Saturday, July 9, 2011

Hair Loss and Thinning Caused By Menopause

"The most important thing I have to say today is that hair matters.
Pay attention to your hair. Because everyone else will."

Hillary Rodham Clinton, 
Speaking to the 2001 graduating class at Yale College

Why Hair is Important?

Arizona State University sociologist Rose Weitz agrees with Hillary that "Our hair is one of the first things others notice about us and one of the primary ways we declare our identity to them."

According to Weitz, hair can play this role for three basic reasons. "It is personal, growing directly out of our bodies," she said. "It is public, on view for all to see. And it is malleable, allowing us to change it more or less at whim. As a result, it's not surprising that we use our hair to project our identity and that others see our hair as a reflection of our identity.

This is especially true for women. "Hair and appearance more generally, matters in everyone's lives, but especially in women's lives," she said. "There is a wealth of research data that says that attractive people, but especially attractive women, get better grades in school, more dates, more marriage proposals, higher salaries, better job offers, and so on."

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Hair Loss during Menopause

Due to the importance of woman’s hair for her self-image and self-esteem, rapid hair loss is the most upsetting and the most depressing symptom at Menopause. Although not as well know as some symptoms of menopause, hair loss can affect up to 70% of women.

Hair loss, also known as alopecia, means that a person is losing more hair than usual. Normally, each hair grows approximately 1/4 of inch per month, and continues growing for up to 6 years. Once the hair falls out, another grows in its place. Hair loss during Menopause occurs when the amount of hair that falls outnumbers the number being produced.

Generally hair loss is believed to be a condition affecting men but all women experience some degree of hair loss during Menopause or hair thinning at some point, and two-thirds of women will be severely affected. However, unlike with men, hair loss during Menopause in women does not typically result in complete baldness. In fact, most women suffer hair thinning, which is a loss of hair density (clear areas in the scalp) but not total loss of hair.

Hair Loss Causes During Menopause

The causes of excessive hair loss during Menopause vary from woman to woman but generally they fall into two categories; psychological and physical.

Psychological causes for hair loss during menopause: Anxiety, emotional stress, overdoing things and fatigue can all lead to hair loss during menopause or hair thinning. If these factors are not controlled, they can result in a woman becoming emotionally unstable. Usually these cases are temporary and hair loss during Menopause or hair thinning stops when periods of stress are over.

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Physical causes for hair loss during menopause: Hormonal imbalance is the main cause for hair loss during Menopause. Testosterone is the main hair-producing hormone in the body but the DHT hormone, which comes from testosterone, has the opposite effect. The DHT hormone is the one responsible for under-producing hair in certain areas (especially the head). Yet, even though DHT is produced with testosterone, it is in fact controlled by estrogen.

When women are younger, estrogen and testosterone hormones are balanced, ensuring that DHT is controlled. But when women approach menopause, estrogen levels fluctuate leaving DHT production unmanaged and this results in excessive hair loss during Menopause or hair thinning. This is why maintaining estrogen hormone balance is important in controlling hair loss during Menopause.

The good news is that if the hair loss is menopausal related the effects are rarely permanent.

Other Causes

A variety of other factors may cause hair loss often temporary in women. These may include:
  • Medications: Some drugs used to treat cancer can cause your hair to fall out. But other prescription drugs, such as blood thinners, antidepressants and high blood pressure medications, can also cause hair loss. So can birth control pills and high doses of certain vitamins.
  • Diet: Too little protein in your diet can lead to hair shedding. So can too little iron. Bottom line: Too strenuous dieting can result in hair loss! If you want to lose weight, do it the sensible way, especially if you have a hair thinning/loss problem to begin with.
  • Stress or illness: You may start losing hair one to three months after a stressful situation, such as major surgery. High fevers, severe infections or chronic illnesses can also result in hair loss. Auto-immune disorders can cause hair loss.
  • Childbirth: Some women lose large amounts of hair within two to three months after delivery.
  • Alopecia areata: Alopecia areata (ar-e-AH-tuh) is a condition in which hair loss occurs only in certain areas, resulting in hairless patches the size of a coin or larger.
  • Thyroid disease: An overactive or underactive thyroid can cause hair loss. One may get her thyroid numbers in order after beginning a regimen of thyroid medication. HOWEVER, there have been reported cases of women experiencing hair loss FROM the thyroid medication.
  • Ringworm If this fungal infection occurs on your scalp, it can cause small patches of scaling skin and some hair loss.

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Treatment of Hair Loss in Menopause

If you are concerned about hair loss, Lovera Wolf Miller, MD, certified member of the North American Menopause Society (NAMS), recommends you begin with a visit to your doctor for a thorough workup, starting with a review of your diet, activity levels, stress, and other related symptoms. A treatment plan will be based on both your medical and lifestyle information. Experts will often recommend both pharmaceuticals and lifestyle changes.

Medication options
Menopause specialist Mary Jane Minkin, MD, Yale clinical professor of obstetrics/gynecology and coauthor of A Woman's Guide to Menopause and Perimenopause (Yale University Press, 2004), says that when it comes to treating menopause-related hair loss, she may prescribe a short-term (several month) dose of estrogen to see if that addresses the problem. Another treatment option to consider, she says, is the drug minoxidil (Rogaine). Dr. Minkin cautions, however, that if you're considering minoxidil, it's important to discuss its effects thoroughly with your physician beforehand because you could experience side effects. Miller adds that depending on your particular circumstances, other options might include low-dose steroids or the drug metformin, commonly used for type 2 diabetes.

Lifestyle adjustments
Miller also sees a role for less-invasive, everyday measures in hair-loss prevention. She suggests drinking green tea, getting enough vitamin B6, losing weight, and using hyaluronic acid shampoo. All may be helpful in restoring some hair growth in about three to four months, she says. "Fortunately, the upsides outweigh the downsides of these treatments. There is little to be lost and much to gain."

Stress, the bane of modern living, has also been linked to hair loss, says Christiane Northrup, MD, author of The Secret Pleasures of Menopause (Hay House, 2008). According to Dr. Northrup, chronically high levels of insulin and stress hormones can result in excess androgen (a male sex hormone), "which ultimately stops the hair from growing on the head and starts it growing on chin. The best way to treat it is stress reduction of all kinds." This includes getting adequate sleep, exercising regularly, and using relaxation techniques such as meditation and deep breathing. As an added benefit, these can all help ease your other menopause-related symptoms as well.

Alternative Remedies for Hair Loss
Alternative approaches involve little to no risk and can be an extremely effective way to treat hair loss. This level of approach can involve several different therapies. Herbal remedies are the most prominent, though in addition women may turn to such techniques as acupuncture or scalp massage in order to help stimulate hair follicles and regenerate hair growth. All of these can be valid and effective options, though most women find that herbal remedies are the easiest alternative treatment to follow, as the others require a greater time and monetary commitment. In addition, herbal remedies are the only viable option to treat the hormonal imbalance directly at its source.

In the case of herbal remedies, there are two types of herbs that can be used for treating hair loss: phytoestrogenic and non-estrogenic herbs.

Phytoestrogenic herbs (e.g. Black Cohosh) contain estrogenic components produced by plants. These herbs, at first, do treat the hormonal imbalance by introducing these plant-based estrogens into the body. However, as a result of adding outside hormones, a woman’s body may become less capable of producing estrogen on its own. This causes a further decrease of the body’s own hormone levels.

By contrast, non-estrogenic herbs, as the name suggests, don't contain any estrogen. These herbs stimulate a womanґs hormone production by nourishing the pituitary and endocrine glands, causing them to more efficiently produce natural hormones. This ultimately results in balancing not only estrogen, but also testosterone. Non-estrogenic herbs (e.g. Macafem) can be considered the safest way to treat hair loss naturally as the body creates its own hormones and doesnґt require any outside assistance.

A combination of approaches is usually the most effective route to take. Lifestyle changes combined with alternative approaches will most likely be the best way to alleviate hair loss. However, for some women the symptoms will be so severe that a more drastic treatment is necessary. In taking the leap into surgical options, side effects are inevitable, yet sometimes they can be worth it if the benefits will outweigh the risks.

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How to Deal with Thinning Hair

If it's any consolation, many women who've experienced thinning hair or hair loss during the menopausal years will see an end to the thinning and loss once their hormones level off and they're post-menopausal. If all the hair doesn't necessarily return (and often much of it does), there's likely to be no additional loss.
  • Many women adore their long or blunt cut tresses. However, if you can see your way to it, it's often a good idea to cut your hair short and in layers. Shorter, layered hair adds fullness and body and, as opposed to longer hair, there's no heavy "pull" from the scalp.
  • Don't use combs, but soft brushes and try to avoid things like hair spray. Using a "good" mousse or soft gel after washing can give your hair additional body without harming the hair.
  • A trick for fine hair or thinning hair: Blow dry in the opposite direction to how you normally part your hair. When dry, brush it back in the other direction. This way, you can double the "look" of the volume of your hair.
  • Another tip is after washing your hair, dry it in whatever manner you normally do. Then turn your head upside down, give your head a vigorous shake, and once back in a standing position, either "place" your hair using your fingers, rather than a brush or comb. You can also use a hair pick to style your hair. The upside down - shaking - also gives a great deal of fullness to otherwise flat looking thin hair. You'd be amazed at how creative you can be with your fingers without pulling at the root of the hair.
  • Avoid using any type of hair comb and anything that "tugs" at your hair.
  • Alternate shampoos -- at least once a month.
  • If you've had hair thinning at the temples (which many of us have from wearing hair pulled back in ponytails when we were younger), cutting your hair short and creating wispy bangs can camouflage the areas that have thinned out.
  • If you go to a beauty salon for a haircut, tell them you don't want your hair cut in a "feathering" manner. Feathering has a tendency to make hair look even thinner. What you want is to achieve full looking layers, not anything too wispy and thin.

Sources and Additional Information:

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