Hair Loss in Menopause
123rf.com/ Natalie Board
Hair loss in menopause occurs in approximately 50% of women between the ages of 50 to 60 years old. Early intervention is important, and often the difference in managing the hair loss and needing to take invasive measures. Seeking treatment sooner helps maintain the hair that a woman does have and prevents shrinkage of the hair follicles.
Any woman in menopause can attest to the fact that menopause is a wild ride. Whole-body changes abound affecting a woman’s physical, mental and emotional states. Hair loss is one of the most common menopausal symptoms, yet it is often overlooked. This is likely due to the fact that hair loss may not happen with the more obvious menopausal symptoms; it typically occurs five to 10 years into menopause. This delay often makes hair thinning a confusing symptom. To make it even more frustrating, hair loss is often overlooked or dismissed as a vanity complaint by conventional medical offices.
Hair growth occurs in three phases, including two resting phases and a growth phase. With age, growth phase time decreases, while time spent in the resting phases increases. When age-related changes are combined with hormone-induced changes, hair loss tends to intensify. The most common causes of menopausal hair loss include stress, hormonal imbalances, and vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
Stress should not be underestimated. It can contribute to any health condition and is a common cause of hair loss. Surgery falls into this category, as it is a major stress on the body. It is common for women to experience hair loss two to four months after a stressful life event or surgical procedure. The delay between the stressor and the onset of symptoms can prevent a woman from connecting the dots as to the cause of her hair loss. Women under considerable stress, whether it be physical, emotional or mental, find that hair starts to thin and fall out. Acute stress can literally cause a woman to say her hair is shedding everywhere. Women will describe big clumps of it coming out in the shower, littering the bathroom floor and covering her clothes. Stress-induced hair loss is caused by the overproduction of stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, which flood the system and enhance shedding.
Menopausal hair loss is often the result of a slow decline in hormone levels. Estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, thyroid and adrenal hormones play a role in hair follicle health. Estrogen promotes hair growth in the growth phase, leading to thicker, healthier, faster-growing hair. Progesterone blocks testosterone from shrinking hair follicles and prevents hair from falling out prematurely. Thyroid conditions also will contribute to hair loss; splitting; breakage; and dry, brittle hair.
Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies
Due to agricultural practices, soil quality is deficient in many minerals that are essential for good health. When the soil is deficient, the plants are not able to incorporate them and we are not able to consume them. Some of the most common minerals essential for hair growth include magnesium, zinc, biotin, manganese, iron and selenium. Other important nutrients include B vitamins, including vitamin B12; folic acid; L-lysine; and vitamin D.
Like many aspects of women’s health, hair loss is complicated and requires a comprehensive approach to get results:
- Physical exam.
- Comprehensive laboratory testing—thyroid, sex hormones, vitamin and mineral levels, and adrenal testing.
- Treatment recommendations to encompass hormonal balancing, stress management, and correction of nutrient deficiencies.
- An experienced practitioner who understands the interconnectedness of the condition and will guide you to a healthy head of hair.
When followed, this approach works to stabilize hair loss and promote the growth of new hair over a three- to 12-month period.
In review, hair loss affects a significant number of menopausal women. Hair loss experienced at any point in a woman’s life is nothing less than devastating. Too often, it is perceived as a vanity complaint and not given the attention it deserves. A proactive approach started early on will provide peace of mind immediately, and symptom relief gradually.
Andrea Purcell is a naturopathic medical doctor in Phoenix, where her main focus is on women's health. She is also a best-selling author of Feed Your Cells Cookbook and Over 35 and Pregnant. For more information, visit DrAndreaPurcell.com.