Your hair is a signal of health and vitality. Thick, glossy, and naturally glowing hair turns heads and looks amazing. That’s why hair loss can be so traumatic.
Having helped thousands of men overcome male pattern baldness, and being asked repeatedly by women if my techniques and program applied to them, I’ve come up with the 7 biggest causes of hair loss in women and how to overcome them.
I know these will work just as well for you as it does for men. There are a few differences between men and women. These are mainly hormonal. But both male and female pattern baldness can both be reversed. The reason? They are unnatural. Your hair really wants to grow and be beautiful.
After reading every one of these causes you’ll have a much better idea about exactly how to stop your hair loss, so let’s begin!
1. Unstable Blood Sugar Levels
Blood sugar level spikes and Insulin Resistance (IR) are linked to hair loss in men and women, though the exact cause isn’t known (4). The most likely cause is that high blood sugar increases hair follicle sensitivity to DHT, making the hairs more liable to fall out.
One of the first things you should do when trying to stop or reverse hair loss is keep your blood sugar under control. Blood sugar spikes come from eating foods that have a high glycemic index. This means that they are rapidly digested by the body, causing glucose to increase in the blood.
This almost always happens from unnatural, processed foods. There are basically no natural, plant-based foods that causes excessive blood sugar spikes. This is because the plants, in their natural form, contain plenty of fiber which slows down digestion and releases the sugars slowly into the bloodstream.
Even if you get everything else right (what you’re learning here) but you still spike your blood sugar with processed foods, hair loss will be hard to stop – this really is that important.
Conversely, if you aim to maintain a stable blood sugar level for a month and wait to see the effect, you’ll probably be convinced enough to continue on with it.
There is a spectrum as well. Some foods dump huge amounts of sugar unforgivingly into the blood. These are typically white carbohydrates that are highly refined and lack any fiber. These simple carbs will wreak havoc with your blood sugar and consequently your hair.
You should aim to lower the glycemic load of your foods in every meal you eat (5). If you do feel the need to eat something with a high glycemic index, try to accompany that food with a side dish of raw vegetables which will help to slow down the absorption and decrease the overall spike. For example, if you have macaroni and cheese then add a large helping of salad to go along with it.
Avoid at all costs sugary drinks. Read the label before you drink anything in a bottle and if it has more than a few grams of sugar in it, then think of your hair first. Even squeezed fruit juices have too much sugar and not enough fiber in them.
If you have a sweet tooth and you’re craving fruit, have a smoothie instead of a juice since the smoothie will also have the natural fiber along with it.
2. Bad Bacteria
Bacteria play more of a fundamental role in human health than most people understand. There is a constant balance between good and bad bacteria going on in our guts (6). And unfortunately, with the amount of preservatives in the food we eat and lack of fiber in our diet, in most people the bad bacteria is winning (7).
Preservatives, by their very definition, kill bacteria. So how can that be good for the delicate balance of healthy bacteria in your gut when you eat foods full of preservatives? The answer is, it’s not! There are other factors too, that damage the good bacteria, such as overly sterile environments, and over-cooked foods that contain no fiber.
I’ve written a much longer article about how a healthy gut is important for preventing hair loss. The point is, if you have too many bad bacteria in your gut, this could be causing hair loss. At the moment, the mechanism that results in hair loss isn’t clear. It may be something to do with DHT sensitivity, and autoimmune problems. I highly recommend reading the entire article if you’re interested in improving your bacterial balance and restoring your healthy hair.
3. Unbalanced Female Hormones
Your female hormones can shift out of balance because a number of reasons, each of which can be a cause of hair loss in itself. Here are a few steps you can take to minimize female hair loss through hormonal imbalance:
While hormonal imbalances can occur without a medical condition present, it’s important to know whether such a condition is to blame. With this information, you can then address the problem head on and perhaps even reverse the hair loss you’ve experienced.
So, what kinds of conditions can be to blame for hormonal imbalance (and hair loss as a result)? To name just a few:
- Androgenetic Alopecia (AGA)
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
- Hyperthyroidism (including Grave’s disease)
- Hypothyroidism (including Hashimoto’s)
Other conditions, which aren’t really conditions, that may lead to hair loss include pregnancy and menopause. These occur as various hormone levels fall and rise.
Taking the Pill or Having an Implant
- Intermenstrual spotting (also known as breakthrough bleeding)
- Breast tenderness
- Weight gain
- Decreased libido
- Mood changes
- Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) and Venous Thromboembolism (VTE)
In some cases, you may even notice a decrease in hair health and volume.
So, what other options should you consider?
First, speak with your gynecologist. It’s important that you not make any sudden medication changes without the guidance of a medical professional. You can discuss with them the various options available to you – both hormonal and non-hormonal – so you can make an informed decision.
If going off hormonal birth control is not something you desire, then consider changing your prescription. There are two main types of birth control pills you can try – combination (which contains estrogen and progestin) and mini-pill (which contains just progestin). If you have trouble on one type, you may be able to use the other without incident.
There are also non-hormonal birth control options to consider. These include non-permanent (condoms, spermicide) and permanent (hysterectomy, tubal ligation).
For men, one of the first things I recommend doing is to stop drinking tap water. Fluoride in tap water has been shown to increase the risk of developing hypothyroidism, a condition linked to hair loss (11).
This is why you should switch to bottled water or, even better, use a filtration system in your home. These can reduce your exposure to fluoride and other chemicals in tap water, which may help to control your hair loss.
Hormones from Animal Products
Non-organic meat, poultry, and dairy products contains hormones that help the animal grow (12). These stay within the animal, and, in one form or the other can be passed along to us when we eat them.
These hormones include, but are not limited to: progesterone, testosterone, estrogen, and zeranol (13).
Some of these hormones, when accumulated in high levels in the body, can lead to side effects (14).
Does this mean you should stop eating meat and other animal products altogether?
No. But you should consider where your food comes from, and look to reduce consumption of the most likely culprits.
For example, red meats (such as beef and venison) are most likely to contain high levels of hormones, and so too are dairy products (15, 16). A high consumption of red meat has also been linked to increased risk of several chronic diseases (17).
This means you should focus more on getting your protein from poultry and fish, and even plants (including soy and hemp).
To reduce consumption of dairy products, you have many options to choose from. Milks made from almonds, coconut, rice, and oats are all easily available at the grocery store. And they may even be the answer to an undetected milk allergen (which can trigger systemic inflammation and hair loss) (18).
4. Critical Nutrient Deficiencies
Hair is built from nutrients and minerals that are both naturally present within the body, and within the foods we eat. When enough of these nutrients are present, they’re carried via the blood to the scalp. However, a deficiency can lead to a lack of nutrients within the body for unnecessary functions (such as hair growth) (19). This means all of the vital organs will receive it first and the non-vital ones, including the hair follicle, will get the short end of the stick.
And while such deficiencies are more common in underdeveloped parts of the world, they can also occur in first world countries (20). How so? Well, the main causes of nutritional deficiencies include:
- Poor diet;
- Malabsorption problems (such as Crohn’s or Celiac);
- Genetic predisposition or prenatal deprivation;
- Medical abnormality (such as short-gut syndrome); and
- Imbalanced gut flora.
The above such issues can mean you either aren’t consuming enough of the required nutrients, or your body is unable to absorb them properly.
Fortunately, this is one of the easier problems to handle.
So, what steps should you take to address nutrient deficiencies?
1. Get a Blood Panel
You can speak with your doctor about getting a full blood panel done, which will reveal any deficiencies that may be present. You can also tell your doctor about your symptoms, which may cause them to order additional screenings beyond the basic ones.
With this information in hand, you can then address the deficiencies and keep an eye on them over time.
2. Eat a Varied (and Colorful) Diet
Processed foods are quick and easy, which is why they’ve become a staple of the Standard American Diet (SAD). However, diets that are full of processed foods and little fresh fruits, vegetables, and nuts can be devoid of nutrients. This can lead to nutrient deficiencies, as well as general feelings of ill health and unwellness.
The answer to this is simple: reduce the amounts of processed foods you eat, and replace them with high-quality meats, produce, and nuts/seeds.
When you eat more real foods, it becomes easier to meet both of your micro- and macro-nutrient requirements on a daily basis. You’ll also save quite a bit of money!
But does the thought of preparing fresh, healthy meals seem daunting and time consuming?
The best way to increase your intake of densely nutritional foods is through smoothies and juices.
These are simple to make, and they can be used in place of meals when you’re running low on time. Best of all, you can make one batch and store it in the fridge or freezer for consumption throughout the week.
Another tip for preparing fresh, healthy meals includes meal prep (where you spend one day per week preparing your weekly meals). This will reduce the amount of time you spend in the kitchen, while also ensuring you use all of the ingredients you have on hand while they’re still fresh.
3. Take Vitamin and Nutrient Supplements
While there’s nothing better than the real deal, it can sometimes be difficult to meet all daily nutrient requirements through diet and lifestyle alone. This is where supplements come in.
You can take supplements individually (such as just iron, or just Vitamin D-3) or as part of a daily multivitamin. These will provide you with the boost you need within your body to meet your daily minimum requirements.
However, you should be sure not to rely on supplements too heavily.
While supplements can be a beneficial addition to any diet routine, the nutrients within them simply are not the same as those you obtain naturally through food (21). These differences may be due to processing, or a matter of absorption.
This means you should use supplements just as they are intended – to supplement an already healthy diet – if you want to get the greatest benefit.
5. Stress & Breathing
Stress can be a big cause of hair loss in women, you may even find that your hair loss coincided with a particularly stressful, emotional, or traumatic period in your life. Ask yourself if it did, as this will help you to understand if stress could be one of the causes. Any big change at work or at home can be a cause of stress.
But is there evidence to support the link between stress and hair loss?
It’s well known that stress can enhance neurogenic inflammation and induce adaptive immunity cytokine-imbalance (22, 23). This means that stress can induce systemic inflammation, which is not good for the scalp or hair follicles.
But what about the direct effects of stress on hair loss?
Let’s take a look at a very recent – performed in 2017 – study (23).
Researchers wanted to know: can naturalistic life-stress exposure affect cytokine (pro-inflammatory substances within the body) balance and trigger hair loss in healthy individuals?
To answer this question, they recruited the help of 33 female medical students – 18 of which were set to undergo exams, while the other 15 were simply for comparison.
To track the stress levels the students experienced, researchers used four measures throughout the study:
- Self-reported distress and coping strategies (Perceived Stress Questionnaire [PSQ];
- Trier Inventory for the Assessment of Chronic Stress [TICS];
- Cytokines in supernatants of stimulated peripheral blood mononucleocytes (PBMCs); and
- Trichogram (hair cycle and pigmentation analysis).
The study took place over three periods, which were as such: T1 (before the start of the learning period), T2 (in the middle of written and oral exams), and T3 (12-weeks post exams).
Just as the researchers had hypothesized, there was a noted increased in stress perception during T2 in the 18 students who were sitting for exams. However, the control group did not experience any increase in stress perception.
But what about cytokine balance? Did stress trigger an imbalance of the pro-inflammatory substances?
The ratio of TH1 and TH2 cytokines increased in exam students (red) in T2 when compared to their non-exam counterparts (blue).
And that’s not all.
Consider that the TH1/TH2 ratios had not returned to that of their non-exam counterparts even 12 weeks after the exam period. This indicates that stress, even short term, can have long-term biological effects.
But what about the role of stress in hair loss?
Researchers were able to gauge that, too!
At all three periods in time, the participants had their hairs plucked at the tip. The hairs were analyzed for current stage of the hair growth cycle (as determined by tip quality) and recent changes from one stage to the other (as determined by pigmentation).
Reduced pigmentation of the hair tip is an indicator of transgression from anagen (active) to catagen (rest) phase. As such, any hairs with diminished pigmentation were shown to have gone into catagen phase prematurely.
So, what were the results?
First, it’s easy to see that exam students (red) had less hairs in anagen phase and more in telogen phase during the most stressful time period, T2. This indicates that stress plays a role in the hair growth cycle.
But how do we know that their hairs weren’t in the midst of naturally changing phases? By studying pigmentation.
As seen above, decreased pigmentation was seen in exam students (red), which indicates a premature transgression from anagen phase to catagen. This further backs the claim that stress can induce premature transition from anagen to telogen phase, which results in increased thinning and less hair growth.
But why is that?
Well, the study shows that cytokine levels play a major role in both stress and hair loss. But I also believe there’s another component to consider – breathing.
During stressful periods, we often breathe shallowly and the lungs aren’t used to their full capacity. This relates to hair loss because breathing determines the amount of oxygen in our blood, and consequently the amount of oxygen that reaches the hair follicles. Stress means less deep breathing, which equals lower oxygenation of the blood which can restrict hair follicle growth.
So, where’s the proof?
Whatever the mechanism, it may be clear to you that stress is causing you hair loss. Here are a few practical tips to reduce your stress levels.
1. Incorporate Deep Breathing Exercises Into Your Day
One of the easiest ways to reduce stress levels is to practice deep breathing exercises on a daily basis. You just need to set aside some time – ideally, 10 minutes – to focus solely on your breathing techniques.
One of the best techniques to incorporate is ‘chee breathing’ which focuses on three aspects:
- Retention; and
It’s best to stand during this exercise, though sitting in an upright position (with your back straight) can also work in a pinch.
To begin, inhale slowly from the lower abdomen. You’ll slowly move this up to the chest, and finally the clavicles. You want to fill the lungs up to about 90% full. You’ll know you’ve gone ‘too far’ if you begin to feel uncomfortable.
As you inhale, visualize the air stream entering your nostrils and filling your lungs.
Hold your breath for 3 – 5 seconds, and then release slowly.
If you feel uncomfortable holding the air for this long, you may exhale sooner. However, you’ll want to work up to 3 – 5 seconds as you get used to this exercise.
You want to keep the exhalation smooth and rhythmic. This will prevent you from pushing too much air out at once, and it will also improve your breath control (both during the exercise, and throughout your day).
You can even incorporate your arms into this exercise, but raising them in an arc over your head during inhalation and lowering them slowly back to your sides upon exhalation.
This exercise, practiced on a daily basis, will essentially reteach you how to breathe properly. You’ll soon carry this pattern of breathing over into your day-to-day life, which will benefit you even more.
2. Practice Meditation
While meditation is considered a deep breathing exercise, it’s so much more than that alone. This ancient practice also enables you to become more aware of your body – how it feels and how it functions – and take control over stress.
Best of all, you can practice meditation anywhere and at anytime. You just need a quiet place where you can dim the lights and tune yourself out from the outside world for 10 – 15 minutes. This means turning your cell phone to silent, placing a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door, and just disconnecting from your usual demands and responsibilities.
This is as much a mental practice as it is a physical one, which is why it’s so great for stress reduction (27).
To begin, sit or lie down comfortably (but avoid getting too comfortable or you may fall asleep). The traditional pose is cross-legged with hands on your knees, but you can really take any position for meditation.
Take a few deep breaths: fill your lungs to capacity, hold for 3 – 5 seconds, and then exhale slowly. Repeat 5 – 10 times until you feel centered and ready to begin.
Now, you’re going to transition to an abdominal breath. This means breathing deep into the abdomen – as opposed to the chest – and holding it there. You can count as you do so (which has been proven to improve mindfulness and mood), and try not to let your thoughts wander (28).
This is a great practice to utilize, both during times of stress and times of calm. You’ll experience the benefits both during and after your sessions, and this will prove beneficial to your mental and physical health (29).
3. Combat the Source of Stress Directly
Whether caused by work, school, or your personal life, stressful situations have a way to follow you around. They can impose upon all areas of your life, and this can make the stress even more difficult to handle.
This is why, when facing a stressful situation, you must combat it head on. Only in this way can you learn to reduce stress levels in your daily life which will have numerous benefits for your mental and physical health.
What does this mean exactly?
First, you must acknowledge the situation. It’s easy to want to look the other way and pretend the situation isn’t unfolding. But in reality, this will only make the problem seem much bigger than it truly is. After all, our minds are great at conflating problems until they seem too big to handle.
Second, you must consider whether it’s within your control or not. Are you facing heat from your boss, or perhaps you and your partner are going through a rough patch? Whatever it may be, you must consider the role you played in the situation. Then you can address it appropriately.
Third, you must show yourself (and others) some grace. Whether you’ve caused the stressful situation through your own actions, or it’s just part of life, you need to not be so hard on yourself. Instead, focus your energy on fixing the situation and not on berating yourself or those around you.
And remember, stress can also be physical. So, if you’ve recently gotten ill or injured, or you’re undergoing a surgery, be sure to practice the techniques above.
6. Damaging Hair Care Practices
Do you take good care of your hair?
Perhaps you think you do, but you may be surprised to learn that many of your daily practices – including shampooing and hair styling – are causing more damage than good. And if you continue to do them over a long period of time? Well, they may significantly contribute to your hair loss.
What are the most likely culprits?
Over-the-Counter Shampoos and Conditioners
As your crowning glory, you may take pride in the hair care products you’ve chosen for your hair. But do you really know what’s inside those products and how they can impact your hair’s health?
Many off-the-shelf shampoos and conditioners contain lathering agents and preservatives. These may make the product appear to work as it should – after all, it lathers well and lasts for years – but they can be causing unseen damage.
Lathering agents and preservatives are, essentially, just for the wellbeing of the shampoo. They offer nothing in terms of hair health benefits, and they can actually be stripping your scalp and hair strands of vital oil and nutrients. But which ingredients should you be looking out for?
- Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate or Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES);
- Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS);
- Sodium Chloride;
- Polyethylene Glycol (PEG); and
These can either strip your hair of its natural oils – known as sebum – or cause irritation and similar symptoms (such as redness, flaking, and rash).
So, what’s the alternative?
There are certainly all-natural shampoos you can purchase over-the-counter. However, you can also make your own. With just a few ingredients, you can create your own shampoo that cleanses your scalp without causing damage to the follicles. You can even alter recipes to fit your needs, or to use the ingredients you already have on hand.
And best of all?
It can save you money in the long run!
Hair coloring and highlights are two popular ways for women to express their individuality. However, these methods can dry out the hair strands and make your hair follicles brittle and susceptible to damage. If you aren’t careful, you can even cause chemical burns during the dyeing process!
Are there natural alternatives? Sure! Many health-conscious beauty bloggers boast the darkening effects of coffee and black tea, or the highlighting effects of lemon juice. But you may find it easier to just embrace your natural color – even if you’re going gray. This is especially true if you’re currently struggling with hair thinning and loss, or if your hair is particularly brittle or otherwise damaged.
Heated Styling Tools
Blow dryers, straightening wands, and curling irons – what do all of these have in common? Heat!
That’s right – the styling tools you use on a daily basis can weaken the hair and make it easier for breakage or thinning.
This doesn’t mean you should avoid these tools all the time. But, it’s best to use them sparingly (i.e. once per month or so) to avoid excessive overheating.
And if you frequently use a blow dryer during your morning routine, don’t fret. The dryer can work just as well when you use the cold setting, and this will reduce the risk of damage and thinning.
Are you afraid you’ve already caused too much damage after years of almost daily use? There are a few things you can do to nourish your hair and scalp.
First, consider a hot oil treatment. All you need is the oil of your choice (coconut, almond, or jojoba), some hot water, and a towel.
Apply a quarter-sized amount of oil to your palm and apply to your scalp and hair strands. Use your fingertips to massage in the oil, and be sure to get everywhere from the tips to the ends.
Then dip your towel (a bath towel is the best size) in hot water, and wring out until it’s just damp. Wrap around your hair, and leave in place for at least 20 minutes. When you’re done, rinse the oil from your scalp and you’re all set!
This treatment can help to moisturize and hydrate the scalp, while also softening the hair. This will make it less likely to break or dislodge.
On a cold Winter day, almost nothing is more relaxing than a steaming hot shower. But did you know that hot showers can cause inflammation, dryness, and irritation? And in the end, these can all contribute to hair loss.
The scalp produces sebum – the protective oil that’s produced from the sebaceous gland – on a regular basis. And store-bought shampoos aren’t the only thing that can strip this protective layer away. Hot showers – which easily dry the skin – can also remove sebum from the scalp and wash it right down the drain.
Cold showers, on the other hand, have numerous physiological benefits. They can not only increase metabolism, but they can also increase blood flow to the area upon exposure (30, 31). This is a great way to increase oxygen and nutrient delivery to the hair follicles, which is essential to hair growth.
And, if you’re experiencing hair loss as a result of miniaturization, you can even reverse the process!
This is because miniaturization occurs as a result of local inflammation. Cold water can reduce inflammation, which enables the follicle to regain blood circulation and improve hair output (32).
7. Smoking & Alcohol
While external damage can be a major contributor of hair thinning and loss, internal damage can too. This is especially true where smoking and alcohol are concerned.
After reading how stress can cause hair loss in women because it creates poor breathing and leads to lack of oxygen in the blood, it may be obvious that smoking can make the problem worse.
It’s not just the inhalation of smoke that’s bad (though, that’s certainly harmful enough). It’s also the chemicals within the cigarettes, such as nicotine.
But what about alcohol?
Of course a glass of wine or a cold beer every once in a while isn’t likely contributing to your hair loss. But regular drinking (i.e. at least three times per week) can certainly play a role in poor hair health.
This is why I recommend limiting your alcohol intake if you’re susceptible to hair loss, or if you just want an overall healthier body.
As with male hair loss, there are many things that may lead women to suffer from thinning and loss. These include everyday practices you may have never considered before (such as hot showers), or even irregular occurrences (such as illness, or stress).
But whatever the cause of your hair loss, there is hope.
In the majority of cases, hair loss can be reversed. And you don’t even have to rely on minoxidil or other such treatments to do so. Instead, you’ll need to make a few lifestyle changes that, once implemented, can give you the answers you need to fighting your hair loss.