Understanding Hair Loss: Types and Treatment

Hair loss is one of the most annoying conditions out there. It is not exactly clear what causes hair loss to occur, although scientists have linked certain hair conditions to things like our diet, hormonal changes, stress and so on. Let’s have a closer look at some of the possible causes of hair loss.

Hair Growth and Types of Hair Loss

In order to understand why hair loss occurs we have to know what hair is and how it grows. In very simple terms, your hair is a structure made up of old keratin cells that have been pushed out of the hair follicle. You see, hair growth happens when hair follicles (which are present everywhere on our skin) produce new keratin, thus pushing older cells outwards. According to webmd.com under normal conditions hair grows at the rate of about 5-6 inches per year.

Now, just like all complex structures that produce something, hair follicles have several operating stages:

  • The anagen stage in which active hair growth occurs. This stage can last anywhere between 1.5 to 6 years.
  • The catagen stage – this is a transitional stage which only lasts for several weeks.
  • The telogen stage – during this period your scalp/hair follicles rest and stop producing new cells. This stage will typically last about 2-3 months after which old hair is shed and new growth begins.

Normally, at any given time, most of your hair follicles are in the growth stage, while a small percentage (about 10%) are either slowing down or resting.

Brush with hairThere are many different types of hair loss and most of these conditions have something to do with interrupted/disturbed hair growth cycles. Below are two of the most common hair loss types in adults:

Androgenic alopecia: This condition is better known as male/female pattern baldness. Male pattern baldness can occur as early as mid to late 20’s, while women normally experience pattern baldness around the age of 40. This condition is thought to be almost entirely genetic.

Male pattern baldness is normally described as a receding frontal hairline as well as thinning hair around the crown. Female pattern baldness tends to happen over the entire scalp and is especially apparent around the crown.

Telogen effluvium: People with this condition experience gradual hair shedding and thinning as a result of a very large number of hair follicles entering the telogen (resting) phase all at once.

Causes of Hair Loss and Possible Treatment Options

As I’ve already mentioned, scientists don’t know exactly what causes hair loss to occur. In most cases this annoying condition seems to be a combination of factors like hormonal imbalance, extreme stress, poor diet, use of certain medications and even our genes. Let’s look at all of these in more detail.

Diet and nutrition: While scientists find it very hard to distinguish exactly what dietary habits can lead to hair loss, it makes sense to assume that diet is extremely important. Think about it – what we eat can have a tremendous effect on our health in so many ways, there’s no doubt that it affects hair growth, too.

Strangely, most people report that changing up their diet doesn’t seem to stop or even slow down hair loss. I think that this happens because our diet has an indirect effect on how well our hair grows, because foods influence our hormones, and hormones are definitely linked to various hair conditions! What this means is that perhaps some cases of hair loss can be prevented by eating better and healthier. Once your body gets to the point of a serious hormonal imbalance, simple dietary changes won’t be enough to fix things.

Another reason why I believe that nutrition is extremely important is because it affects our stress levels. This has got to do with hormones (mostly). Basically, extreme stress causes hair loss – that’s a fact! Eating a balanced diet helps to stabilise hormones, which in turn helps to reduce daily stress and protects us from severe mood swings, overeating and so on (most of these problems are caused by blood sugar fluctuations).

Malnutrition: If you suffer from a serious eating disorder or follow a very specific, strict diet, you may develop hair loss as a result. This happens due to malnutrition – your body gets deprived of essential minerals and nutrients which leads to loss of energy and various problems with nails, skin and hair.

Iron deficiency: I chose to put this specific deficiency into its own category because it is very common and has been linked to severe hair loss in many people. Now, the only way to find out whether you have a deficiency is to get proper blood work done. Never take supplements without a recommendation from a qualified nutritionist/dermatologist/physician.

Stress and anxiety: Normally, only extremely traumatic events and severe anxiety lead to hair loss. Most people assume that just because they are feeling under a lot of stress at work/home, they may experience hair loss. That’s not correct – stress induced hair loss happens due to emotional abuse and serious psychological conditions that cause extreme anxiety. Most of the time stress induced hair thinning is temporary and should be treated by addressing the cause of your stress/anxiety issues.

Medications: Many types of drugs can lead to hair loss, including all kinds of cancer treatments, birth control pills, acne pills/creams (that contain vitamin A), cholesterol reducing drugs, various blood thinners, depression medication and so on. If you believe that you are suffering from drug induced hair loss or thinning, ask your doctor for advice and to recommend an alternative treatment option.

Hormones: Both male and female pattern baldness are caused by a testosterone hormone known as DHT. When hair follicles become too sensitive to this hormone, they begin to die out. Treatment normally includes DHT blockers, although some natural remedies may also be effective in treating this type of hair loss.

Now, remember that often the reason for hair loss isn’t very easy to diagnose. The best way to accurately diagnose what’s causing hair loss is:

  • Get a proper blood test done to check for hormonal imbalance and/or deficiencies. If your results come back normal, great. Remember that things like starting/stopping a course of birth control pills can cause very strong temporary hormonal changes which may also lead to hair loss but often don’t show up during blood tests.
  • Next, think over the last couple years of your life and try to identify events that may have triggered stress-induced hair loss. Remember that stress can be both mental and physical, so don’t forget to include things like giving birth, dealing with serious sports trauma, exercising more than normal in preparation for a sports event/competition, serious illness, divorce, etc. Remember that stress induced hair loss is usually temporary.
  • If you can’t find any possible reasons for hair loss, then you are probably suffering from Androgenic alopecia (DHT sensitivity which I described earlier). This condition is currently impossible to treat, although there are ways to manage it.
  • That’s it. Serious hair loss issues can be very difficult to deal with and I cannot stress enough how important it is to get an accurate diagnosis done early on. Good luck and please share your tips/stories with other readers!