Understanding Hair Loss

The last thing anyone wants to experience is hair loss – particularly women.  Hair loss, also known as alopecia, can be due to a variety of reasons and can be distressful for anyone who has it. 

Recognizing alopecia

Recognizing hair loss is pretty straightforward but there are differences in the signs and symptoms of alopecia:

·         Male pattern hair loss – this is known as androgenetic alopecia and about 60% of people with this type are men.  This is where a person will have thinning or complete loss of hair at the hairline and to of head and is permanent.

·         Female diffuse hair loss – women with hair loss experience a gradual thinning of their hair, especially on top of the head.  The hairline usually stays intact.

·         Alopecia areata – the hair is easily broken or easily removed with one or more round or oval bald patches.

Causes of alopecia

·         Aging

·          Genetics

·         Illness

·         Some medication such as chemotherapy

·         Autoimmune disorder, in the case of alopecia areata

·         Smoking

·         Bariatric surgery

·         Crash dieting, low protein intake, anorexia, chronic iron deficiency

·         Heavy metal toxicity

·         Medication such as beta-blockers, excess vitamin A and anticoagulants

·         Hormonal imbalance such as hypothyroidism

Treatment options for alopecia

There are treatment options available but the success of restoring hair growth depends on the type of alopecia a person has.  If it is a temporary form of alopecia, the hair will grow back without treatment. 

Make an appointment with your doctor or dermatologist to determine which form of alopecia you have and which treatment method to try. 

·         For male pattern baldness – There are a couple of medication options – Minoxidil (Rogaine) or Finasteride (Propecia).   Men may also consider surgery such as hair transplants, scalp reduction, and strip or flap grafts.

·         For women with diffuse hair loss – They can also try Minoxidil (Rogaine) but it usually has to be used indefinitely to keep regrown hair.

·         For alopecia areata – The treatment for this include corticosteroids, an anti-inflammatory drug prescribed for autoimmune diseases.  Corticosteroids are injected into the scalp or given orally as a pill or applied topically as an ointment, cream, or foam.

What about complementary or alternative therapies?

Many people may hesitate on wanting to use prescription medications to treat hair loss and instead look towards a more natural or alternative approach.  Here are a few natural therapies that may help some people but do realize, these therapies have only had slight success for most people.  Always check with your doctor before using these alternative therapies:

·         Nutritional supplements

The B vitamin biotin may promote hair growth in some people.  But unless a person has a biotin deficiency, there is no evidence that this vitamin will help if you are already getting enough of it in your diet.  Biotin is found in Swiss chard, romaine lettuce, carrots, and tomatoes.

There is the possibility that eating more fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids several times a week – salmon, trout, tuna, herring, mackerel – or supplementing with fish oil supplements (ask your doctor for how many milligrams to use) that might help restore some hair growth back.

·         Herbal supplements

Herbal supplements should only be taken under the supervision of your doctor as they can trigger side effects and interactions with medications.  But for some people, they may help to strengthen hair growth.

Saw palmetto and beta-sitosterol appear to help hair growth in men with male pattern baldness.  But saw palmetto may increase the risk of bleeding if on a blood thinner such as Plavix, Coumadin, or aspirin.

·         Massage

Even though probably not likely to stimulate hair growth, massaging the scalp is always worth a try and besides, it just feels really good.  Therapeutic massage increases circulation by helping to bring more blood to the scalp and reduces stress.  Scalp massage using essential oils such as rosemary, lavender, thyme, and cedarwood may help increase circulation.