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.
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.