Get to the Root of Female Pattern Hair Loss
By Dr. Sasha Blissett
Hair loss from the scalp can be both devastating and terrifying for many women. It can bring feelings of sadness and even depression. For many women, a full head of hair reflects health and mood. During her lifetime, the average woman can spend upwards of fifty thousand dollars and anywhere from two to three hours per week on the care of her hair. As a Naturopathic doctor, I see many women who are concerned about their hair loss and are often baffled by why this may be happening to them. In this article I will describe some reasons why hair loss occurs and will share some new ways to treat the most common type of hair loss in women, female pattern hair loss.
Ying and Yang of Hair Growth and Loss
To best understand hair loss, we need to understand hair growth. There is a naturally occurring pattern of both hair growth and loss that occurs simultaneously, so at any given time, hair at different regions of the scalp will be in different growth phases.
Hair growth happens in three separate phases. The active growth phase (anagen), the transition phase (catagen) and finally the resting phase (telogen). The resting phase happens to be the longest of all the phases, lasting two to six years. It is also the phase where hair loss occurs most often. This fact can make hair loss more obvious and distressing.
There are three distinct types of hair loss. First, non-scarring types which include conditions such as female pattern hair loss or androgenic alopecia. Second, scarring types include hair loss related to radiation, chemotherapy and the use of chemicals. Thirdly, mixed type which includes conditions such as hair picking and hair pulling. Additionally, hypothyroidism, autoimmune diseases, excesses or deficiencies of vitamins and minerals and stress are well known to cause hair loss also. The most appropriate approach depends on the cause of hair loss.
Female Pattern Hair Loss
Not only is androgenic alopecia the most ordinary form of hair loss in older women, but it is also the form I see and treat most often. This form of hair loss is typically gradual and noticed as a widening part of the crown of the scalp. This non-scaring type is sometimes genetic. It is caused by the excessive conversion of testosterone to DHT in the shafts of the hair follicles and is typical of and often inevitable with aging. This increase in concentration of DHT within the follicles leads to their weakening, shrinkage; eventually leading them to wither away and die.
Natural Inhibition of 5-alpha reductase
Naturopathic treatments first focus on reducing DHT levels by blocking its conversion from testosterone in the hair follicles. I do this by limiting the action of the enzyme 5-alpha reductase. Botanicals including Saw palmetto, Trifolium pretense, Rosemary officinalis and the hormone melatonin help by blocking this enzyme. Over the years pharmacy compounded formulations with the above have been effective for my patients. The benefits not only include stimulation of hair follicles and improved hair growth but have the added benefit of not affecting blood pressure or posing a risk of birth defects like popular over the counter treatments. Other mechanisms of hormonal imbalances that negatively influence hair health should also be addressed.
Weeding and Tilling the Soil
When aiming to balance female hormones, it is important to limit exposure from external hormones in conventional meats and dairy products. Increased dietary exposure may contribute to more estrogen and testosterone circulating in the body making them more available for conversion to DHT. Excellent quality sleep is important to normalize hormonal fluctuations also. For instance, poor sleep can cause an increase in cortisol secretion. This can prolong the resting phase of hair follicles leading to further hair loss and reduced hair growth. Another is getting your vitamins, minerals and hormone levels checked if you notice extraordinary hair loss. This anti-androgenic approach should be the foundation to treating the underlying cause.
With age some female pattern hair loss is inevitable as hair follicles weaken by the increased action of DHT. It is important to notice changes in hair growth early on since that is the best time to act. It is also the perfect time to have your hormone levels thoroughly checked. Many women are often hesitant to talk to their doctor about their hair loss because of the attached stigma. I encourage you to reach out to us not only for appropriate testing, but also for less harmful interventions to promote hair growth and to prevent hair loss. As you see, getting to the root of hair loss requires a multi-layered approach that differs from person to person, but with proper testing and an underlying anti-androgen approach we can help you get to the root of it.
Dr. Sasha Blissett is a California State licensed Naturopathic Doctor, who found her passion for naturopathic medicine while battling her own health and skin issues. She specializes in women’s health and takes the time to listen to her patient’s health concerns so she can understand and address the root cause of illnesses. Dr. Blissett is a member of the Association for the Advancement of Restorative Medicine and the Integrative Dermatology Learnskin organizations.