Hair loss is a common problem for many people. What causes hair loss on top of the head? What are the essential nutrients for healthy hair growth?
A person’s health is reflected in their hair. The causes of hair loss are related to genetics, hormones, nutrition, stress, diseases, and other factors.
1. Androgenic Alopecia
According to Dr. Zhang Shiheng, the director of Neihu Qiluo Integrative Medicine Clinic, androgenic alopecia (pattern baldness) is the most common cause of hair loss and is related to heredity. Androgenic hormones are metabolized by the body’s 5α-reductase enzyme into dihydrotestosterone, which attacks the hair follicles and causes hair loss. Once dihydrotestosterone is produced in the body, the hair follicles will shrink and degenerate, and hair loss will begin.
Both men and women produce dihydrotestosterone in their bodies, but men are more likely to have androgenetic alopecia. Dr. Zhang explained that it’s because females have two X chromosomes and males have one X chromosome and one Y chromosome. Since the gene for androgenic alopecia is on the X chromosome, females need to have recessive genes for androgenic alopecia on both X chromosomes to display androgenetic alopecia; but men will bald as long as they have such recessive genes on their only X chromosome.
The prevalence of androgenetic alopecia is also related to race and age, with Asians having a lower rate than Caucasians. In Taiwan, for example, after the age of 45, about 20 percent of the population has androgenic alopecia; and after the age of 65, the proportion is larger than 40 percent. For Caucasians, after the age of 40, about half have androgenic alopecia.
2. Iron Deficiency Anemia
According to Dr. Zhang, clinically, it is common for young women to lose their hair due to iron deficiency anemia. And blood tests would reveal that their hemoglobin is less than 10. The purpose of their clinic visits is to treat anemia, but after treatment and medication, their hair growth would become a beneficial side effect. Dr. Zhang said, “The patients would say, ‘Wow, I took the prescription drugs, and my hair grew so well!’”
After taking iron supplements and foods high in iron, these patients with iron deficiency anemia not only have their hair grown back, but their nails also grew better.
3. Unhealthy Eating Habits
It is also common to lose hair due to eating excessive quantities of fried food, spicy food, and/or baked goods, and other unhealthy eating habits.
Since the skin’s sebaceous glands are in the hair follicles, the oil secreted from sebaceous glands will come out from them. When people eat a lot of unhealthy oils, fried chicken, French fries and other foods that act as irritants, it causes inflammation in the body, making it so that the sebaceous glands do not secrete properly, resulting in excessive scalp oil, and in turn, hair loss.
On the scalp, there is a type of mold that coexists with the human body–Pityrosporum ovale, which eats sebum as a nutrient. When there’s excessive sebum secretion, Pityrosporum ovale will rapidly proliferate and cause inflammation of hair follicles, which will also cause hair loss.
4. Lack of Essential Nutrients
Besides iron, insufficient protein intake, or lack of vitamin C, vitamin B complex, zinc, and/or other nutrients, will also cause hair loss.
One of the main components of hair is collagen, which makes the hair healthy, thick, flexible, and strong enough to “stand” on the scalp. Hair that lacks collagen looks like withered grass, thin and weak, collapsing on the scalp.
Dr. Zhang pointed out, “If you want to have more hair volume, collagen is very important.”
Too little protein and/or vitamin C intake will make collagen insufficient. The reason is that protein-based foods are the source of collagen, and vitamin C is a coenzyme for synthesizing collagen.
In addition, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and folic acid can enable normal blood production functions. Hair health is closely related to the blood, which brings nutrients and oxygen to the hair.
The mineral zinc is related to the growth of cells. From hair follicle cells to red blood cells, all of them need zinc.
5. Hormonal Changes
Women tend to lose a lot of hair after giving birth, and during menopause, and other periods of severe hormonal changes. When the hormones in the body return to normal, hair loss issues will improve.
6. Stress and Autoimmune Diseases
Some people’s hair loss is related to autoimmune system disorder or lymphocytes attacking the hair follicles. This type of immune factor-induced hair loss can be a result of lupus erythematosus or other autoimmune diseases.
There are also different types of stress hair loss, including alopecia areata (i.e. spot baldness). Stress can cause the autoimmune system to attack and kill the body’s own hair follicles, causing hair loss. Stress, genetics, and irregular schedules can all easily trigger spot baldness.
3 Tips to Stave off Hair Loss
Some types of hair loss can be improved by medication. For instance, androgenic alopecia can be treated with medications that reduce the body’s production of dihydrotestosterone. Patients with hair loss due to hormonal changes cannot be treated for hormonal problems right now. However, they can use methods similar to those treating androgenic alopecia, such as ointment application, nutrient supplementation and schedule improvement.
You can also use commercially available anti-hair loss shampoos and hair regrowth lotions. Such products mainly help cleanse hair follicles, reduce the damage caused by sebum and Pityrosporum ovale, and improve the environment for hair growth.
In addition, there are three other ways to improve hair loss: improving the quality of sleep, quitting smoking and drinking, and regulating diet.
Dr. Zhang pointed out the importance of sleep. He said, “The quality and volume of hair can really vary greatly depending on how well a person sleeps.” One of the reasons is that high quality sleep can regulate the body’s stress response and avoid triggering immune cells to attack hair follicles.
Smoking and drinking can cause vascular problems, such as angiosclerosis (i.e. hardening of the arteries). Since hair follicles depend on the blood to supply nutrients, when there are problems with the capillaries in the hair follicles, will affect hair loss.
In terms of regulating diet, we should give up fried and other inflammatory foods to prevent the hair follicles from secreting excessive oil and damaging the health of blood vessels.
7 Nutrients for Hair Growth
You can also supplement your diet with seven nutrients for better hair growth:
1. Iron: Foods high in heme iron (from animal sources) like meat and fish.
Foods high in non-heme iron (from plant sources) include celery, seaweed, amaranthus tricolor (aka. edible amaranth), black radishes,beans (such as soybeans, peas and green beans), dried dates, jujubes, raisins, nuts (such as pumpkin seeds, cashews and almonds), and seeds (such as sesame seeds).
The absorption rate and utilization rate of heme iron by the human body are better than those from non-heme iron.
2. Protein: meat, milk, eggs, seafood, legumes, whole grains.
The main amino acids of collagen are glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline, which can be found in the foods listed above.
3. Vitamin C: guavas, kiwis, citrus fruits, papayas, strawberries, tomatoes
4. Zinc: oysters, crabs, mussels, lobsters, clams, beef, pork, lamb, egg yolk, milk, yogurt, nuts
5. Vitamin B6: chickpeas, tuna, salmon, potatoes, bananas, chicken breasts, pork livers
6. Folic acid (vitamin B9): pork livers, spinaches, white rice, asparagus, avocado, broccoli
7. Vitamin B12: beef livers, clams, tuna, salmon, beef, milk
Dr. Zhang added that if one wants to eat one type of food high in protein, iron, zinc, vitamin B6, vitamin B12 and folic acid all in one, then one should eat meat. White meat is better than red meat, he added, because although white meat contains less iron than red meat, it is also less likely to cause inflammation.
These nutrients can also be obtained directly from taking health supplements, but improving diet overall has greater and farther reaching health benefits, Dr. Zhang added.