Has your brush suddenly become clogged with what seems like hundreds of new strands of precious hair? Or perhaps you’re noticing your once auburn locks are peppered with graying wisps?
While these are often innocuous changes (after all, most people normally shed 50 to 100 hairs a day and Caucasians and Asians tend to go gray in their 30s) there can sometimes be a more worrisome cause.
From nutritional deficiencies to hormonal imbalances, discover why your hair doesn’t look as good as it used to.
1. Iron Deficiency
An iron deficiency doesn’t just cause fatigue and dizziness – it’s also closely linked to hair loss, according to a review of 40 years of research.
When iron deficiency progresses into anemia, it sends the body into survival mode, channeling oxygen to support vital functions instead of using it to keep the hair on your head!
Those suffering hair loss due to iron deficiency will be pleased to know that treatment for hair loss is enhanced when iron deficiency is addressed.
Wondering if you’re deficient in iron? Here are 18 warning signs you should be looking out for.
2. A Lack of Other Vitamins and Minerals
A lack of many other nutrients in the diet can lead to an unhealthy mane. Again, this is because hair is a non-essential tissue so more important organs and tissues get their pick of the nutrients first, before the leftovers get to the hair.
If you have less than ideal levels of many vitamins and minerals, it may show on your hair. Low levels of Vitamin C can lead to dry and lackluster locks, while premature graying suggests that you might have suboptimal levels of Vitamin B12 and folic acid.
But any vitamin deficiency can cause hair loss. Vitamins A, B, C, D and E are all important to help keep your hair in good shape, as are trace minerals such as selenium, copper, zinc and magnesium.
Eat a well-balanced diet and you should meet all your nutrient needs. High-quality supplements can also be used if you feel you need a boost. One thing to note is that you may not see the result of a poor diet until the end of a typical three-year hair growth cycle, although you can be sure that it is causing damage. So even when you improve your diet be patient, your hair will thank you for it in the long run.
3. Not Enough Good Fats
While many people shy away from fatty foods, sources of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids are vital for healthy hair and skin as well as for overall vitality and longevity.
A dry and flaky scalp or splitting hairs can often signal a lack of these good dietary fats – which work to lock moisture into the skin and hair cells, keeping them supple and youthful.
Dietary fats also help your body absorb the key fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) which are important for hair health.
For shiny, nourished locks make sure to eat sources of essential fats daily – like oily fish, avocados, olive oil, nuts and seeds.
4. Lack of Protein
Hair is made up of a protein called keratin, which means that adequate dietary protein is needed to encourage hair grow.
Hair that won’t grow, or that is brittle and breaks easily, could be down to a lack of high-quality protein. You may also notice that you have shorter layers on the top of your head, caused by the breaking of new hairs which aren’t strong enough to withstand heat and chemical treatments.
Aim to eat protein at every meal. Good sources include beans, lentils, fish, organic grass-fed meat, eggs from pasture-fed hens, and nuts and seeds.
Given that our body consists of around 60 to 65% water, it’s hardly surprising to learn that dehydration can cause us to look and feel less than our best.
Very weak and damaged hair or excessive shedding can be a sign that you need to incorporate more water into your daily regimen.
Exactly how much water do you need? Now that the old ‘8 glasses of water a day’ rule is believed to be without any scientific basis, there’s a much easier way to measure your hydration levels – check the color of your urine. A light straw color is what you’re aiming for.
6. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) affects between 1 in 10 and 1 in 20 women of childbearing age.
Women with PCOS have an hormonal imbalance which leads to issues like ovarian cysts, acne, weight gain, irregular menstrual periods and – in terms of hair – an increase in growth on the face and body (hirsutism) and thinning or receding hair on the head.
If these symptoms sound familiar, consult your doctor for further testing.
7. Thyroid Issues
An underactive thyroid, also known as hypothyroidism, is a condition where the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough hormones, causing the metabolism to slow. Hypothyroidism leads to sudden weight gain, fatigue and feeling cold.
This condition can also affect the hair by causing it to become extremely brittle or to fall out, with even a mild change in the thyroid hormones causing a noticeable difference.
Limp, fine and dry hair can also indicate your thyroid is operating at suboptimal levels. While you may feel your hair is thinning due to hair loss, it can actually be due to a change in the hair’s texture – where the individual strands become fine and weak.
A simple blood test can determine if you’re suffering from hypothyroidism.
8. Pregnancy or Menopause
If you notice changes in your hair that can’t be explained by other causes, consider if you could be pregnant or going through menopause.
Pregnancy brings a great deal of hormonal changes to a woman’s body. High estrogen levels cause greater hair growth – leading to thicker hair; but they can also slow down the loss of old, worn out hairs, leading to frizzy or out of control locks.
Expectant mothers may also find that their oil-producing glands either speed up or slow down production, causing normally straight hair to become wavy or previously dry hair to become oily. Thankfully, these changes are only temporary and will subside after birth.
Menopause almost always affects the hair with estrogen again at play – this time levels fall, while the levels of male hormones increase. This variation in hormones can lead to thinning strands of hair – giving an overall appearance of hair loss – or a recession at the frontal hairline and temples (similar to the early stages of male pattern balding). Excess facial and body hair can also result.
Old wives’ tales tell us that stress can cause our hair to go gray prematurely, or to fall out altogether! While most scientists maintain early graying is usually down to genetics, some researchers now believe that hormones produced under stress can block the signal that tells the follicle to absorb melanin – leading to gray strands.
In certain cases, stress can also lead to the hair falling out. Short-term, everyday stress won’t cause you to lose your locks but significant physiological stress that may be brought on by diet, medical or lifestyle changes can. This includes things like a strict low-calorie diet, severe illness, major surgery or changes in sleeping patterns.
Of course, you might literally be pulling your hair out from stress – a compulsive disorder known as trichotillomania. Therapy and/or learning to manage stress in healthy ways is the only solution.
Stress can affect the hair in other ways too – it uses up the body’s stores of vitamins and minerals. Thankfully, all the signs of poor hair health due to mineral deficiencies can be stopped or reversed by addressing the stressor and eating a healthy diet.
10. Autoimmune Disorders
Scaly patches along the hairline and on the scalp can indicate psoriasis – a common autoimmune condition that occurs when the turnover and growth of skin cells is accelerated. It can sometimes be confused with dandruff, although an anti-dandruff shampoo certainly won’t cure this condition.
Psoriasis often occurs along with other autoimmune diseases like Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis so it’s wise to be vigilant if you notice a thick crust on your scalp.
Another autoimmune disorder, alopecia areata, causes the hair to fall out in round patches.
11. Poor Sleep
Sleep is vital to allow the body to repair and regenerate its cells – including hair cells.
Changing sleep patterns, or poor sleep, can exacerbate many of the conditions that lead to unhealthy hair in the first place. For example, immune function, hormone levels and stress levels are all thrown off balance by inadequate levels of sleep.
What’s more, people who are sleep deprived have been shown to be hungrier and crave junk foods like carbs, candy and salty foods – meaning they’re almost certainly lacking in the vitamins and minerals essential for healthy hair.
If you’re struggling to nod off at night, see if these natural sleep remedies can help.
While there are a number of reasons for a change in the texture or color of your hair, sometimes it can indicate only one thing: you’re pushing on!
Typically, white people start going gray in their mid-30s, Asians in their late 30s, and African-Americans in their mid-40s. By the time they turn 50, 50% of all people have a significant amount of gray hair. You’re only considered to be prematurely gray if your hair loses its pigment by age 20 if you’re white or before 30 if you’re African-American.
As you age, your hair also loses some of its elasticity causing it to become brittle, while naturally falling levels of hormones can lead to thinning hair or hair loss. In addition, oil glands shrink over time and they don’t produce oil efficiently leading to dryer hair.