Losing Your Hair? Here's Why:
How’s your hair doing? Have you noticed more hair falling out lately? If you have, you’re not alone. 34% of women and 67% of men are affected by hair loss. While hair loss could potentially have something to do with the products you’re using, it’s likely something deeper.
Hair loss can act as a warning light for other, potentially more serious, health problems occurring within your body. Mineral and vitamin deficiencies, hormonal imbalances, and mitochondrial damage can all lead to hair loss.
At only 22 weeks, a developing fetus has around 5 million hair follicles on its body. This is the most hair follicles a human will ever have, as follicles do not generate. The head has around 1 million follicles, while the scalp has 100,000. The remaining follicles are spread out around the body. In this section, we will be describing the process of hair growth on the scalp- as it differs by follicle type.
Hair has two different structures- the follicle itself and the shaft. The follicle is in the skin, while the shaft is what is visible above the skin. The follicle is a tunnel-like structure with several layers. The living part of the follicle is at the very bottom, called the bulb. The bulb actually contains the fastest dividing cells in the body. The follicle is surrounded by two sheaths that protect and form the hair-growing shaft. Keratin is a hard protein that makes up the shaft. There are three layers of the shaft, the medulla, cortex, and cuticle. The cortex and the medulla contain the hair’s pigment, which gives hair its color.
Hair grows at a rate of around .3-.4 millimeters per day, which is about 6 inches per year. Interestingly, humans are the only mammals whose hair grows all year and does not depend on the seasons or cycles. As most people know, the shaft has no role in the hair growth process. Rather, all hair growth resides in the follicle. Hair growth is a complex process.
It occurs in three main stages:
The Anagen Phase: This is the active, growth phase of hair. In this stage, cells in the bulb are rapidly dividing, creating new hair that will push up the follicle and out of the scalp. A follicle can remain in this phase for 2-6 years on the scalp, shorter on body hair. Every 28 days, hair grows around 1 cm in this phase. Up to 90% of hair follicles are in this growth phase at a time.
The Catagen Phase: This is a transitional phase for hair, it is neither growing nor resting. This phase only lasts around 2-3 weeks on the scalp. Growth stops and the follicle’s sheaths combine. Around 3% of all hairs are in this phase at a time.
The Telogen Phase: This is the resting phase for hair, it has stopped growing and changing. This phase lasts for around 100 days on the scalp, longer on body hair. The hair follicle is at complete rest and begins to fall out. Around 25-100 hairs in this phase fall out per day. 6-8% of hair is in this phase at any time.
Obviously, hair growth is a very compound process and requires sufficient energy and many different vitamins and minerals in order to complete the mechanisms. Unfortunately, hair growth is also the last choice for our bodies to designate nutrients and energy. Nutrient deficiencies or mitochondrial damage can all lead to the cease of hair growth.
The hair growth process and the creation of healthy, resilient hair rely on a number of vitamins and minerals, these include:
Iron - Cells require sufficient iron levels to divide. As we described earlier, the bulb of the hair follicle has the fastest dividing cells in the body. Without sufficient iron, this process slows, causing hair growth to slow. In studies on mice with iron deficiencies, hair growth was restored when iron levels were returned to normal.
Vitamin D - Animal studies have suggested that vitamin D has a role in the cycling of hair follicles. Vitamin D deficient mice developed hair loss. In vitro studies have also pointed to the role of vitamin D in the phases of hair growth. Vitamin D receptor expression increases in the follicle during the anagen phase.
Zinc - It is thought that zinc also plays a role in cell division and protein synthesis. Zinc also assists in maintains healthy and well-functioning oil glands around the follicle. Studies have demonstrated the reduction of hair loss following zinc supplementation.
Vitamin A - Studies on mice have demonstrated the role of vitamin A in hair growth. Vitamin A activates hair follicle stem cells.. One animal study suggested vitamin A deficiency can actually start the onset of slow hair loss.
It is very likely you have at least one of the above nutrient deficiencies, if not more and especially if you are a peri-menopausal or menopausal woman or follow a vegan or vegetarian diet. To correct such nutrient deficiencies, you must first have blood work done to demonstrate which vitamins and minerals you are lacking. Further, if you are deficient in a nutrient, it is very likely other parts of your body are unknowingly being affected as well.
Many more vitamins and minerals are likely involved in the hair growth process. But due to the limited research and clinical studies on nutrient supplementation and hair growth, we are not going to make conclusions for nutrients like fatty acids, vitamin E, biotin, and antioxidants. It is likely that such micronutrients could impact hair growth, but further research is needed to prove such statements.
Hormonal imbalances & mitochondrial dysfunction:
Hormonal imbalance and mitochondrial damage in regards to hair growth are very tightly linked. Thyroid is the only hormone that has been thoroughly studied in regards to hair loss. This is because of its role in mitochondrial health and the strong connection between mitochondrial damage and hair loss.
Cells within the thyroid gland rely on proper mitochondrial functioning to maintain health. Mitochondrial function is reliant on thyroid hormones to control cellular energy production. If thyroid levels are too low, mitochondria will produce less energy and actually die. This will kill the cell they’re within also. If mitochondrial function declines, less thyroid hormone will be produced. The relationship of the thyroid and mitochondria is cyclical and will only continue to cause damage until optimal levels are restored.
Mitochondrial damage is a very serious condition that has been linked to numerous chronic neurological and physical illnesses. As we age, our mitochondrial function declines and causes many age-related diseases. Mitochondrial decline has also been linked to skin wrinkles and hair loss, common symptoms of aging. Studies on mice have demonstrated that the augmentation of mitochondrial function in aging mice can reverse skin wrinkles and hair loss.
Hair loss is also a common symptom of thyroid disease. A German study found that thyroid hormones offer protection from harmful reactive oxygen species and help regulate our body’s natural anti-oxidants. Oxidative stress has been found to lead to poor overall scalp health and hair loss. Proper thyroid levels will alleviate this stress and result in healthy hair.
Hair follicles are highly regulated by thyroid hormones and jam-packed with mitochondria. This has made it hard to determine if hair loss for some individuals is caused by low levels of thyroid or damaged mitochondrial function. Researchers are also unable to determine which impairment comes first, regardless, hair loss is a symptom of both conditions.
If your hair loss is caused by a thyroid imbalance or mitochondrial damage, it is very likely you have more serious problems as well. A simple blood test will determine if your thyroid levels are low. An organic acid test or amino acid test will show signs of mitochondrial damage.
Of course, you should always be using organic personal care products, but especially shampoos and conditioners. Your scalp and hair follicles are sensitive, and can easily be damaged by the toxins in shampoos. Further, the skin of the scalp, packed oil glands and hair follicles, makes the perfect conduit for toxins to enter our body. To give you an idea of how porous the scalp is, researchers at Stanford University conducted an experiment on hair follicle absorbency. The researchers found that a topical application of a Hepatitis vaccine was absorbed by the hair follicle and induced an immune response comparable to that of muscular injection. This has caused some scientists to speculate if vaccine shampoos could be coming soon.
The scalp also features 13 emissary veins that flow through the brain. Toxins on the scalp will seep into these veins and expose the brain to toxins. Three pounds of toxins are drained from the brain each year, further exposure through your hair products can lead to damage to the brain.
A great site to find safe shampoo, personal care products and make-up is ewg.org.
Solving your hair loss:
Hair growth supplements are some of the most common on the market. If you search “hair loss” on Amazon, you receive over 20,000 options. The market is extremely saturated, but that does not mean all the products actually work.
When looking for a hair growth supplement, it is important to remember that it is the manufacturer’s responsibility to test the product for safety and effectiveness. The FDA has no authority to review or test such supplements. So a product marketed to make your hair grow exponentially faster could actually yield no results at all or cause harm.
Buying a regular over-the-counter hair supplementation will likely not yield any benefits for your scalp health. To truly solve your hair loss, it is very important to first discover which nutrient deficiencies or other imbalances are causing the problem.
Recovering from hair loss:
Once you have determined what condition is causing your hair loss and want to return to luscious-looking hair, you might want to spur the growth of your hair. Our recommended hair growth supplement is Ecklonia cava.
Ecklonia cava is a type of brown algae found off the coast of Japan and Korea. This alga is abundant in bioactives and derivatives including peptides, carotenoids, phlorotannins, and fucoidans. These elements are known as Ecklonia cava polyphenols (ECPs). ECPs can increase fibroblast survival, which will promote hair growth. Fibroblasts play a critical role in hair follicle development and regeneration. Increasing fibroblasts through ECP supplementation will promote overall hair follicle health and result in hair growth.
Ecklonia cava has been studied against two of the most popular hair loss treatment drugs- finasteride and minoxidil. Results of these studies demonstrated that ecklonia cava can perform both functions of the prescription medications.
How Ecklonia cava works:
Increases the size, depth, and length of hair follicles. A larger hair follicle will spend more time in the growth phase. This means Ecklonia cava will allow your hair to grow healthier and for longer periods of time.
Increase the length of the hair follicle. Ecklonia cava was 14% more effective in increasing hair follicle length than Minoxidil. A longer hair follicle will also result in a longer growth phase.
Ecklonia cava can be purchased as a supplement or as an additive in certain shampoos. However, to ensure you are getting the purest and most effective form of the supplement, it is important to purchase the product from a reputable functional medicine practitioner.
Ecklonia cava is most effective when applied directly to the scalp. We recommend breaking the capsule open and adding it to a carrier oil like coconut oil until a spreadable consistency has been reached. Apply the substance to your scalp after shampooing and allow it to sit for at least 30 minutes. Then rinse with lukewarm or cold water and cleanse your scalp of the substance. While applying Ecklonia cava to the scalp only needs to be done a couple times a month, the supplement should be taken daily. It may take a month before noticing the difference in hair volume.