Your hair can offer clues about your health. Up to 60 percent of women may experience hair loss at some point or another. I’ve been one of them, so I know the pain. My hair turned brittle and thin due to hormone imbalance and anemia, and I was able to successfully restore it to health using the tips below.
One of the focal points of my practice is to help women reverse hypothyroidism, autoimmune issues, and hormone imbalance. Hair loss or thinning hair often accompanies these imbalances, so I am frequently offering tips on how to reverse it and encourage new hair growth. By addressing hormones, diet, and lifestyle, you can stop the shedding!
Is this you?
- Noticing clumps of hair coming out in the shower
- Increased shedding
- Thinning hair around hairline
- Easier to see scalp
- Reduction in hair volume
- Changes in hair texture (more coarse, brittle)
Many women spend hundreds of dollars on magic potions to apply topically, but unless you address the underlying imbalance, you’re wasting your money. These conditions can contribute to hair loss:
- 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
The most common causes of hair loss I see in my practice are due to hypothyroid, female hormone and stress hormone imbalance, and PCOS. Anemia is up there too. The good news is that these conditions are completely reversible over time with proper nutrition and a hormone balancing protocol.
The body depends on a normal functioning thyroid gland for all metabolic functions, including hair growth and skin regeneration. If the thyroid falters, the body slows down, and weight gain, constipation, fatigue, and lack of hair growth–or hair loss– can result. Dropping female hormone levels (estrogen and progesterone) may cause hair loss, as is the case after menopause in some women, or an increase in androgenic hormones (testosterone or high DHEA) can also cause hair loss. This is typically what happens with PCOS.
Post-pregnancy is another time when hair can start falling out. Typically the thinning will slow and resolve on its own, but make sure and use the natural products I recommend below (especially important for pregnancy and nursing so you don’t introduce chemicals into your body and into fetal tissue or breast milk!). If you continue to experience hair loss after several months, coupled with fatigue and weight gain, have your thyroid checked. Pregnancy can trigger hypothyroid or Hashimoto’s autoimmune hypothyroidism.
Low iron and ferritin levels or a deficiency in the B vitamins can contribute to hair loss or brittle, breaking hair. It’s easy to get iron levels tested, but it’s also important to determine what’s causing the deficiency. Are you vegetarian/vegan and not getting the iron and B vitamins you need? It’s difficult to find absorbable forms of iron in a vegetarian diet, and B vitamins are richest in animal foods and eggs. Do you have inflammation in the gut that’s preventing you from absorbing nutrients from your food? Inflammation in the GI tract can affect probiotic bacteria levels which can adversely affect B12 synthesis. Are you lacking in high quality protein and the right fats? Make sure you’re getting a variety of proteins such as wild fish, grass fed beef, eggs and lamb, for example, and essential fatty acids from fermented cod liver oil, wild salmon and grass fed beef, for example. These foods are essential for balanced hormones, too.
You also need proper enzyme and stomach acid (hydrochloric acid) production to break down proteins in foods so deficiencies don’t result. Taking a digestive enzyme with betaine HCl can help assure you’re digesting and absorbing all the nutrients from your food.
Specific autoimmune conditions or severe candida overgrowth can cause hair loss. If you have a diagnosis, you can work with a practitioner to determine how to address the condition and determine the best diet to support hair growth.
Solutions for Hair Loss
What you eat matters! As I mentioned above, if you have vitamin and mineral deficiencies because of a poor diet, the health of your skin, hair, and nails will suffer.
- Get at least 15 grams of protein from organic animal sources at each meal.
- Aim for a diet higher in healthy fats (coconut oil, avocado, olive oil, salmon, sardines, almonds, butter) and low in refined carbs/sugar
- Drink bone broth for the collagen and gelatin– it’s great for skin and hair!
- Plenty of leafy and starchy veggies will provide minerals.
- You can supplement with Floradix, an excellent liquid herbal iron supplement, or take a B vitamin complex to boost those levels.
- Try collagen peptides in smoothies, coffee, tea, or I use this elixir. Collagen made a HUGE difference in my hair (and skin and nails) when I struggled with hair loss.
- Take a digestive enzyme to ensure you are digesting well and absorbing nutrients from your food.
- Get plenty of probiotic foods, such as fermented raw kraut and coconut water kefir, to boost the good bacteria in your gut so that you’ll digest better and absorb all the nutrients from your food. You can try a probiotic supplement, too.
- I also recommend taking essential fatty acids. You can get them from krill or fish oil. Important nutrients for hair growth are calcium, magnesium, copper and zinc. Biotin and silica work wonders. (See my recs in supplement list below).
- Get zinc. It restores growth. Best sources are oysters, grass fed beef, and grass fed lamb.
I also often recommend this supplement, which contains botanicals and nutrients to promote hair growth, while you’re addressing the root cause. It contains zinc, biotin, B vitamins, silica, and additional nutrients, and I can testify that it works AMAZINGLY well. I could tell a huge difference in my hair after less than a month. My clients love it.
It pays to address any digestive issues and fix your gut, because you aren’t only what you eat, but more accurately, what you absorb. If you’re not absorbing all the nutrients from your food because your gut is inflamed or leaky, deficiencies develop. Click here for more on healing leaky gut.
Help for Hormones
If you suspect hormone balance is the issue, you can do saliva testing to determine if your hormones are out of whack. I offer this in my practice. Once I have the results, I can design a hormone balancing protocol and adjust your diet to support healthy adrenal and female hormones. The saliva testing also checks DHEA and cortisol levels, so if stress is a factor (isn’t it always?), we can rebalance cortisol, too. You can do thyroid testing through your doctor or order testing yourself through Direct Labs. This is a good route if you have trouble requesting the right blood tests from your doctor. See the resource section below for more on hypothyroid issues.
Your Products Matter
Hair loss can result from harsh chemical treatments and styling treatments. Time to detox your cosmetics and shampoos and go au natural. Which is a good thing anyway, because all those chemicals can build up in your body and cause endocrine disruption and infertility.
You can make your own shampoo! Check out all the “no poo” and low poo options available. You can also use apple cider vinegar as a rinse once weekly to remove build up which can slow hair growth. Also use a good hair mask weekly. I like a mash of avocado, olive oil and egg yolk. And scalp massage is a wonderful way to stimulate follicles. I do this several times weekly.
I’ve personally kicked my chemical shampoos and my hair looks better than ever. It really helps restore hair growth! I like the Shea Moisture line, which is what I finally settled on. I also like the Acure leave-in conditioner . You can see before and after pics of my hair on this protocol in this post.
Supplements I recommend for hair loss/encouraging hair growth:
- Floradix for iron (important: do NOT take if you have sufficient iron levels. Get tested!)
- H-S-N complex: this is the formula that contains zinc, silica, biotin, and nutrients that promote fast hair growth! I use and love it.
- B vitamin complex
- Nordic Naturals fish oils or krill oil
- Biotin (don’t need it if you use the HSN complex mentioned above)
- Probiotics for healthy gut
- Gelatin or collagen peptides. Here’s my article on collagen.
- DHT blockers like saw palmetto, pumpkin seed oil
- Bamboo leaf tea— rich in silica and promotes AMAZING hair growth!
For hormone balance:
- Consider saliva testing for female hormone levels, cortisol and DHEA
- check thyroid hormones: TSH, T3, T4, reverse T3, TPO & AB antibodies
- Check iron and ferritin levels
- You can order your own lab work here.
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.