Although we expect men to lose their hair as they age, many women suffer hair loss or hair thinning too. It’s a really common symptom in women over 40, whether it's coming out a bit when you brush it, or you're losing clumps of hair in patches over your head.
And hair loss is especially demoralising for women. Many women associate their hair with feeling attractive, and when it starts to fall out, it can be quite daunting.
What types of hair loss are there?
- Androgenetic alopecia – the most common, often referred to as male pattern baldness or female pattern baldness – where thinning occurs primarily at the front and top of the scalp, or a widening parting. Often genetic, mostly occurring in women after menopause.
- Alopecia areata – acute patchy hair loss – this is an autoimmune condition where the immune system attacks the hair follicles. It can come and go.
- Telogen effluvium – where hair falls out usually on brushing or in the shower, and it’s a general pattern all over the scalp.
What causes female hair loss?
- Stress – physical stress (like an accident, trauma, pregnancy, surgery, illness) can cause temporary hair loss. Emotional stress like grief, loneliness, conflict, etc – can exacerbate hair loss. When the body is in survival fight or flight mode, it shuts down any non-essential functions including hair and nail growth.
- Thyroid conditions – hypothyroid conditions causing low thyroid hormones are a common factor in women over 40. Thyroid hormones supply every cell with the energy it needs to do it's job, and that includes hair follicles.
- Auto immune alopecia – caused by the immune system attacking your hair growth – it’s worth working with a professional to identify the root cause of an overactive immune system – likely to be gut related.
- Genetics – if you have a family where hair loss is common, then it’s likely to affect you too.
- Menopause – as oestrogen and progesterone decline at different rates, you can get oestrogen dominance which can suppress your thyroid, and increase cortisol.
- PCOS – an excess of androgens caused by PCOS, women can have thinning hair on their heads but more hair on their face and/or body.
- Dramatic weight loss – sudden and dramatic weight loss can be very stressful for body, and risk malnourishment
- Medications – side effects from some medications can cause hair loss- including NSAIDS like ibuprofen, beta blockers, some anti depressants and steroids. And of course chemotherapy and other medical treatments.
- Nutrient deficiencies;
- Malabsorption – a poor diet, or poor absorption in the gut due to low HCL (stomach acid) or digestive enzymes can stop key nutrients reaching your hair cells.
7 ways to prevent hair loss
- Diet – increase nutrient dense foods into your diet – including protein & healthy fats, vitamins and minerals needed for hair growth. Remove any inflammatory foods that you may be sensitive to; eg sugar, gluten, dairy.
- Get tested to rule out any imbalances
- Sex hormones – check for any imbalances, particularly if you have hormone symptoms
- Thyroid – get a proper thyroid test showing your whole thyroid pathway
- Cortisol – check your stress hormone levels
- Gut – if you have autoimmune alopecia, work with a health practitioner to identify the root cause of your immune response through gut health testing
- Nutrients – eg iron, B12, folate, vitamin D
- Check your medications – discuss potential side effects of your medications with your Doctor.
- Support your digestion – eat more slowly, chew more, include probiotic foods like kefir, live yoghurt, kombucha and saurkraut to support your gut.
- De-stress – make sure you are switching off your stress response every day
- Supplement – with a good multi (with all your B vits and minerals), omega 3 fats, vitamin D3, and if you need it iron, HCL or enzymes, and adrenal support. Always check with your doctor if you are on any medication as there can be interactions.
- Check your hair products and styling routine – make sure your products are toxin-free and don’t overstyle your hair. Be careful of colouring too – chemicals from colour products can be very damaging – go for more natural brands.