That Would Be Thyroid Hair
Isn’t it enough that we have to manage bone-crushing fatigue and weight gain as part of the pretty picture of hypothyroidism? Why add insult to injury with the dry, straw-like stuff on my head that keeps falling out?
A patient of mine divulged that her hairdresser, also hypothyroid, gathered a fistful of her hair and exclaimed, “This is Thyroid Hair!”
Uh, thank you? I know it’s lackluster and the wave is gone, but do we need to announce it from the rooftops?
Cut to the Hair Salon
Turns out the hair salon is an excellent place to diagnose thyroid problems. What’s the range of possibility with thyroid hair? Dry, thin, coarse. Thinning – not just head hair, but also eyebrows (particularly the outer third) and eyelashes. Then there’s premature gray hair. Nice – think thyroid if you are gray before age 30. These are what we see with hypothyroidism; hyperthyroid folks often develop fine, brittle hair.
What I find troubles my patients most is the hair loss.
How ‘bout some data?
Overall, in the general population, one third of people have hair loss by age 30, and 50% by 50. Combine that with 1 in 5 women developing hypothyroidism, and you have a very unhappy Venn diagram.
Fine, fine – give me some prevention & solutions so I can avoid “Bald is Beautiful” – it’s just not my thing. My name is not Andy Weil.
Hair loss or alopecia is defined as excessive loss of scalp hair. Normal for the life cycle of the hair follicle is to shed 50-100 hairs per day. Sometimes counting is helpful to see if your loss is excessive.
Why does hair loss happen? Many reasons – excessive stress (or as I see more commonly, poor stress resilience. We women run a special on this in our 40s). Sometimes it’s genetic, sometimes it’s environmental (e.g., mercury toxicity or poor lifestyle choices leading to insulin resistance). Sometimes it’s iron deficiency (e.g., ferritin < 70) or lack of amino acids such as lysine. Sometimes it’s lack of healthy fat such as omega 3s and 6s. Often it’s inadequately treated hypothyroidism – you’re just not on enough support. Certain medications can accelerate hair loss – meds for hypertension, birth control pills, blood thinners. Or it could be your Synthroid – hair loss is a side effect. With many other alternative therapies available, consider switching to another brand.
What Would Mary Do?
Many of you know I’m a huge fan of patient advocate Mary Shomon. Read suggestions from her offered earlier this year: She reports that there’s one study showing that 90% of patients with hair loss were low in either lysine or iron.
Mary doesn’t rush out and start Rogaine or Propecia or steroids. We both like to assess root cause. Not a pun. We both favor more omega 3s and 6s, such as fish oil (proven to be mercury-free, of course) and evening primrose oil. Saw palmetter is proven to promote hair growth in men, and I’m still looking for data in women. What does it to? It inhibits conversion of testosterone to di-hydro-testosterone, which can be high in androgenic hair loss. Both Propecia and Saw Palmetto work by the same mechanism.
Finally, I favor handling your hair gently. Knock off the damaging hair colors, bleach, tight pony tails and excessive washing. Fortunately, if you are needing to color your hair, there are many less toxic options available. We’re designed to wash our hair only once or twice per week. For thirty years, I was addicted to daily hair washing and it rocked my world to see how much more luxurious my hair is when I transitioned to washing it twice/week. And it stopped falling out.
Written by, Dr. Sara Gottfried
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