It’s the worst feeling in the world: Looking down at the shower drain and seeing clumps of hair. Noticing your once lustrous locks are suddenly lacking volume. Too much hair coming out in your hands and in your hairbrush. Or your hair is suddenly brittle and breaking off.
I’ve been there, so I know how devastating it feels to lose your hair. I was able to successfully regrow my hair, and now it looks better than ever! I work with so many women who struggle with hair loss. I hope my story will help you find the solutions you need. You can read my other post on solutions for hair loss here.
Hair loss has many causes:
- hyperthyroidism (contributes to fine hair)
- high prolactin levels (can be a breast feeding side effect)
- low iron levels, low ferritin, low B12
- low levels of stomach acid
- high or low estrogen or low progesterone levels, or dropping hormone levels associated with menopause
- high testosterone
- an increase in DHT (androgenic hormone responsible for male pattern baldness– can affect women too!)
- stressors such as sudden weight loss, post-pregnancy (a happy stress, but a stress nonetheless), surgery, or extreme stress
- certain medications: anti-depressants, beta-blockers, or NSAID pain relievers
- PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome)
- scalp conditions, alopecia
- chemical treatments or harsh styling
Working with a practitioner and obtaining the proper lab work can help you figure out the cause. That’s vitally important to stop hair loss and get started on the path to regrowth.
My Hair Story
I’ve always had long, thick blonde-ish hair. When I was a kid and through college it fell to my mid-back, and, in some ways, my hair became a part of my identity. After college I discovered highlights and lowlights and was thrilled wth a whole new world of enhancing my hair’s natural tones. While it was fun, I felt guilty about the chemical processing.
My hair tends to by dry, so I was always using conditioning treatments, serums, oils, and a revolving array of products to keep it shiny and healthy. Until it wasn’t.
In my 30s I noticed my hair’s texture began to change; it was becoming more brittle and thinner. My stylist commented that it looked fried. I didn’t think much of it and continued to pour on the products to improve its appearance. I was using mostly natural products and coconut oil by this time, as I was striving to reduce the chemical load in my bodycare and cleaning products. I stopped getting chemical color treatments.
One day (and I swear it literally happened overnight), I woke up to this.
There was a chunk missing from the bottom of my hair, and it was so dry and brittle. I immediately went in for blood work and discovered I was hypothyroid. Because I’ve worked with many hypothyroid cases, I knew exactly what to do, but I felt ashamed that my hormones weren’t properly balanced. After all, it was my job to help my clients balance their hormones! Fortunately for me, however, I knew which labs to request and how to begin rebalancing my endocrine system. It’s not always as easy if you don’t have a proactive doctor or don’t know the cause of your symptoms. We really have to advocate on our own behalf when it comes to health and wellness.
Turns out so many of the women in my family have the same issue: Hypothyroidism that began in their mid 30s. Hypothyroidism is a big cause of hair loss in women. My hypothyroid was not caused by Hashimoto’s autoimmune thyroiditis, which is a main cause of hypothyroidism. So I got to work and started thyroid hormone replacement. I also made sure to support my adrenals and focus on endocrine balance.
By this time, however, I’d lost quite a bit of hair and had to cut the damaged portion off. My locks lacked luster, and the volume was thinning. I was super depressed.
It can take a while to nail down the proper thyroid dose and stop the shedding. So all the while I was still losing hair. But I persevered and made sure I was getting plenty of nutrient dense foods.
Once I finally determined the proper dosage of thyroid meds for me (a custom compounded T3/T4 blend), I did some more investigative work and checked my estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone levels. Estrogen dominance and too much testosterone can cause hair loss, too. Those were fine. But I was iron deficient and needed more zinc. Hypothyroidism and anemia go hand in hand, and I’m prone to anemia, so I started supplementing with this blood builder.
I also ran a stool test to make sure I didn’t have any gut issues that might affect absorption of nutrients. H pylori, dysbiosis, and candida can contribute to hair loss too. That turned out OK, so I knew I needed to focus predominantly on my diet and replenishing nutrients. Finally, things started to turn around.
After several months on a protocol that supported thyroid and nutrient replacement, my hair started growing back! And it looked stronger and better than it had in a long time. I saw the biggest shift when I began to use this supplement that contains a unique array of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and herbs to help regrow hair. It also has a hefty amount of zinc, which is crucial for thyroid hormone production. Double bonus for me!
How I Beat Hair Loss
I’ll walk you step-by-step though my process.
- If you begin to notice hair loss or thinning hair, your very first step is to request blood work. You’ll need a complete CBC with a full thyroid panel that checks TSH, free T3, free T4, and TPO antibodies. Also request vitamin D, B vitamins, zinc, iron, and ferritin. If your doctor balks at ordering these markers for you, you can order them yourself off Direct Labs (click here for my test menu. I recommend the ’10 most important tests’).You’ll need a practitioner to interpret the results. My clients often go this route. You can also order a full thyroid panel kit yourself (no doctor needed; there are many at-home test kits you can order. I use EverlyWell.), and it comes to your house. It’s super easy to do (read more about it here).
- Test for estrogen, progesterone, DHEA, and testosterone if you can (included in the ’10 most important tests’ here. You can also run saliva tests for female hormones and cortisol, which is what i recommend. Chronic high cortisol means you’re stressed, and that may also cause hair loss.
- Once your results are in, correct any deficiencies that show up. This includes balancing hormones. Pay special attention to iron and ferritin levels. Ferritin should be over 40 to regrow hair. Some say even higher than 80. My ferritin was as low as 10 at one point. More importantly, figure out why you have deficiencies: Is it your diet? Gut issues preventing you from absorbing nutrients?
- Assess your stress level. Take steps to manage your stressors. Make sure you are getting adequate sleep. Try for a walk in nature daily for at least 20 minutes. Try earthing!
- Check your products. My hair loss prompted me to stop all chemical processing and completely revamp my products. You can read more about my “no poo” journey here. These days I only shampoo my hair once a week with natural shampoo. I deep condition regularly and give myself scalp massages to stimulate follicles. I also co-wash once a week, which means washing with conditioner. If I need a refresher in between, I simply wet my hair in the shower and apply a natural leave-in conditioner when it’s wet after I get out.
Diet & Supplements for Hair Loss
How you design your diet and supplement protocol will depend on your lab results. But there are a number of foods and nutrients you can incorporate to support hair growth.
- Protein. Hair growth depends on amino acids, which you get from protein-rich foods. Make sure you are getting 20 grams of protein per meal, and vary your protein sources for a diverse array of nutrients: egg yolk, lamb, beef, fatty fish (salmon, sardines) are the most nutrient rich options. If you’re a vegetarian or vegan with hair loss issues, you may have iron, B vitamin, and zinc deficiencies, all of which contribute to hair loss. These vitamins and minerals are richest in animal protein and much less bio-available in plant based protein sources. You can also try branched chain amino acids (especially if you are vegetarian).
- Collagen peptides or gelatin are rich in amino acids and gut healing nutrients that are supreme for hair, skin, and joints. Collagen made a HUGE difference for me (and my skin, bonus). You can add collagen peptides to smoothies, use a collagen-based smoothie mix, or get yourself some bone broth and drink up (however, initially you’ll need to use the collagen peptides, as bone broth doesn’t provide enough for therapeutic benefit). You need to use it for at least 4-6 weeks 5x/week minimum to see results. I use collagen in this elixir daily. My hair grows so fast now.
- Essential fatty acids are, well, essential for nourishing skin and hair. For women I recommend this fish oil. Also get fatty fish (salmon, sardines) at least once weekly. Chia, grass fed beef, walnuts, and certain leafy greens are also sources. Don’t forget other healthy fats in your diet that are the building blocks for your hormones: coconut oil, butter, avocado, olive oil.
- Fermented foods and probiotics: dysbiosis (an overgrowth of bad bacteria in the gut) causes leaky gut, which prevents you from absorbing all the nutrients from your food. Build up your probiotic gut flora with coconut water kefir, raw kraut, and probiotic supplements. Consider a digestive enzyme if you see undigested food in your stool or if you have gas and belching. That’s a sign that you’re not absorbing nutrients needed for hair growth and tissue repair.
- Focus on iron and zinc rich foods, including beef, lamb, beets, oysters, pumpkin seeds. Liver is also an excellent source of iron, zinc, B vitamins, and vitamin D. The perfect food to combat hair loss! You can take liver capsules if you can’t stomach the thought of liver.
- Up your intake of vitamin B rich foods like egg yolk, meat, dark leafy greens, seafood, lentils. This supplement is an excellent blood builder, rich in B vitamins and iron. I recommend it those prone to anemia, to vegetarians and vegans, and those with poor red blood cell counts.
- Bamboo leaf tea is rich in silica that is a game changer for hair loss.
- This supplement contains zinc, biotin, bamboo, amino acids, B vitamins, and other nutrients that supercharge hair growth. It worked WONDERS for me. I combined it with this iron supplement.Make sure you test before adding in iron supplementation.
- Finally, not an issue for me, but if you’re experiencing menopausal hair loss, in addition to the diet tips, inquire about use of plant-based estrogen and progesterone replacement. Note that this is NOT the same as HRT against which I strongly caution. Also make sure to have your thyroid checked!
These days my hair grows like a weed and is in better shape than ever before thanks to my balanced hormones, my diet, my natural hair care routine and products, and supplements as needed.
It can take weeks, even months, before you see regrowth, but you’ll notice improvements soon after you begin to fix the underlying causes. And you can begin right away by improving your diet and stress levels!
I understand how frustrating the hair loss and regrowth journey is. Please comment below and let us know what’s worked for you.
Mary Vance is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and author specializing in digestive health. She combines a science-based approach with natural therapies to rebalance the body. In addition to her 1:1 coaching, she offers courses to help you heal your gut and improve your health. Mary lives in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Read more about her coaching practice here and her background here.
Are you able to take all of them together?
Esperanza, yes, but the H-S-N complex and collagen work best if you’re on a budget.
Thanks for sharing! I had horrible shedding from a hormonal imbalance when coming off the pill. It finally stopped for at least 6 months and here I am again losing handfuls. Found out my ferritin was 19 so I’ve brought it up for 35 in two months. I’m hoping it’ll regrow once I get it up high.
hi. Is there a practitioner you can recommend? I am ordering the thyroid panel kit, but I will need a physician to explain the results. I’ve seen so many physicians and dermatologists, and my hair loss concerns have always been brushed aside.
Eunice, try https://briewieselman.com/
Was there any worry of having androgenetic alopecia? My ferritin is currently at 6.8 ng/ml and my doctors do not seem to think this is an issue. I, however, have recently started to supplement as I do think this level is rather alarming. I’ve been battling with excessive hair loss/shedding for the past year and half. I also have hypothryoidism but have been medicated for years. Do you think your low ferritin was the main culprit?
Katei, in my case, it was the hypothyroid-anemia (low iron) combo. I’ve always had low ferritin. It ranges between 10-20, and there’s not much I can do about it without overloading on iron supplements (which is bad; you don’t want too much iron). However, since finding my ideal dose of thyroid meds + normalizing my iron levels and taking collagen and the hair-skin-nails product I recommend, my hair is looking great these days 🙂
Hey Mary, thank you for the article! What supplement did you use for hair regrowth? The supplement contained zinc, biotin, etc… The link doesn’t seem to be working.
Hi Heather, sorry about that. It’s working on my end; not sure why that is happening. Here is the link: https://maryvancenc.ehealthpro.com/products/h-s-n-complete-120-capsules
I stumbled across your article this evening and once I got to the end of it I realized it was an answer to prayer. God is so good!
I had a CBC done about 6 months ago and they found I have a low ferratin level. I did not take Iron as my doctor suggested because i am not low in Iron. What can i do to boost my Ferratin level?
God bless you Mary God bless you dilligence.
Love from NY Jamie
Jesus saves! John 3:16-19 KJB
Hi Jamie, you would need to look at your red cell counts (hemoglobin, etc) B vitamins, and thyroid to get a better picture. Low ferritin with normal iron is still considered iron deficiency. You would want to consider supplementation (I like raw iron from garden of life) and iron rich foods + a digestive enzyme to help absorption. There is likely a gut issue or leaky gut meaning you are not absorbing all nutrients from food.
I was searching for articles about hair loss when I found yours. I’m suffering from hair loss since December 2019. I started taking food supplement (multivitamins) and it stopped for 3 months until I stopped taking them, and it’s now shedding more than ever. I made a blood test and it turned out that my ferritin is at 7.. and my iron is low too. I wanted to know if it’s dangerous to take iron pills + iron supplement (Megafood Blood builder) + multivitamins (Novophane) ? Is there a risk of an “overdose” ?
Thank you !
Hi Nina, that is a good question. Typically for levels that low, you need a higher dose to raise iron and ferritin. That’s usually anywhere from 25-65mg. You probably don’t need to double up on iron supplementation. I usually recommend a higher dose of iron for a month or 2 to normalize your levels then a maintenance product (like the megafood) for a while after. Most important is the figure out why your levels are that low. Here’s my article on it https://www.maryvancenc.com/anemia-surprising-cause/
Hi, I appreciate you sharing all of this as this helps a lot. I have a similar situation. I’ve always had thick luscious hair and suddenly throughout the years it started thinning for me to find out I was severely anemic. I started to take mega blood builders recently as the ones my doctor prescribed cause me to have bad side affects to them. I just wanted to know if i consist of a healthy diet with a lot of iron if my premature white hairs go away. It’s been kind of depressing as my hair was kind of my identity but needless to say I’m thankful to have hair on my head. And seeing your story it makes me hopeful as I just need to be patient. I am only 23 and have started to form so many premature white hairs to the point where it looks like I’ve gotten white highlights. Thanks
Hi Lara, it can be difficult (but not impossible) to reverse gray hair. I would recommend full blood work to check thyroid function and stress hormone levels as well. Low antioxidants can also cause premature graying. But it may be genetic. Fo-Ti root may also help. Best wishes.
hi..can u help me my hair texture change become straw like and I’m losing hair everyday and I have dry skin I’m taking 50 thyroxine now do u think thyroxine can revers texture to soft and normal agine and how many time to revers…thank u
Thank you for all this information! I am having trouble with accessing a lot of your links (primarily the ones where you have recommended supplements). Could you please help with this. Thank you!
Hi emma, the links are all working, all you need to do is click or tap them. Which specifically are you not able to access?
I have recently been suffering from hair thinning, as well as a drying which causes my hair to break very easily. This all began about 6 months ago, but I finally decided to make an appt with a MD and plan on requesting your suggested blood screens. In the mean time, I was curious if you were suffering any other symptoms from the low iron and hypothyroidism? I seem to have only noticed my hair issues at this point. Thanks so much! You story has made me feel a little more hopeful.
Hi Taylor, great that you’re getting blood work. Stress, hormone imbalance, and nutrient deficiencies like zinc can also be an issue, and supplementing with the H-S-N complex as well as collagen helped a lot. But low iron, low ferritin, and low thyroid were my main problems.
Thank you so much for sharing your journey.
One thing: The link for the blood builder you recommend to vegetarians and vegans isn’t working? Any chance you can update the link or share the with me?
Sorry about that Judy. It’s been fixed: https://amzn.to/2ZZZIBL
I really appreciate the time and organization you’ve put into this article. My hair loss has been going on for about a year now and I thought it was antidepressant, but just got ferritin test back and it’s at a 7. I’ll check out these supplements; and I thank you!
Hi Megan, glad you found the info useful. Ideally you want to dig a little deeper and figure out what’s causing the low ferritin. Gut issues like SIBO which block absorption of nutrients is a main cause. Hypothyroid is another. And of course, not getting enough iron in your diet or heavy menstrual cycles. Best wishes.
Thank you for sharing your hair loss story as I’m sure it’s resonated with so many people, including myself.
My name’s Brad, I’m a 38-year old lean male and was raw-vegan for nearly 15 years. About three months ago, I started to incorporate salmon, sardines, and beef liver (Ancestral Supplements) into my diet to try & increase my protein & iron levels.
About six months ago, I noticed my hair on the top of my head thinned diffusely. This was six months after I contracted Covid. Since then, I have not seen any hair growth, and I can see more scalp than hair since my hair is still paper thin. A little over a year ago, I had much thicker hair & it was growing! Now, I have no new hair growth and thinned hair that doesn’t appear to be getting better.
On my latest blood test, my iron levels were 61 (ug/dl), ferritin was 112 (ng/dl), had high T4 (10.5 ug/dl), with normal T3 levels for thyroid, and sky-high progestone @ .558 ng/ml. SHBG is high as well. I do practice intermittent fasting 20:4 everyday to prevent insulin resistance & give my organs a break.
This has all caused me a lot of sadness as you can imagine as I’m deathly afraid of going bald. I’ve had the itchiest scalp in the world the past few months as well w/ flaking. (Using aloe vera/tea tree and a botanical DHT shampoo/conditioner once a week)
Any help or insight you can provide to help get my hair growing & thicker again would be amazing as no dermatologist or trichologist I’ve spoken to hasn’t been helpful.
Hi Brad, one side effect of covid is hair loss, as the persistent inflammation damages hair follicles. for that I recommend a fish oil along with curcumin or SPM (specialized pro-resolving mediators). you’ll also want to increase zinc (often deficient in vegans, as the best sources are animal products) & protein especially. you could also consider adding in collagen. this one is specifically for hair growth: https://maryvancenc.ehealthpro.com/products/h-s-n-complex-skin-and-joint-support-powder
it could take quite a bit of time to build up your nutrient reserves after being vegan for so long. for scalp itchiness try an apple cider vinegar rinse.
I wanted to thank you for this precious article. I’m currently going through severe hair loss. And would like a little information, I noticed hair loss recently and got my lab results. Turns out that my ferritin is 62 (I was anemic before so I thought that it would be the iron..) but on my results, only the Vitamin D is shown to be insufficient (I’m at 9 while it was at 40 last year) and Vitamin B9 (folic acid) is at 3,2. My doctor gave me immediately Vitamin D and folic acid and I started my “healing” journey a few days ago.
Do you think Vitamin D and/or B9 can be a factor of hair loss ?
Thank you again,
Hi Gabrielle, Glad you found the info useful. Any deficiency is a stress on the body, and stress is a major cause of hair loss, though the cause may be more than one factor. Hopefully you can determine your root cause.
Hello again Mary,
Thank you so much for your answer. I went back to my doctor and he said that the root cause was definitely the Vitamin D deficiency along with the folic acid low levels.
I wanted to ask you another question (I really hope I’m not bothering in any way) : how long does it take to level “up” your vitamin D level ?
Thank you again !!