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Condition - Hair Loss

Alopecia

By Nutri People

What is hair loss?

Did you know that the average person loses up to 100 hairs from their scalp every day? This is normal, and in most cases, those hairs actually grow back. The reason for this is that hair grows in cycles. Each cycle consists of a long active growing phase, a transitional phase and a short resting phase. Normally, about 100 scalp hairs reach the end of the resting phase each day. At the end of the resting phase, the hair falls out and the cycle begins again with new hairs emerging to replace the fallen hairs. 

The problem is that many men and some women have an excessive amount of hair going into the resting phase and when this happens, hair loss, also known as alopecia or baldness, may occur.

What are the causes of excessive hair loss?

There can be a number of reasons for excessive hair loss, including: 

  • Hormonal problems. An overactive or underactive thyroid gland may result in hair falling out and can normally be reversed by normalising thyroid hormone levels. Female or male hormone imbalances can also cause hair loss. Women can experience hair loss following a sudden drop in oestrogen levels after discontinuing the birth control pill, after childbirth and after entering the menopause. Low progesterone levels have also been implicated. Male pattern baldness (MPB), also known as androgenetic alopecia, is thought to develop when the male hormone, testosterone, is converted to another hormone called dihydrotestosterone (DHT). An excess of DHT may cause the hair follicles to shrink, resulting in thinner hair and eventually baldness. High levels of DHT are also implicated in prostate enlargement. Other endocrine (hormone) disorders associated with hair loss include insulin resistance, diabetes and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
  • Drugs. Over-the-counter and prescription drugs can result in hair loss as an unwanted side effect, which often stops when the medication is stopped. Examples of drug categories that may cause hair loss include blood thinners, cholesterol-lowering drugs and medications used to treat gout and high blood pressure.
  • Nutritional deficiencies. A suboptimal intake of a number of nutrients is likely to have a negative impact on the health of your hair
  • Physical or severe emotional stress associated with illness or major surgery can result in a sudden loss of a large amount of hair. Chronic (long-term) stress can also cause excessive hair loss.
  • Lupus erythematosus and Alopecia areata. These are examples of autoimmune diseases, whereby a person’s immune system creates antibodies, which, instead of protecting the body from bacteria, viruses and other germs, mistakenly attacks the person’s own body tissues. This can lead to a range of symptoms and, if the hair follicles are attacked, can also result in hair loss. This is what happens in lupus, which is associated with a range of symptoms, including hair loss, in approximately 50% of the sufferers, whereas Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease where the immune attack is directed at the hair follicles only.
  • Hair treatments, including chemical dyes, bleaches, straightening/curling agents and extreme pulling of hair.
  • Other factors, such as heredity, ageing and local skin conditions, including fungal infections of the scalp and rapid weight loss.

Nutritional considerations

  • Green tea. Epigallocatechin-3-gallate, or EGCG, is an antioxidant polyphenol, which may prevent the action of the enzyme 5-alpha-reductase, which is responsible for converting testosterone to DHT. DHT is a more potent form of the male hormone testosterone that is thought to be the major cause of MPB. Green tea is a rich source of EGCG. One study published in the scientific journal Phytomedicine showed that EGCG found in green tea promoted hair growth in cell culture. Another, published in the Journal of the National Medical Association, demonstrated that polyphenols in green tea promote hair regrowth in 33% of the balding mice who receive it in their drinking water.
  • Serenoa repens. The fruits of Serenoa repens are rich in plant sterols (including beta-sitosterol) and free fatty acids including oleic, lauric, linoleic and myristic acids. These have been shown to help keep levels of the enzyme 5-alpha-reductase within a normal, healthy range. People with a lot of 5-alpha-reductase make more DHT. They may also help support anti-inflammatory processes. Inflammation has been shown to be present in MPB. Serenoa repens is commonly known as saw palmetto.
  • Pygeum africanum. This is a large evergreen tree also known as the African plum tree. Its bark is rich in plant sterols (including beta-sitosterol and campesterol), triterpenes and ferulic acid. These substances may help support anti-inflammatory processes and normal levels of male hormone production and may also keep levels of the enzyme 5-alpha-reductase within a normal, healthy range.
  • Phytoestrogens. An exciting study, published in the scientific journal Biology of Reproduction, found that when a substance called daidzein, which is known as an isoflavone (an oestrogen-like chemical or phytoestrogen found in high amounts in fermented soya foods), is acted upon by bacteria in the gut, it produces a molecule called equol, which blocks the hormone DHT. It does this in a unique way by preventing its function rather than blocking its formation. However, not all of us are able to produce equol from daidzein. Fortunately, there is evidence that long-term consumption of soy isoflavones may facilitate equol production in those who are non-producers. Equol producers have been shown to consume significantly greater quantities of green tea and soybeans than non-producers. In another study, the addition of seaweed to soy further increased equol production.
  • MSM (methylsulfonylmethane). This is an organic compound that may help support healthy hair growth.
  • Iron. Iron deficiency with or without anaemia can be a cause of hair loss. A review published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology suggests that iron deficiency may be more closely linked to hair loss than previously thought. The researchers also suggest that whatever the cause of hair loss – for both men and women – having too little iron in the blood can make it worse. Consider having your iron status assessed and any deficiency treated appropriately.
  • Zinc. Studies suggest that low zinc levels may result in an increase in the production of DHT, possibly by affecting the enzyme 5-alpha-reductase
  • Biotin. This is a B vitamin found in a variety of foods, including meat, dairy products and vegetables. Deficiency may result in hair loss and can occur during pregnancy and as a result of a prolonged consumption of raw egg whites, which contain a protein that binds biotin, making it less available to the body. Diabetics, epileptics and the elderly are also at higher risk of a biotin deficiency.
  • Vitamin D. Vitamin D acts on vitamin D receptors, sites within our bodies where vitamin D is able to attach itself and exert its many positive health effects. Vitamin D receptors have been shown to be important for the health of the hair follicle. Mice who lack vitamin D receptors and humans who have defective vitamin D receptors develop hair loss.
  • Lysine. A study at Portsmouth University found that many women with thinning hair are deficient in an amino acid called lysine. Studies also suggest that lysine can enhance the absorption of calcium and reduce its loss in the urine. Low calcium levels in the blood may result in dry, brittle hair and hair loss.
  • Fish oil. Omega 3 fatty acids (including EPA and DHA) may help to support healthy hair growth and the natural production of anti-inflammatory substances. Fish oil is a good source of omega 3 fatty acids. 
  • γ-linolenic acid (GLA) is a fatty acid present in certain oils, including starflower (borage) oil. GLA may help
  • Insulin resistance (or low insulin sensitivity). When you eat, your blood sugar levels rise. Insulin, a hormone made by the pancreas, helps to drive the sugar (glucose) from the blood into the cells, which stops your blood sugar levels from rising too high. The cells use the glucose to produce energy. Some people have a condition known as insulin resistance. This means they don’t use insulin efficiently and require greater amounts of insulin to maintain their blood sugar within normal levels. And according to a study in the journal Lancet, excess insulin may cause MPB in men and women. Interestingly, women who have PCOS suffer from MPB and have high blood insulin levels. People with low blood magnesium levels often have higher insulin and blood sugar levels. Studies have also shown that magnesium may help support normal insulin sensitivity.Alpha-lipoic acid is an antioxidant nutrient that may help support normal insulin sensitivity. A recent study, published in the journal Hypertension,suggests that acetyl-L-carnitine may benefit those with advanced insulin resistance. Chromium may help to maintain normal blood sugar levels. B vitamins are necessary for enzymes that start the reactions that break sugar into energy, and for the cells' efficient response to insulin.
  • Finally, hair loss may be related to chronic stress and adrenal fatigue. The adrenal glands are two small glands that sit over the kidneys and are responsible for secreting many hormones. Stress places a strong demand on the adrenal glands, which respond by producing the stress hormone ‘cortisol’, to enable us to handle the stress. Many nutritionists believe that intense or prolonged stress may gradually weaken the adrenals, which could, in turn, affect the health of your hair. While there are no perfect tests for this condition, an adrenal hormone salivary test may contribute to an assessment. 

Dietary advice

  • Pumpkin seeds. Pumpkin seed oil has also been shown to help keep levels of 5-alpha-reductase within a normal, healthy range. It’s also a good source of zinc and essential fatty acids, which may have a positive impact on the health of your hair.
  • Flax seeds (preferably organic and sprouted). Flax seed is a rich source of lignans. Secoisolariciresinol diglucoside, or SDG, is the main flax seed lignan. According to research, SDG may have beneficial effects for those suffering from androgenetic alopecia by normalising androgen (male hormone) levels.
  • Incorporate turmeric into some of your meals. Turmeric is a spice derived from the rhizome (root) of Curcumalonga. It is rich in polyphenolic compounds, known as curcuminoids, which give turmeric its bright yellow  colour. Curcumin, the principal curcuminoid found in turmeric, may help support anti-inflammatory processes and inhibit 5-alpha-reductase.
  • When preparing foods, grill, bake or stir-fry with extra virgin olive oil.
  • Eliminate fried and processed/refined foods.
  • Hair-friendly foods include fresh fruits, green leafy vegetables, oatmeal, nuts, seeds, sprouts, organic live yoghurt, fresh cheese (avoid excess), free-range eggs, avocado, seaweed, coconut and coconut butter (preferably organic).
  • Include omega 3 fatty acids in your diet. Cold-water, oily fish (sardines, mackerel and salmon) are good sources of both omega 3 fatty acids and vitamin D. Omega 3 fats may also help to reduce the cells’ resistance to insulin. Cold pressed flax seed oil (preferably organic) and walnuts are also good sources of omega 3 fats.
  • Avoid vegetable oils, including margarines and vegetable shortening, and foods that contain trans-fatty acids, including hydrogenated fats and oils (read the food labels).
  • To help maintain blood sugar and insulin levels, eat low-glycaemic-index foods, which simply means eating foods that release their sugar more slowly into your blood stream. This means replacing foods such as sugar, chocolates, cakes, biscuits, pastries, white bread made with refined white flour, white rice and pasta, sweets, starchy vegetables, sugary drinks and fruit juice, with nutrient-dense unprocessed foods including wholegrains, fruits, legumes (beans, peas and lentils), nuts and seeds and non-starchy vegetables. Eat root vegetables (potatoes, carrots and beets) and fruits with other foods, rather than on their own, which will also help to control blood sugar levels. Try to eat small, frequent meals throughout the day and avoid skipping meals, especially breakfast. 

Lifestyle advice

  • Stop smoking. Cadmium is a major constituent of tobacco smoke and research suggests that cadmium exposure can result in an increase in the production of DHT.
  • Exercise regularly. Aerobic exercise decreases the cells' resistance to insulin.
  • Try to avoid using harsh shampoos, which can damage the hair and scalp. Choose a more gentle, natural shampoo, preferably chemical-free. After washing your hair, allow it to air-dry whenever possible and avoid hairstyles that create tension on the hair.
  • Regularly brush your hair with a natural boar bristle brush and comb using a ‘saw-cut’ or wooden comb.
  • Massage the scalp frequently. This helps to relax the scalp and increase blood flow around the hair follicle. Oil massage is also beneficial. Use coconut oil, sesame oil or olive oil and warm the oil slightly before use.
  •  Control stress levels. Practice relaxation techniques (e.g. yoga). 

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