A person normally loses about 100 scalp hairs a day. But if you’re losing more, you may notice your hair is thinner, or there are more bald patches. A health problem or medication usually causes a sudden increase in shedding. For example, it can be a sign of thyroid disease, an iron deficiency or sex-hormone changes. It might also be a side effect of some drugs used for cancer treatment.
Many people have hair loss due to stress. That’s because your body has to divert its resources to more important bodily functions when you feel under attack — like fighting off disease or responding to a natural disaster. But significant and prolonged emotional stress can push large hair follicles into the telogen, or resting, phase early, leading to increased shedding and noticeable hair thinning over a few months. Generally, hair growth resumes after the end of this period. In some people, a stress reaction can lead to trichotillomania (trik-OH-till-oh-MAN-uh), an irresistible urge to twist or pull out your hair. It can also contribute to alopecia areata, a condition in which large clumps of hair fall out randomly from the scalp. These bald patches can grow larger over time and may be accompanied by redness, itching or scaly skin.
The genetic material that makes up a person’s 23 pairs of chromosomes. Women have two “X” chromosomes, and men have one “Y” chromosome. These chromosomes determine your biological sex. The genes on these X and Y chromosomes also determine how your hair grows. Your genetics are the strongest predictor of whether you will experience baldness or hair loss. The hereditary pattern of hair loss many men and women suffer from is male or female pattern baldness (MPB or FPB). It usually begins in your 20s or 30s and looks like an M-shaped recession of the hairline. Genetics are believed to be responsible for about 80 percent of all cases of MPB.
Many believe the baldness gene is passed down from the mother’s father to her sons on the X-chromosome. While this is partly true, it is not the whole story. Research suggests that many baldness genes skip generations and affect different siblings differently. It is also possible that a gene mutation causes your body to become more sensitive to the hormone dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which destroys the hair follicles. Laser treatment for hair loss has lately entered the market. According to their claims, frequent laser therapy may enhance the supply of nutrients and blood to your hair. Many of them use medical-grade lasers to stimulate hair follicles. Some features of laser treatment are supported by science, although the body of information is far from full.
Hormones are chemicals that act as messengers within the body and affect almost every cell in the body, including those in the hair follicles. They’re produced by glands in the endocrine system, which includes several glands such as the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, pineal gland, thyroid gland, parathyroid glands and adrenal glands. Hormonal changes, aging and some medical conditions can cause hair loss.
Men and women lose their hair in patterns called male pattern baldness or female pattern thinning, typically along the sides and top of the scalp. It may also occur at the front of the scalp, known as a receding hairline or bald spots. Medications, nutrient deficiencies and hormone imbalances can also cause hair loss. Some drugs, such as lithium, beta-blockers, spironolactone, warfarin, heparin, and levodopa (Atamet, Larodopa, Sinemet), can cause hair loss as a side effect. Vitamin deficiencies such as iron deficiency, vitamin B12 deficiency and zinc deficiency can lead to hair loss.
With a healthy, varied diet, the body will get all the nutrients it needs to operate properly. It includes a good supply of protein, vitamins and minerals. Hair is mainly made of protein, so a diet low in this nutrient can lead to restricted growth and even thinning or patchy baldness. The most common cause of this is a crash or fad diet, which drastically reduces protein intake. Iron deficiency can also restrict hair growth and cause thinning or patchy baldness. Red meat is one of the best sources of iron, but chicken, fish and beans are also high in this nutrient.
Vegetarians can get sufficient iron from legumes such as peas, lentils and mung beans. Copper is another nutrient that’s important for hair health. It helps your hair maintain its natural color. More copper than the daily allowance is found in half a cup of cooked shiitake mushrooms, although it is also present in dark chocolate, oysters, and sesame seeds. The recommended daily omega-3 fatty acids are also important for your hair. Salmon is a great source, but walnuts and flax seeds are also good.
Hair loss caused by a fungal infection, such as ringworm or tinea capitis (skloo-EE-ah-pah-tis), may be prevented using antifungal shampoo and oral medication. The bald patches may sometimes grow back if the condition is treated early. Hair loss from a mental health disorder, such as trichotillomania (trik-OH-toe-MAH-tuh-manee), can be treated with cognitive behavioral therapy or habit reversal training that helps people be more mindful of urges to pull their hair and helps them find other coping mechanisms instead.
A thinning or bald patch can also be a sign of other medical conditions or treatments, such as chemotherapy for cancer, which can shut down hair follicles. This type of hair loss, called anagen effluvium, is temporary, but new hair growth won’t happen as quickly as before the treatment begins. A dermatologist can help you determine what’s causing your hair loss by asking questions about your symptoms, including family history, what you eat and how you style your hair, medications you take and any other changes you’ve noticed. You may need blood tests if your doctor suspects a medical condition, such as lupus or thyroid problems.