phase (called telogen), the follicle rests and the hair sheds. This lasts about three months.

Androgenic alopecia occurs when the hair's growing phase (anagen) is shortened, and the time between the shedding of a hair and the growth of a new hair is lengthened (the telogen phase). For most women, follicular miniaturization also occurs at this time, leading to a shorter, thinner hair shaft. These shorter hairs are often clear or grey in color.

Suspected causes of female hair loss

So what causes female hair loss aside from hormones and genetic predisposition? It turns out, there are a lot of things that may contribute to female hair loss.

Low Thyroid

A low thyroid can contribute to hair loss in women. According to a 2000 study published in Arch Intern Med. Conducted by the University of Nebraska , approximately 60 million Americans suffer from low thyroid activity, which is one of the leading causes of hair loss.

Excessive Estrogen

Estrogen is good for women, right? Yes and no. A hormonal balance between estrogen and testosterone in women is necessary to maintain health. A 1991 study conducted by the University of Vienna showed that elevated levels of estrogen in men led to greater hair loss. The same is true for women.

A Combination of Low Iron and Lysine

One study conducted by the University of Portsmouth published in the British Medical Journal in 2002, showed that 90 percent of women who had thinning hair were deficient in both lysine and iron.

Lifestyle factors

A 2012 study conducted by the Case Western Reserve University showed some surprising links for female hair loss. The researchers studied 84 identical female twin pairs and compared their hair loss with each other and the lifestyles they had lived. The study found that lifestyle factors, including divorce, long sleep periods, smoking, higher income, lack of exercise, low caffeine intake, and giving birth to more children led to an increase in female hair loss.

Medical treatment options for female pattern baldness

The medical industry has come up with several ways to combat female hair loss. According to Mary Jane Minkin, MD, Yale clinical professor of obstetrics/gynecology, additional estrogen is often medically prescribed for women suffering from hair loss. However, as noted above, excessive estrogen levels are more likely to lead to an increase in hair loss, which may make the problem worse.

Another popular option, the drug minoxidil (Rogaine), is also prescribed. However, Rogaine has many side effects, which include weight gain, swelling, increased heartbeat, chest pains, and breathing difficulties; according to U.S. National Library of Medicine. Additionally, a 5-year follow up study conducted by Elise A. Olsen, MD and colleagues, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology in 1990; showed that, at best, minoxidil will maintain hair thickness when applied on a regular basis. Hair growth will continue to decline after patients stop applying the medication.

Doctors may also prescribe low-dose steroids or the drug metformin, used to treat type 2 diabetes.

As a last resort, hair transplantation is an option. 90 percent of hair transplantation today uses follicular unit transplantation. In FUT, doctors remove a small piece of the scalp and divide it into tiny grafts. These grafts are then spread throughout the hair to help spread the natural growth of hair and give the hairline a more natural appearance.

Natural help for female hair loss

Since most medical options provide sketchy results at best, how can women avoid losing their hair? Luckily, natural options can be effective at slowing hair loss and improving the quality of the hair that remains on your head.

Remove stress

The increase of stress in a woman's life can lead to the increase of the male hormone androgen in the body, says Dr. Christiane Northrup, author of the book “The Secret Pleasures of Menopause.” Androgen leads to hair loss on the head and causes it to grow on the face. You can lower your stress levels with activities such as: 

Activate the thyroid

Since a sluggish thyroid is one of the biggest causes of hair loss, stimulating the thyroid is important for maintaining healthy hair. There are surprisingly few studies researching ways to boost the thyroid naturally. However, some health professionals have suggested that reducing gluten in your diet, avoiding omega-6 acids (commonly found in vegetable oils), exercising regularly, and consuming healthy salt sources (such as mineral-rich sea salts), can help improve thyroid function.

Take hair-boosting supplements

Certain supplements have been shown to improve hair quality and reduce hair loss. Several studies, including one from the The Morzak Clinic in Puerto Rico published by J Drugs Dermatol in 2010, shown that both Saw palmetto and beta-sitosterol can help stop the progress of androgenetic alopecia. Dermatologist Dr. Melissa Piliang also suggests taking the following supplements:

Preventative supplements for female hair loss
  • Beta-sitosterol
  • Saw palmetto
  • Zinc
  • Iron
  • Vitamin D
  • B-vitamins (B6, B12, B7, and B3)
  • Fish oil

Prevent female hair loss

One trouble with female hair loss is that by the time most women notice, it may already be too late to save the hair. To avoid this, take the following precautions:

Watch out for early signs of loss: If you seem to lose over 100 hairs per day, you may be at risk for androgenic alopecia.

Eat for hair health: You can ensure your hair is healthy and strong by eating for hair strength. Foods rich in the vitamins outlined above will help keep your skin, nails, and hair strong. B vitamins, are particularly helpful in hair strength, and are found in animal products. If you don't want to eat a lot of protein, you can take a fish oil supplement to help fill in any nutritional gaps. Green tea extract supplements are also beneficial.

Care for your hair: Wearing your hair pulled back from your head at all times can cause breakage. Wear relaxed styles to prevent unwanted hair breakage and extend the life of your existing strands. Avoid excessive blow-drying and dyeing, which can lead to hair damage.

The psychological impact of female hair loss

If you are suffering from female hair loss, the psychological impact can be even greater than what men face. While most people accept a bald man, women are supposed to maintain a full head of hair. Common psychological effects in women manifest as loss of confidence, low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and social withdrawal, according to the article, “Psychological Aspects of Balding” written by Dr. Robert M. Bernstein.

Luckily, there are treatment options for women. If you feel like your hair loss is impacting your lifestyle and overall health, it can be helpful to speak with a health professional about the issue. The best way to avoid dealing with the psychological impact of female hair loss is by preventing as much of the process from happening as possible. Keep your thyroid functioning properly, keep stress levels low, and supplement your diet with hair-healthy foods. This is the best strategy for reducing the amount of hair loss you see on your head.

Sources


http://www.webmd.com/beauty/aging/does-your-hair-make-you-look-old

http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/Harvard_Womens_Health_Watch/2009/June/Treating-female-pattern-hair-loss

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10695693

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