The surprising reason why you are losing your hair
Tonight is night: a good time, no work, no children. Your outfit is on point. You smell good. Your pants fit you perfectly. But then you notice… your hair. Are there less than yesterday? Is there more on your hairbrush? Hmm, something possesses blocked the drain….
Things can get hairy when hair loss takes you by surprise.
What is causing this? In short: a lot of things. Some are known culprits – like genes – and other reasons are a mystery. While you can’t do anything about your genetics, there is something you can do for one of the reasons you might be losing hair. Read on to find out what.
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First of all, how likely is it that I will lose hair?
Androgenic alopecia is the scientific term for common hair loss. If you have it, join the (hair) club: it affects about half of men and women. Caucasians are most affected, followed by Asians and African Americans, then other groups. And in a twisted version of form following function, the incidence approaches age in white males, with 50% affected by age 50. In women, the risk of hair loss increases after menopause.
One strand lasts about two to three years on your head, after which it falls off and is replaced with a new one, in a cycle of several months. We all lose hair on a regular basis, losing up to 100 strands of hair a day – and usually that hair gets replaced over time. But when a hair falls out and is not replaced – or is replaced by a much thinner strand – the hair loss march has started. If this continues, we go bald.
The most common cause of hair loss is hereditary – thank you gramps! For years, the myth has prevailed that the genes for male pattern baldness (which also affects women, albeit differently) are passed from mother to son on his X chromosome. Conventional wisdom has held that men can essentially look at hairstyles ( or lack thereof) on their mother’s side and have a pretty good indication of what they might end up looking like. But doctors now say it’s fairer to blame both of your parents for having thinning hair.
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Here is the surprising reason why you are losing hair
Heredity, hormonal changes, medications, and various health issues are often to blame. But there is another reason that might surprise you.
It’s your thyroid.
The butterfly-shaped gland that sits at the base of your throat is responsible for releasing hormones that control metabolism – governing how your body uses energy. Thyroid hormones regulate vital body functions like breathing, heart rate, body weight, body temperature, your nervous system, and more. Simply put: it’s essential.
Here’s a lesser known fact: thyroid hormones are necessary for the development and maintenance of the hair follicle – which is why so many people with thyroid dysfunction lose their hair. Sometimes the thyroid byproducts or overproduces this hormone – which can wreak havoc on your system – and can impact hair development at the root, affecting hair growth. The result? Thinning or baldness, depending on how your thyroid disease is not diagnosed or treated.
Common autoimmune thyroid conditions such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Graves disease can lead to hair loss. To add insult to injury, hair on other parts of your body can also be affected, like body hair, and yes, eyebrows – along with thyroid dysfunction. This is known as diffuse hair loss and is sometimes the main symptom of hypothyroidism or hypothyroidism.
Here are some excerpts from Dr Joseph Feuerstein, Director of Integrated Medicine at Stamford Hospital and Associate Professor of Medicine at Columbia University:
“Most mainstream doctors aren’t on the lookout for subclinical hypothyroidism – a real condition that affects millions of unsuspecting people. With subclinical hypothyroidism, your thyroid is underactive, but your levels are still within a “normal” range. Your thyroid is struggling to maintain itself and you will start to have symptoms like fatigue, constipation, weight gain, and possibly hair loss. If left untreated, it will become full-blown hypothyroidism. “
The bottom line is that you might have thyroid dysfunction that is not developed enough for your doctor to notice unless they have a more nuanced integrative practice – so be proactive and ask about subclinical hypothyroidism, especially if you are experiencing hair loss!
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But there is good news!
Most cases of thyroid related hair loss are temporary and treatable! Hair loss due to thyroid dysfunction is usually reversed after your thyroid hormone levels stabilize. The less good news? It may take a while – like months, and may be incomplete.
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Here’s what you can do to prevent this from happening in the first place: Get a checkup every year and have your thyroid levels checked so you can quickly spot any irregularities and fix them. Have your doctor check TSH levels with thyroid hormone in case you have a subclinically low thyroid that may later develop into more complete hypothyroidism.
In the meantime, avoid any hair loss by treating the hair you still have as much as possible. Avoid excessive brushing; aggressive coloring products (we are looking at you bleach); and hairstyles that pull tight like slicked cakes. If you feel embarrassed about your thinning hair or bald spots, a cute silk scarf or stylish wig might be something to consider while your hair is growing back. And to live life to the best of your health, don’t miss: This Supplement May Increase Your Cancer Risk, Experts Say.