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What Your Hair Says About Your Health

what your hair says about your health

Hair as a Health Indicator

The condition of your hair can provide insightful clues about your overall health. When there are noticeable changes in hair texture, thickness, or growth patterns, it may point towards underlying health issues. While natural variations are normal, excessive hair loss, thinning, or structural changes in your hair warrant attention.

Paying close attention to your hair and scalp can serve as an early warning system for health conditions that may require medical intervention. Regular observation helps you maintain your hair’s appearance but more importantly, your health. If you notice unusual changes, consulting a healthcare professional promptly can significantly improve your health outcomes. Most medical disorders related to hair result in either hair loss or excessive hair growth.

Iron Deficiency and Hair Loss

Iron deficiency, commonly known as anaemia, directly affects your hair health. This condition occurs when your body doesn’t have enough iron to produce haemoglobin, a protein in your red blood cells essential for transporting oxygen. Insufficient oxygen supply to hair follicles disrupts their growth cycle, resulting in hair loss.

Symptoms of Iron Deficiency:

  • Fatigue
  • Pale skin
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness

Impact on Hair:

Patients with iron deficiency often notice their hair becoming brittle and falling out more easily.

Common Causes of Iron Deficiency Hair Loss:

  • Limited iron intake from diets such as vegetarian or vegan plans
  • Increased iron loss due to heavy menstrual periods

Diagnosing Iron Deficiency:

A simple blood test can measure your iron levels. If hair loss is a concern and you suspect iron deficiency, seeking medical advice for a blood test is recommended.

Treating Iron Deficiency Hair Loss:

Dietary Changes: Introduce iron-rich foods into your diet, including red meat, beans, and leafy greens. This NHS webpage has good information about Iron.

Iron Supplements: Under medical guidance, iron supplements can help replenish iron levels effectively, though they must be used cautiously to prevent iron overload.

Thyroid Disorders and Hair Changes

Thyroid disorders can cause significant alterations in hair texture and growth due to the gland’s role in regulating your metabolism. An underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) or an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) can each affect the hair in distinct ways.

Hypothyroidism (Underactive Thyroid):

This condition slows down your metabolism, which can lead to dry, coarse, and brittle hair. Hypothyroidism may also cause the loss of the outer third of your eyebrows, a distinctive symptom that often prompts patients to seek medical advice.

Symptoms of Hypothyroidism:

  • Dry, coarse, and brittle hair
  • Loss of the outer third of the eyebrows
  • Vertical ridges on nails
  • Fatigue
  • Weight gain

Hyperthyroidism (Overactive Thyroid):

In contrast, hyperthyroidism speeds up your metabolism, which can result in a fine hair texture and thinning hair. These changes are due to the accelerated life cycle of hair follicles under increased thyroid activity.

Symptoms of Hyperthyroidism:

  • Fine, thinning hair
  • Weight loss
  • Increased heart rate
  • Anxiety

Diagnosing Thyroid Disorders:

Thyroid function is typically assessed with a blood test that measures levels of Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) and thyroid hormones. Abnormal levels may suggest the need for further evaluation by an endocrinologist.

Treating Thyroid-Related Hair Changes:

Medications: Specific medications can regulate thyroid hormone levels, helping restore normal hair growth and texture over time.

Regular Monitoring: Managing thyroid disorders requires ongoing assessment by healthcare professionals to ensure hormone levels remain balanced and symptoms are controlled.

Other Potential Causes of Hair Changes

Apart from iron deficiency and thyroid disorders, various other factors can contribute to changes in your hair’s appearance and health. Understanding these can help you identify potential issues early and seek appropriate treatment.

Autoimmune Conditions

Alopecia Areata: Causes sudden, patchy hair loss as the immune system attacks hair follicles.

Lupus: This can lead to hair loss and scalp lesions, often accompanied by a butterfly rash on the face.

Hormonal Shifts

Significant hormonal changes due to pregnancy, menopause, or stopping birth control pills can cause temporary alterations in hair growth patterns. These changes are usually reversible and normalise over time. In the case of conditions such as excessive hair-causing PCOS, permanent hair reduction using a laser to remove hair might be your best course of action.

Nutritional Deficiencies

Not getting enough essential nutrients like protein, zinc, and vitamins B12, D, and A can adversely affect hair health. Ensuring a balanced diet rich in these nutrients can prevent and reverse hair damage. If you do have hair problems then the following list might help pinpoint the root cause.

  • Vitamin D: Deficiency can lead to hair thinning and brittleness.
  • Vitamin A: Both deficiency and excess can cause hair to become dry and brittle.
  • Biotin (Vitamin B7): Deficiency can lead to thinning hair and brittle nails.
  • Protein: Insufficient intake can cause hair to become weak and prone to breaking.
  • Zinc: Deficiency can lead to hair thinning and breakage.
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Deficiency can result in dry, brittle hair and scalp issues.

Medications and Medical Treatments

Certain medications, including chemotherapy, blood thinners, and beta-blockers, can lead to hair loss as a side effect. Discussing alternative medications or treatment options with your healthcare provider may help mitigate this issue.

Stress and Illness

Physical or emotional stress, as well as recent illnesses, can lead to a temporary condition known as telogen effluvium, where hair may shed significantly. Managing stress and recovering health should help your hair return to its normal cycle.

External Factors

Chlorine: Frequent exposure (e.g., from swimming pools) can strip hair of natural oils, making it dry and brittle. Try to reduce exposure by using techniques such as pre-wetting your hair, applying protective oils, and using a swim cap.

Hair Dyes and Bleaching Agents: Can weaken hair structure, leading to breakage and dryness. To mitigate, reduce use, apply conditioners, and avoid overlapping treatments.

Excessive Heat Styling: Regular use of hair dryers, curling irons, and straighteners can damage hair, causing it to become dry and brittle. If you do use heat styling a lot, try turning the heat down and consider heat protectant sprays.

When to See a Doctor

Noticing unusual hair loss? It might be time to consult a healthcare professional. Here are some signs that suggest you should consider seeing a doctor:

  • Sudden Increase in Hair Shedding: If you’re finding more hair than usual on your pillow, in your hairbrush, or in the shower drain, it could be a sign of an underlying issue.
  • Noticeable Bald Patches or Thinning: Seeing distinct spots where hair has stopped growing or overall thinning that’s hard to miss? This could indicate a health problem that needs attention.
  • Hair Loss Accompanied by Other Symptoms: If your hair loss occurs with other symptoms like fatigue, unexplained weight changes, or skin issues, it’s important to seek medical advice. These could be indicators of a broader health concern.

A healthcare provider can evaluate your symptoms, review your medical history, and conduct tests to determine the cause of your hair changes. Getting a proper diagnosis is essential to address any underlying health issues and receive the appropriate treatment. As with most medical conditions, early intervention could make a big difference.



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