Hair loss or alopecia can be caused by any number of factors. Hair loss can be hereditary, or caused by conditions such as anaemia (disorder of the blood), illness, stress, fungal infections and thyroid problems, as well as certain medications.
However, strong hair growth is also closely related to our general state of health and also to diet and fitness. A diet devoid of essential vitamins and minerals, especially protein and iron, can cause hair to fall out, become brittle or result in other hair problems.
This article explains the different forms of hair loss and some ways to naturally slow down or treat hair loss.
Types of hair Loss
This form of hair loss is related to hormone levels in the body, and there is a large genetic predisposition.
The cause of hair loss in this condition is a chemical called dihydrotestosterone, or DHT, which is made from androgens (male hormones that all men and women produce) by the action of an enzyme called 5-alpha reductase.
People with a lot of this enzyme make more DHT, which in excess can cause the hair follicles to make thinner and thinner hair, until eventually they pack up completely.
This is a common form of hair loss, where the hairs are diffused, or widely spread out around the scalp and elsewhere on the body.
It is usually caused by a reaction to intense stress on the body's physical or hormonal systems, such as pregnancy or giving birth, or as a reaction to medication.
Fortunately, this condition often gets better over time. Telogen effluvium is a phenomenon related to the growth cycles of hair.
Hair growth cycles alternate between a growth phase (called anagen, which lasts about three years) and a resting phase (telogen, which lasts about three months). During telogen, the hair remains in the follicle until it is pushed out by the growth of a new hair in the anagen phase. At any one time, up to about 15 per cent of hairs are in telogen. But a sudden stress on the body can trigger large numbers of hairs to enter the telogen phase at the same time. Then, about three months later, this large number of hairs will be shed. As the new hairs start to grow out, so the density of hair may thicken again.
This condition is linked to an imbalance in the immune system, where the hair follicles are attacked by white blood cells. The follicles then become very small and hair production slows down dramatically, so there may be no visible hair growth for months and years. However, the hair follicles are not permanently damaged, and in many cases the hair grows back in a few months.
Hair Loss and Diet
Nutrition plays an important part in hair loss, and extreme diets, rapid weight loss or poor nutrition can all result in thinning hair. There are many vitamins and nutrients that your body needs in order to produce healthy hair. If any of these are lacking, your hair shafts can become weak resulting in massive shedding of hair, also known as hair loss. Sometimes, simply altering your diet to include healthy foods can decrease the amount of shedding you experience.
Strong, healthy hair needs:
Hair is comprised mostly of protein. To encourage hair growth, eat a diet rich in protein. This includes dairy produce, nuts and pulses (legumes). Also include sweet potatoes, artichokes, carrots, spinach, broccoli, asparagus and beetroot. Choose apricots, citrus fruits, kiwi fruit, berries and apples. Also eat plenty of oily fish and seafood.
Another important nutrient for hair health is silica; one of the most abundant minerals on earth, and also present in skin hair and nails. Silica has many important functions in the body and clinical trials have shown that silica helps to strengthen and thicken the dermis, and that silica therapy slows hair loss and the rate of graying.
Silica is found in the outer coverings of potatoes, green and red peppers, cucumbers, and also in onions and oats. Bean sprouts are also high in silica.
Vitamin E is important for healthy hair growth, and it increases oxygen uptake, which improves circulation to the scalp. Eat avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil on a regular basis.
If hair loss is due to thyroid dysfunction, eat more foods rich in Vitamin A and iodine. Eat vegetables such as carrots or spinach in unrefined, cold-pressed seed oils such as flax, walnut or pumpkin seed and sea salt. Eat turnips, cabbage, mustard, soy beans, peanuts and pine nuts if there is a deficiency of iodine.
For anaemia, try adding iron-rich foods to your diet, such as egg yolks, dark, leafy green vegetables and lean red meat. Vitamin C improves the absorption of iron. Include a good serving of fruits and vegetables in your diet.
If your hair loss is caused by stress, eat more vitamin-rich foods, concentrating on vitamins C and the B group as these will boost your immunity.
Very fine and easily breakable hair may be caused by a zinc deficiency. Dry hair and an itching, flaky scalp may also be the result of zinc deficiency. Shellfish are good sources of zinc, as are red meat, pumpkin seeds, fish, egg yolks and mushrooms.
Massaging the scalp is another way to optimize hair growth. The kneading pressure increases blood circulation to the hair follicles, conditions the scalp, and boosts the strength of the hair roots. Increased circulation means that the cells of the hair follicle will receive more of the nutrients necessary to optimal hair growth function.
Using oil, such as coconut oil during the scalp massage will help condition the scalp, reducing the occurrence of dandruff and dry skin that can interfere with the hair growth process. Oils also condition the hair shaft and root lessening the chances of brittleness and hair breakage.
Improving the health of your hair and preventing hair loss can be achieved by a few simple steps. By altering your diet to include the proper nutrients, or by supplementing your diet with vitamins, and regulating your intake of high sugar, processed and refined foods (which should be avoided), you can reduce the severity of hair loss and improve your overall health, insha'allah.