Reason 1: The Sugar Effect
“The amount of sugar we have in our diet is having an effect on our hair, and hidden sugars in food are part of the problem,” says David. Sugar causes inflammation and leads to white blood cells attacking the cells that produce hair. Excessive sugar can lead to insulin resistance – Finnish studies found women with high sugar diets and insulin resistance had a higher risk of hair loss.
“When a woman has a normal level of insulin, that facilitates the conversion of testosterone back to estrogen,” says trichologist Anthony Pearce. Female hormones promote hair growth while male hormones, like testosterone, can aggravate hair loss and thinning.
What to do: Reduce sugar intake by reading food labels carefully, and if sugar is one of the first three ingredients listed, choose an alternative product, as the sugar content will be too high. Choose products with 15 g of sugar or less per 100 g.
Reason 2: Crash Diets
“If you are 10 to 30 kg overweight, that will bring metabolic disturbance and hair loss,” says Anthony. Similarly, losing weight with a diet that cuts out key food groups is also a factor in thinning hair or hair loss. Hair is made of protein and not getting enough protein can affect hair growth. Similarly, iron and zinc deficiency can be linked to hair loss.
“With crash dieting, you change your diet and three months later you get temporary hair loss because your hair is always three months behind the rest of your body,” says David.
What to do: Eating a balanced diet that follows the Health Promotion Board’s “My Healthy Plate” guide ensures you get enough protein and minerals for healthy hair growth. An iron supplement may help.
Reason 3: Contraception
“Some birth control pills can trigger hair thinning because they have a male hormone influence,” explains David. Diane-35, Yaz and Yasmin have a weaker male hormone effect than some Pills.
What to do: If you are taking the Pill and feel it is affecting your hair, speak to your GP about alternative birth control.
Reason 4: Ongoing Stress
Our body releases a natural substance called nerve growth factor when we are stressed. This causes the nerves around the hair follicle to become agitated and inflamed and leads to diffuse hair loss. “Stress also increases cortisone, a hormone released by the adrenal gland. It has a similar effect to male hormones and so leads to thinning,” says David. “And with extreme stress women can get alopecia areata – circular patches of baldness that crop up quite quickly, within a week of two.”
Last year, scientists at Columbia University Medical Centre in the US found 75 per cent of patients with moderate to severe alopecia areata saw hair regrowth improve after they were treated with a drug called ruxolitinib. The drug identifies the immune cells that cause the inflammation that damages the hair follicles.
What to do: Try these methods to reduce stress, create a restful home and learn from successful people.
Reason 5: Perimenopause and Menopause
Scarring alopecia is a common problem after menopause, with scarring mostly occurring along the front hair line and front sides of the scalp. A loss of female hormones is behind the problem, and leads to white blood cells attacking and scarring hair follicles. “Eyebrows can be affected too. You can’t see scars on the scalp, but you see a little redness around the follicle or a small scale around the follicle,” says David.
What to do: Some women find hormone replacement therapy can help. A specialist may also prescribe an amino acid called tyrosine or recommend steroids to treat scarring alopecia. For those experiencing fluctuating hormones, doctors may also recommend minoxidil, an over-the-counter drug.
Photo: Paul Suesse/Bauer