Glenn Ellis

*Hair, like every growing thing, has it’s own ‘cycle of life’. At any given time approximately 90 percent of the hair on your head will be in a ‘growing’ phase and 10 percent will be in a ‘resting’ phase.

The growth phase lasts somewhere between two and six years while the resting phase is estimated to last anywhere from 2 – 3 months. It is after this cycle of growing and resting that a hair will die and be replaced by another new hair from the same follicle. This process begins at about the age of 10 weeks and will continue for most of your adult life – all things being equal. It is natural, therefore, to lose a certain amount of hair every day due to this natural cycle of hair growth.

About 95% of all cases of hair loss is due to what is termed Androgenetic Alopecia (commonly referred to as male pattern baldness as it occurs much more frequently in men than in women, although women can be affected by this trait also). This trait is usually inherited, although the degree to which a person can be affected by it varies from person to person.

Good strong healthy hair is, in part, reflected in the diet that we have. If your diet is lacking in the essential proteins, iron, and amino acids that are required for healthy hair, then it’s only natural that your hair will suffer as a result. This may manifest itself in nothing more than dull, lifeless hair or it may result in more serious damage to the hair and the hair follicle.

Hair loss due to this trait is identifiable from the characteristic pattern of balding that a person will experience. Someone suffering from male pattern baldness will generally start to recede from the temples, the top of the head toward the back, or both. Hair will continue to recede in these areas and often result in a horseshoe type pattern of hair around a persons head. A person is programmed from birth to lose their hair. If hair loss genes are present in a person at birth, then the hair follicles on top of their head will be sensitive to the hormone dihydrotestosterone (DHT) in later life. Typically a male who experiences noticeable hair loss at an early age will tend to progress to more extensive hair loss as they grow older.

Studies into the effects of diet and hair loss have shown that people with diets high in animal fats tend to have higher levels of testosterone released into their bloodstream and, as a result, experience higher rates of hair loss. Additionally high fat diets have also been linked to a decrease in the manufacture by the body of protein binding globulins. These globulins play an important role in neutralizing testosterone in the body until it is needed. A decrease in these globulins means a higher amount of testosterone in the blood that can be turned into hair loss inducing DHT.

So a balanced diet, rich in the right nutrients can ensure that your hair is healthy and strong and able to withstand better any genetically predisposed conditions you may have. It is interesting to observe people living in countries in Asia for example where their diet comprises large intakes of protein and nutritious vitamins and the level of hair loss that occurs in those countries compared to Western countries. The basis for their diets is vegetables, seafood, and rice for example. These items are loaded with vitamins, protein and fatty acids all of which are essential for healthy hair.

Probably the most difficult aspect of suffering from stress is identifying that you are suffering from stress in the first place. The hair and skin are normally the first places to exhibit symptoms of stress and if you are shedding hair more than usual it might be wise to examine your lifestyle and identify if undue stress could be a factor.

An increase in stress levels often manifests itself in an increase in other factors that are detrimental to healthy hair growth such as an increase in smoking, drinking coffee, and eating the wrong kinds of food. These habits go hand in hand and can often escalate if left unchecked.

Like with diet, hair loss is more than likely not the sole result of stress, but stress can certainly play a part – and like dietary deficiencies, stress-induced hair loss is reversible.

Contrary to popular belief, the gene that carries the tendency for hair loss is not inherited solely from the Mother’s bloodline. The gene can also be carried over from the Father’s side of the family. Additionally, just because there may be descendants from either side of the family who have exhibited hair loss, doesn’t necessarily mean that future offspring will also develop the same problem. There are many factors that come into play that determine whether offspring who carry the gene for male pattern baldness will be affected by it.

Illnesses and disease, and the medications prescribed for them, can be a cause of hair loss. As has been discussed earlier, any hormonal imbalance can manifest itself in increased hair loss, so should you discover an increase in hair loss whilst on medication, consult your medical professional. Some medications are known to increase hair loss, such as medications for heart disease, high blood pressure, and arthritis to name a few.

Any kind of a disease can have some secondary effect on the scalp and hair, but some diseases, such as Thyroid disease, are known to have an affect on the hair and to propagate hair loss. A Thyroid test can be done by your medical professional and is nothing more than a simple blood test. Hair loss as a result of Thyroid disease is reversible with correct medication for the Thyroid problem. As many of the symptoms of Thyroid disease are the same for many other ailments (lethargy, weight problems, hair loss, fatigue etc.), it’s best to consult a medical professional if you think your hair loss may be a result of a Thyroid problem – particularly before you think about spending money on any remedial products for your hair loss.

There are supplements and vitamins that can help battle hair loss. Here is a list and what they do:

  • Essential fatty acids such as flaxseed oil, primrose oil and salmon oil – improve hair texture and prevent dry brittle hair
  • Vitamin B complex with Vitamin B3, B5, B6 – are important for the health and growth of hair
  • Biotin – deficiencies have been linked to skin disorders and hair loss
  • Inositol – vital for hair growth
  • Methysulfonyl-Methane (MSM) – Aids with the manufacture of keratin, a protein that is the major component of hair
  • Vitamin C with bioflavonoids – Aids in improving scalp circulation and helps with the antioxidant action in the hair follicles
  • Vitamin E – Increases oxygen uptake, which improves circulation to the scalp and improves health and growth of hair
  • Zinc – Stimulates hair growth by enhancing immune function
  • Coenzyme Q10 – Improves scalp circulation and increases tissue oxygenation
  • Kelp – Needed minerals for proper hair growth
  • Copper – Works with zinc to aid in hair growth
  • Grape seed extract – A powerful antioxidant to protect hair follicles from free radical damage

The bottom line is that no matter how much we think we’ve come in terms of understanding hair loss, there is still much speculation as to its causes. Therefore it is vitally important before you take any kind of remedial action to consult with a medical professional to rule out any disease related causes that you may be unaware.

Remember, I’m not a doctor just sound like one.

Take good care of yourself and live the best life possible!

The information included in this column is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan.

Glenn Ellis,  is a Health Advocacy Communications Specialist. He is the author of Which Doctor?, and is  a health columnist and radio commentator who lectures, and is an active media contributor nationally and internationally on health related topics.

His second book, “Information is the Best Medicine”, is due out in Fall, 2011.

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