Written by Annmarie Cannone, Naturopath. M. Hum Nutr, Grad Dip Naturopathy, B. App Sci (Naturopathic Studies)
Menopause is a time in a woman’s life where many changes occur. These changes are namely hormonal that can in turn, influence our physical and mental wellbeing.
One of the main concerns we hear when a woman is progressing through menopause is hair loss or hair becoming dry and thinned. Hair begins to lack luster, looks damaged and just isn’t as luscious as it used to be and this can become problematic for many women.
Causes of Hair Loss
There are multiple causes for changes in hair growth and it is not definitively known why or how hormonal changes, during menopause in particular, contribute to imbalances in hair health and growth. Other factors that may contribute to issues with hair growth include reduction in sebum (oil) secretion, thyroid dysfunction, nutrient deficiencies, commencement of new medications, stress, genetic influences and the list goes on. It is quite difficult to always pin point only one definitive cause for hair loss and quite frequently, there is more than one factor playing a role, at any given time.
It has been estimated that approximately 38% of women over the age of 70 experience female-pattern hair loss. It tends to particularly affect the central portion of the scalp, sparing the frontal hairline and is characterised by a wider midline part on the crown than on the side of the scalp. Other manifestations of female hair loss include thinning on the lateral scalp.
It is not fully understood how menopausal changes cause the selective targeting of the scalp and there is no proof of a hormonal basis however, studies have indicated that reductions in hair growth are thought to be mainly contributed by a reduction in the anagen phase (growth phase) and regression of scalp hair to finer, vellus hair (finer and lighter hair) due to changes in androgen levels. Although a large proportion of women who suffer hair loss do have hyperandrogenism (excess testosterone), other women don’t display any elevations in testosterone levels and as a result, it is believed low androgen (testosterone) levels also contribute to hair loss however, the mechanism here is not entirely known.
Reductions in progesterone levels as a woman progresses through peri-menopause and menopause has been known to impact androgens and their influence on the sebaceous glands and hair follicles. Androgens can change the type of hair present, leading either to reduction of hair follicles or actually changing the follicle structure and leading to an environment that isn’t conducive to appropriate and healthy hair growth.
There are a multitude of treatment strategies that can be implemented to aid with improved hair growth and reducing the progression of hair loss. As with many treatments, there is no complete guarantee that hair growth will return to its healthy state however, it can at least be improved.
Although our diets may be balanced, as we age, we’re unable to digest and process food as efficiently as we should. As a result of this, we may become nutrient depleted which can in turn, contribute to an inadequate consumption of essential vitamins and minerals.
Quite often our diets contain too many simple and complex carbohydrates and an insufficient amount of protein. Protein is crucial for the growth, development and strength of our hair, skin and nails. Inadequate protein consumption on a daily basis, may contribute to hair loss and when diets become balanced, this hair loss can be reversed.
Bioidentical Hormone Treatment
As the major cause of hair loss is often attributed to imbalances in hormone levels, it is imperative to assess a woman’s hormone status to determine their role with hair loss. Bioidentical hormones are utilised to aid with symptomatic relief of menopausal symptoms, most commonly hot flushes and poor sleep however, they also provide your body with a ‘top up’ of the hormones it has been reliant on for many years. As healthy hair growth takes some time, bioidentical hormone treatment can also take many months to positively influence hair follicle growth. The hormones in particular, which tend to influence hair growth, include testosterone and progesterone.
Vitamins and Minerals
Vitamins and Minerals are crucial for maintaining general health as well as being involved in many biological processes on a daily basis. Certain nutrients are linked with healthy hair growth and these include:
- Zinc: Zinc is an essential mineral and has an influence on cell function and development, hormonal balance as well as aiding in the absorption of other minerals. A zinc deficiency can contribute to hair loss therefore supplementation for 6 months may enhance hair growth. How zinc influences hair growth is believed to be related to its ability to influence protein structures of hair follicles and subsequently, strengthening them.
- Silica: Silica is known as a trace mineral and the body only requires this mineral in very minute amounts. It has a strong role with improving circulation and supporting and strengthening the integrity of blood vessels. As a result of this, it can improve circulation to the scalp thus providing nourishment to the hair follicles. It also has a crucial role for all aspects of connective tissue.
- Biotin: Biotin is a vitamin and is often used interchangeably with B vitamins. It can be manufactured in our digestive system on a daily basis and as a result, it isn’t an essential vitamin that needs to be consumed on a daily basis. Some evidence suggests the role biotin can play by improving hair growth and reducing thinning hair, especially when combined with Zinc supplementation.
- Iron: Iron deficiency should be rare in menopause, due to an absence of periods however, if a woman has experienced heavy periods in the past and an iron deficiency was never treated, it can have a causative role with hair loss. Iron’s main role in the body is to facilitate oxygen transport. If these stores are depleted, it results in reduced oxygen to hair follicles and as a result, hair loss or, reduction in hair integrity can result.
Prior to commencing on supplements, it is crucial to determine nutritional deficiencies and is imperative to consult a healthcare professional prior to supplementation.
Our thyroid governs many aspects of our health including our metabolism, hormone balance, thermogenesis and our moods. When there are imbalances in thyroid health, whether it is under active or over active, if left untreated, can contribute to significant hair loss. The loss can tend to be diffuse and may involve the entire scalp and the hair can appear uniformly sparse. Hair loss associated with thyroid disorders tend to occur after a long period of time, rather than in acute phases and takes months to develop, due to the length of time it takes for hair to grow.
If you’re noticing hair loss, that has become sudden, it is important to always consult your medical professional to ensure your health is fully assessed as in many instances, complex diagnostic testing may be required.