Why are you really losing your hair?
Are you losing all of your hair in the shower? Do you experience thinning hair? Is your hair dry and prone to breaking?
Hair problems are the most significant symptoms I see across the board among women, with PCOS or not.
And it’s frustrating to say the least.
We associate our locks with beauty and femininity which is why it is such a frustrating symptom to endure.
Losing excessive hair doesn’t just mean losing something physical it is also a very emotional experience.
Many women ask me if I have a favorite fix for hair loss, and though there are supplements that can be effective, we need to dig deeper.
Because hair loss is going to be a symptom of a bigger underlying problem. What may these be?
Read on to learn about some of the major causes of excessive hair loss.
Stress seems to trigger everything… because it does. Chronic stress is a disaster for health, and even more so for PCOS and hair loss. Acute doses of stress are actually healthy, but when they become habitual, this becomes a very big problem. Our body wasn’t designed to sustain high levels of stress over long periods of time. Yet with our busy lifestyles, lack of sleep, toxic overload, poor diet, lack of exercise, etc this is becoming an epidemic. So how does stress contribute to hair loss?
Stress can affect the hair follicle 3 months after the stressful event, which is why many women can trace back stressful events 3 months prior to noticing abnormal hair loss. Chronic high stress drives up cortisol which depletes progesterone and can lead to excess estrogen (read below on estrogen and hair loss). Progesterone is important for healthy hair as it blocks androgens like testosterone and protects the hair follicle. High chronic cortisol drives up inflammation which can lead to worsening of PCOS symptoms such as hair loss. Inflammation can cause oxidative stress, free radical damage, and hormonal imbalances that can break down collagen and hair follicles.
What to do? Manage your stress! We can’t eliminate stress but we can create boundaries, we can say no, we can prioritize, and we can make decisions everyday in order to respect our self care. 7-9 hours of sleep and adding more fun and play into your day is a great place to start!
Its common to see hair loss post partum as estrogen levels rise during pregnancy and dramatically fall post birth which can cause hair loss. Estrogen can have protective effects on hair against testosterone and can prolong the hair growth phase.
But the opposite is also true; too much estrogen can also lead to hair loss.
This is because too much estrogens can result in low progesterone - which helps protect the hair follicle and may act as an aromatase inhibitor (blocking the conversion to DHT).
What to do? Avoid plastics, clean up your beauty and body care products (use ewg.org database to rate your products), ditch the birth control pill (it shuts down your own hormones, triggers insulin resistance, promotes inflammation, and contributes to excess estrogen), avoid non organic animal products, increase your intake of leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables which contain compounds like sulfur & DIM which help detoxify estrogen… and poop daily of course!
Inflammation is at the root of PCOS as PCOS women experience chronic low grade inflammation which exacerbates their condition. Inflammation can make hair follicles more sensitive to androgens, increase androgen production in the ovaries, decrease nutrient absorption, and create free radical damage in the body.
What to do? Avoid inflammatory foods such as wheat, gluten, soy, dairy, corn, hydrogenated oils, trans fats, & sugar. Focus on anti-inflammatory foods like wild fatty fish, turmeric, bright coloured fruits and vegetables…. Your best bet is to simply eat real whole foods!
Insulin resistance is a major underlying factor in PCOS. Roughly 50-70% of women with PCOS have IR, but not all do. This is also a growing issue worldwide as our standard diet and lifestyle is fuelling blood sugar imbalances. Increased insulin triggers excess androgen production and lowers SHBG (Sex hormone binding globulin) which results in more testosterone floating around in the bloodstream. More androgens mean more symptoms like hair loss. In addition, insulin increases the enzyme 5-alpha reductase which converts testosterone to the more potent form DHT, responsible for hair loss.
What can you do? Cut out sugar and refined carbs, include healthy fats + protein at every meal, and decrease your stress load. Also avoid carb heavy meals at breakfast and avoid constantly grazing throughout the day.
If you are’t absorbing your nutrients or you are following a poor diet, you may experience hair loss or thinning hair. When it comes to hair and skin health, our body will use the nutrients we do get for vital functions and organs, and deliver them last to non priority areas like our skin and hair.
Some nutrients linked to hair loss include protein, vitamin D, zinc, iron, and omega 3.
Protein makes up all of our connective tissue as well as the majority of hair follicles. Our hair is made up of a protein called keratin. Lack of protein over time in the diet has been shown to result in hair loss, dry scalp, and dry hair.
This is also why many women have seen improvements with their hair, skin, and nails with supplementation of collagen (discussed further down the page). And again, if your body doesn’t have sufficient protein intake it is going to use it for its vital functions, not so much for your mane.
Vitamin D: the sunshine vitamin, so vital for health in general but also PCOS and hair loss. Especially deficient in North America, vitamin D can help stimulate the growth of hair follicles, reduce inflammation, and regulate insulin by sensitizing receptors. Get your levels checked in order to supplement accordingly. If you are able to get at least 15 minutes of direct sunlight everyday this is the best!
Vitamin D rich foods include salmon, mackerel, mushrooms, sesame seeds.
Omega 3 intake has been linked to increased hair growth and hair density whilst promoting strong & healthy looking hair. Essential fatty acids have been shown to lower androgen production by inhibiting aromatase activity. Omega 3 fats include wild fatty fish, algae, chia seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts.
Iron is the world’s most common nutrient deficiency, especially in women. Deficiency can be a cause for excessive hair loss. Make sure to get iron testing with your doctor before supplementing. Foods that are rich in iron are leafy vegetables, liver, red meat, blackstrap molasses, leeks, cashews, figs... important to note though non heme iron (from plants) has a lower bioavailability rate than heme iron (from animals). Vitamin C also increases iron absorption.
Zinc is another common deficiency, especially among vegans and birth control users. Zinc can help support hair follicle growth while also blocking androgens. The best food sources of zinc are red meat, pumpkin seeds, and oysters. Again bioavailability of zinc is lower in plant foods than animal foods, so you may need to look into a supplement to receive adequate levels.
What to do? Include a variety of fruits and vegetables in your diet and buy organic and grass fed animal products (if you are a meat eater), and eat mindfully (this means chewing your food 30 times or until its mush and actually sitting down to eat your food with no distractions).
You can also include a good quality multi-vitamin or greens powder for a boost of added nutrients (especially helpful if you are experiencing digestion and absorption issues).
Supplements for hair loss
for hair loss
A popular anti-androgenic plant that reduces hair loss by inhibiting the enzyme 5-alpha reductase which thus reduces the amount of DHT conversion from testosterone (we want less DHT because this molecule is responsible for hair loss!) Saw palmetto has been shown to be helpful in treating androgenic alopecia and PCOS women with high androgens though more research is still needed.
Collagen seems to be the supplement everyone is adding these days to their smoothie, and for good reason! Collagen is the most abundant protein found in the body, however it declines with age, poor diet, stress, and nutrient deficiencies. Our hair is made up of keratin but the body requires different amino acids to make this protein. Collagen can provide these amino acids and provide strength and elasticity to hair follicles while reducing breakage. Supplementing with a good quality fish or bovine collagen can be especially useful to promote healthy hair as it is a highly absorbable form of protein that is anti-inflammatory and gut healing. As collagen makes up all of our connective tissue you will most likely also notice improvements in nail quality and growth as well as skin elasticity. Make sure to include plenty of vitamin C rich foods like broccoli, kiwi, tomatoes, berries, and bell peppers to stimulate collagen production.
A popular PCOS herb to reduce testosterone levels and symptoms like acne, hirsutism, and hair loss at the dose of 2 cups per day. Spearmint at the dose mentioned has been shown to be promising to reduce androgenic symptoms in PCOS women and improve hormone levels.
Reishi mushroom seems to be THE mushroom that has the ability to lower testosterone by inhibiting 5-alpha reductase. One of my favourite ways to get more mushrooms like Reishi into my diet is with Four Sigmatic! Just add hot water and that’s it! It’s the perfect bedtime elixir to get you ready for sleepy-time whilst providing all of its health benefits.
Be cautious with autoimmune diseases, as mushrooms can stimulate the immune system.
Always consult your health care practitioner before supplementing
What are your hair loss questions?