Hair loss or alopecia is a state of distress and panic for us. No matter what, hair loss is a big deal! It occurs when our body (particularly our scalp) loses more hair than it replenishes. Typically, losing about 50-100 strands of hair in a day is a pretty normal thing. But when we shed hair that is way more than this number, it becomes a cause of concern. Hair fall can occur due to several reasons, but genetics, traumas, pregnancy, and hormonal influences are the most common causes of hair loss. You might not think of hormones twice a day, but you should know they work to keep you healthy every second of every day. However, these very hormones can wreak havoc on your hair if they decide to go bananas.
Before we read about the pathology behind hair loss as a result of hormonal imbalance, let’s dig a little deeper into the normal growth and shedding cycle of our hair follicles. The normal hair cycle Hair does not grow randomly. Each hair strand grows by following a distinct pattern, also known as the hair cycle. Our hair follicles grow through the following stages:
- Anagen: the phase during which active hair growth takes place. It lasts for about 3-5 years.
- Catagen, or transition phase, is the one between the first and third phases and lasts for about 10 days. While the growth has slowed down, it still does occur. No hair is being shed in this phase.
- The telogen phase is the dormant stage during which hair is in its dormant stage (does not shed in this phase too), even though active growth does not take place.
- The Exogen phase is the ultimate phase in the hair cycle, during which hair sheds off your scalp. On average, we shed about 50-100 hair in Any disruption in this cycle can cause hair loss, which can either be due to diminished follicle growth, or accelerated shedding. A major factor that contributes to disturbing the hair cycle is hormonal imbalance.
Which hormones can cause your hair to fall off your scalp?
Many hormones in your body have the ability to affect your hair cycle, be it directly or indirectly. The symptoms of hormonal hair loss significantly differ from other forms of hair loss and can be anything from a receding hairline, baldness (in patches), to thinning of hair.
Hormones involved in causing hair fall are:
- Androgens, or sex hormones, are produced from both the male and female gonads. The level of androgens is higher in males as compared to females. DHT, or dihydrotestosterone, is the primary androgen and is the active form of the male sex hormone, testosterone. Human hair follicles contain androgen receptors, and it has a definite effect on hair growth as well as shedding. Androgen can stimulate hair growth in certain regions including the axilla, chest, and pubis. On the other hand, hair follicles present on the scalp are inhibited by the action of androgens.
- Estrogen and Progesterone- These are the primary female sex hormones. Estrogen can affect the metabolism of testosterone by (inhibiting its conversion to estrogen, while progesterone decreases the overall level of DHT and decreases the amount of hair loss. A decrease in the level of both estrogen and progesterone (which occurs post-partum, during menopause, or other hormonal disorders like PCOS/PCOD) can cause hair loss.
- Cortisol, or the stress hormone, is a hormone released by your body under extreme physical and psychological stress. High cortisol levels can decrease the level of two important regulators of hair growth- hyaluronan and proteoglycans. It can cause a particular form of hair loss, also known as telogen effluvium.
- Melatonin or the sleep hormone is what your body produces to regulate its sleep-wake cycle or circadian rhythm. The level of melatonin increases while you sleep, and it plays an important role in the repair and regeneration of your body by reducing oxidative damage. Working by the same mechanism, it protects hair against oxidative damage, thus preventing hair fall.
- Prolactin is a hormone that increases during pregnancy. It stimulates the growth of mammary glands, thus is associated with milk production. It has a great influence on hair growth by increasing the level of free testosterone and decreasing the level of DHT.
- Galanin is a neurotransmitter that shortens the anagen phase, decreases keratin production, and inhibits follicle elongation. So overall, it has an inhibitory effect on the hair cycle.
Is hormonal hair loss reversible?
Fortunately, when you get a timely diagnosis of any kind of hair fall, it is completely reversible. After a consultation with your trichologist, you can consider the following
supplements for hair loss:
Vitamin B12 is an important member of the Vitamin B family, which is available in two active forms- methylcobalamin and 5-deoxyadenosylcobalamin. It plays an active role in proliferating hair follicles by increasing DNA synthesis. Vitamin B12 is also very important to increase the synthesis of red blood cells.
Fish Oil- fish oil contains Omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential fatty acids that cannot be produced by our body (thus need supplementation). In addition to increasing hair growth, it can also control dandruff and scalp inflammation. Zinc- Zinc deficiency is an established cause of hair loss. Dietary sources of zinc include fish and meat. On the other hand, zinc supplements have been proven to improve hair growth in a period of twelve weeks. Beta-Sitosterol- It is supposed to prevent hair loss by decreasing the amount of DHT in the body, and can improve hair loss by almost 60%!