Why Hair Loss is an Early Warning Sign You Should NEVER Ignore (and what to do about it)
This is likely one of the shallowest posts I’ll ever write—it’s about hair. However, what is so shallow about hair? We all know the importance of having a good hair day. It seems from the moment we wake up, look in the mirror and notice that our top bun has left proper, succulent waves and not weird, irregular angles of frizz, that the rest of the day will be infused with magic.
Our hair plays a huge role in who we are and how we see ourselves. When movie characters want to change their identities, the first thing they do is stash themselves in a truck stop bathroom with a box of hair dye and go to town on their manes.
Further, and admittedly sticking to the shallow side of things, I’m often suspicious when every photo of a man on Ok Cupid shows himself wearing a hat—what on earth is he hiding? At any rate, concerns about hair health gets people, namely women, into my office.
Sometimes seemingly shallow, trivial health concerns act as gateways to lifestyle changes and a journey to health and wellbeing. Since our bodies don’t really require hair for survival, hair health, along with sex drive and energy, is one of the first things to decline when we enter into a state of imbalance. It therefore becomes an important initial warning sign that things have gone array with our health
Hair loss is often a concern for many women and men. It’s normal to notice a few strands of hair in the shower—the average woman loses about 50 to 100 strands of hair per day. However, when patches of hair seem to be missing, areas of thinning are present or a reduction in overall hair volume (usually indicated by a decrease in thickness of the pony tail), this can point to possible pathological hair loss.
History and Labs:
When coming in to see your naturopathic doctor, he or she may ask you the following questions:
Do you notice any itchiness or flaking of the scalp? These symptoms could indicate a number of skin conditions of the scalp that contribute to hair loss: seborrheic dermatitis, infection by a fungus called Malassezia furfur that causes dandruff, or psoriasis of the scalp, an autoimmune condition. The ND may diagnose via trial-and-error or perform skin-scraping to rule out a fungal infection. A skin biopsy may be indicated to provide a definitive diagnosis, however this test is invasive.
What do your labs look like? Comprehensive lab work is necessary in patients with hair loss. It’s important to see what iron status is, as well as thyroid health. Low iron or under-functioning thyroid can be the root cause of hair loss as can high androgens, the male sex hormones.
Which medications are you taking? Oral contraceptives can cause a deficiency in vitamins and minerals, such as zinc and B vitamins, that can cause hair loss. Other medications that can cause hair loss include, and or not limited to, blood pressure medications, antidepressants, antibiotics, acne medications, chemotherapeutics agents, immunosuppressants and pain medications. An ND can work with your doctor to decrease your list of medications by addressing the root cause of concerns, if possible, or collaborate in switching medications. This, of course, will only be done in collaboration with the prescribing doctor.
What’s bugging you? Stress can contribute significantly to hair loss. The mechanism of action is varied, but a decrease in circulation to the scalp, protein deficiency and depletion of vitamins used by the adrenal glands, can be possible causes of hair loss. Telogen effluvium is a condition where the body pushes the hair follicles into a “resting phase” so that they no longer grow and produce hair.
This is done because when under stress, the body enters survival mode and does not dedicate precious resources to non-survival entities such as hair health. Alopecia areata an autoimmune condition in which the immune system of the body attacks the hair’s follicles, causing large patches of hair to fall out. This is said to be cause or aggravated by severe stress. Trichotillomania is a mental health condition in which the individual plucks out hair as a self-soothing mechanism.
What are you other symptoms? Weight gain, irregular periods, acne and hair growth on the face can indicate PCOS, which also can cause loss of scalp hair due to higher-than-normal testosterone levels. Men with high testosterone will also experience more hair loss. Digestive symptoms can indicate malabsorption of important fat-soluble vitamins or iron, which can contribute to hair loss if resulting in deficiency.
What hair products do you use? A sensitivity to sulphates and/or other chemical additives to hair products can contribute to hair loss or a decrease in the lustre and overall health of hair follicles.
The naturopathic treatment for hair loss, involves identifying and treating the root cause of symptoms, not the hair loss itself. A potential treatment plan might consist of the following:
Restoring health by replenishing depleted or deficient vitamins and minerals.
Eliminating infection or scalp fungus if necessary.
Managing stress in healthy, constructive ways.
Balancing hormones and the immune system via herbs, supplements and dietary changes.
Nourishing the hair by adding in vitamins that support hair health, such as fish oil. This also involves changing shampoos and conditioners to more natural, sulphate-free forms.
Castor oil hair mask:
Once a week, when my hair starts looking drier and duller, I do a castor oil hair mask and scalp massage. Castor oil is an anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory oil. It has the added benefit of increasing blood flow to the area it is applied to, in this case the scalp, which can increase hair growth. It is also a wonderful moisturizer and nutrient-rich hair supplement. It can help fuse together and moisturize split ends. Performing a self-scalp massage is a great way to increase body love by performing self care and has a grounding effect on the body, which reduces mental-emotional stress.
Apply a liberal amount of castor oil to palms. Rub oil into palms to warm it. Starting at the scalp, work oil into the hair follicles, applying a firm pressure and moving the fingertips in circles. Massage for 5 minutes, moving the oil through the shaft of the hair to the ends. After performing massage, leave oil in hair for at least an hour or overnight.
Finally, shampoo and condition hair as usual to remove oil. Warning: castor oil can stain fabrics so sleep with an old pillowcase and wear an old t-shirt while performing castor oil scalp massages.
Epilogue: If you haven’t noticed, this seemingly shallow subject matter is the perfect segue into talking about a basic naturopathic approach, which involves taking a thorough history, ordering lab work to find the root cause of symptoms and then treating accordingly using non-invasive therapies that aim to treat the cause, not just the symptoms themselves.
Notice how this is vastly different from walking into a supplement store and purchasing a product called “Hair Loss Formula” or some other facsimile. While this formula may replenish some deficient vitamins, it is masking the real cause, which may be PCOS or celiac disease, and delay effective treatment for these conditions. Hopefully this highlights the importance of seeking a professional opinion rather than self-diagnosing and self-prescribing!