Losing hair can affect our self-esteem unlike anything else. Some of the psychological effects of thinning and balding can be highly devastating and affect the quality of a woman’s life. Hair loss is caused by many factors, including genetics and nutrition.
Many of these medical causes of hair loss have one thing in common: inflammation. Interestingly, inflammation causes hair loss in the ways highlighted next.
The Role of Inflammation in the Body
Inflammation is often seen as a necessary evil, but it can actually play a positive role in the body.
So, what is inflammation?
In short, inflammation is the immune system’s way of protecting the body from injury, illness, and ‘invasion’ (1). It’s a complicated cascade of pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory mediators that play a crucial role in protecting your cells and organs from damage.
Unfortunately, it’s possible for inflammation to become a chronic issue. This occurs when the inflammatory response is improperly regulated which can be triggered by various factors (2).
Can Inflammation Cause Hair Loss?
In short: yes. Normally, and generally, inflammation occurs when the body has to fight off intruding microorganisms (3). In some cases, the body’s immune system will interpret the body’s cells and organs as foreign organisms and fight them.
The hair follicles can be interpreted as intruding elements and are often destroyed by the body’s immune system. This results in the medical condition alopecia, or inflammation based hair loss.
During this time, the scalp will be damaged by the immune system, and the hair roots will be unable to obtain proper nutrition (4). This is the link between inflammation and hair loss.
A scalp that is damaged by inflammation will usually have a burning sensation and some red itchy spots. Also, the scalp may experience flaking and other skin irritation.
Symptoms of Hair Loss Due to Inflammation
A notable symptom of inflammation is a rise in temperature. This is usually because of the increased flow of blood at the inflamed part of the body. Other signs of inflammation include:
This is caused by the accumulation of fluid at the site of inflammation.
This is also caused by the increased flow of blood in the area.
This results from the release of chemicals that stimulate nerve endings.
Loss of Function at the Site of Inflammation
On the scalp, this can mean thinning, and an eventual reduction in hair growth.
Inflammation, while it may be largely present in one area of the body, can also be a systemic problem. This means that many or all bodily systems are affected.
This may result in gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and nutrient malabsorption.
There may even be reason to believe that poor gut homeostasis leads to systemic inflammation, so the link between inflammation and the digestive system isn’t that difficult to believe (5).
As evidenced by the latest research on the topic, inflammation and chronic fatigue go hand in hand (6).
As such, you may experience inexplicable fatigue as a result of untreated inflammation.
Another possible cause of hair loss due to inflammation is due to a more serious, longer term problem.
Chronic inflammation, which is a constant and non-temporary state of information, occurs when the body tries to heal damaged body tissues, but the damage continues to take place on a regular basis.
Chronic inflammation can manifest in a variety of ways and present itself as different conditions. These include:
• Rheumatoid arthritis
• Active hepatitis
And while this is incredibly annoying, it’s also true: experiencing inflammation with none of these signs being present is possible.
What Causes Inflammatory Hair Loss in Women?
Since inflammation and hair loss are closely linked, women should take steps to prevent the cause of the problem. They can do this by first learning about the causes of inflammation.
Bacterial, Viral, or Fungal Infection
One key cause of inflammation is low-grade bacteria, viruses, and fungi in the bloodstream and certain organs in the body. One species of bacteria that is known to cause inflammation is H pylori (7). Besides inflammation, this bacteria causes ulcers.
It is estimated that about half of all adults over 40 have this bacteria in their guts (8). As mentioned before, the body’s defense system will try to combat these elements and will end up causing harm to the body.
In some cases, the immune system will simply react because of an imbalance of bacteria and fungi in the gut (9). This will not usually cause notable symptoms. This imbalance can usually be cleared up by a good diet, a colostrum supplement, and high quality probiotics.
Allergic reactions also cause inflammation in the body. This condition overworks the immune system and forces it to flush out the allergen. The perplexing thing about allergies is that they are can develop and change over time. You can go from being able to eat an omelet every morning to being allergic to eggs (yes, really). So, don’t assume right off the bat that this isn’t a concern for you, merely because it hasn’t been in the past.
Physical and Emotional Stress
Also, women who experience a lot of physical, psychological and emotional stress (which is most of us, right?) are likely to end up with inflammation. This is because stress increases the production of cortisol, a hormone which sets off a chain of negative reactions in our body (10, 11).
(To learn more, check out my post on stress and its effects on hair loss here.)
Exposure to Toxins
Toxins from the air, water, and metals such as mercury and chlorine can also lead to inflammation (12). These toxins should be avoided as they cause many other health problems. Clean eating is one way to reduce exposure to toxins. Another quick fix is adding a reverse osmosis system to your water sources at home.
(Do you want to learn more about how chlorine causes hair loss? Check it out here!)
A Sedentary Lifestyle
Our unhealthy, sedentary lifestyles can also cause this problem. They should embrace an active lifestyle and always get enough sleep at the end of the day. Also, eating a balanced diet and drinking sufficient amounts of water will prevent inflammation in the body.
Poor diet can also spike physical inflammation. Women should also eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Some foods that can control the condition of excessive inflammation include broccoli, hemp oil, fermented foods and liquids, onions, garlic, pineapple, spinach, tart cherries, and spices such as ginger and turmeric.
We can take a multi-pronged approach to prevent inflammation, as it comes into our lives from all of these different areas.
Alopecia Areata: Beyond Standard Inflammation
There are numerous types of alopecia, but the one most closely linked to inflammation is alopecia areata.
Alopecia Areata (AA) is a hair loss disorder that’s believed to be an autoimmune condition (13). It occurs in both men and women, and it’s characterized by patchy balding spots on the scalp, head, and/or body.
The true cause of the condition, while largely believed to be autoimmune, isn’t exactly known.
But inflammation is known to play a major role in the condition.
Similar to an allergic reaction or other inflammatory condition, AA is believed to be caused by an autoimmune reaction which targets foreign invaders aggressively. However, these ‘invaders’ are actually hair follicles.
Unfortunately, there isn’t an exact understanding of why certain follicles are attacked while others are left unscathed. Though flares can be caused by stress, illness, and even seasonal changes (14).
What Can Women Do To Reduce Scalp Inflammation?
It is best for us to tackle this problem at the moment we notice hair beginning to thin. Of course, for those not yet experiencing hair loss, preventative measures are also great ideas.
First, eliminate the causes of stress. Eliminate exposure to toxins, Clean up your diet. Get checked for H pylori.
Next, treat the hair loss.
There are many topical treatments for scalp inflammation, but it is advisable for women to consult their doctors before starting off with any particular treatments.
First, I’ve reviewed and recommended two popular Minixodil treatments including Rogaine and Lipogaine (which is less irritating), as well as all-natural DHT blocking treatments like Just Nutritive Grow New Hair Faster, Grow Gorgeous Hair Intensity Serum, and my favorite (and cheapest) topical treatment, Rosemary essential oil.
Most of these treatments will simply reduce the severity of the condition and not necessarily get rid of it. This sucks, but hair loss treatments are almost necessary to continue throughout the rest of our lives, as the causes of our hair loss, including inflammation, never go away entirely.
Next, I recommend supplementation. Nutrafol has been my go-to, because it has all of the pieces – DHT Blockers, stress reducers, and collagen. For a budget-friendly alternative hair loss supplement, I recommend Hairfluence by Zhou Nutrition, which has a MASSIVE following of both men and women.
Third, I recommend even more aggressive collagen supplementation.
Fourth, we give it over to science and give in to the latest promising research for low level laser therapy, which stimulates follicles to produce faster and better hair, and is a mess-free option. Invest in an awesome laser therapy helmet or comb.
Besides these treatments, we should lead healthy and stress-free lifestyles so that the root causes of inflammation are eliminated.
Overall: Even With Chronic Inflammation, There Is Hope for Female Hair Loss.
To answer the question – can inflammation cause hair loss, one needs to understand that it does it by depriving the roots of nutrients and also weakening the hair follicles. This condition will generally lead to the thinning and eventual loss of hair, loss of self-confidence, and any number of beauty-related crises.
Inflammation is meant to eliminate foreign elements from the body, but it usually results in unwanted effects – because hair is not a foreign element!
For this reason we should try to lead a healthy lifestyle and avoid the causative elements of inflammation. I’ve covered some primary causes of inflammation: accumulation of bad bacteria in the gut, stress, and allergic reactions, and poor lifestyle choices.
If any of this resonates with you, and you think inflammation might be playing a major role in your hair loss, step back and take a deep breath.
Don’t tackle all of your problems at once. Start with one thing, like your diet, and then move onto another, like your stress. Then add a hair loss treatment to your routine. When that becomes a comfortable part of your routine, introduce another.
It is possible to gradually remove these problematic layers, and make small choices that make a huge difference in your physical health, and your hair heath.