It is widely known that hair thinning and hair loss is a matter that concerns both men and women. Specifically, it is one of the most common problems seen by dermatologists worldwide. (1) Hair thinning is important for both genders because it is related to self- image and causes emotional distress.
Structure of hair
The number of human hair on the scalp is about 100.000-150.000. The main component of hair (almost 95%) is a protein named keratin. Additionally, hair is composed of lipids, minerals, water and melanin granules. (2) The hair structure can be divided into 3 parts: Medulla (centre layer of hair shaft), Cortex (which is considered as the most important layer of the hair shaft) and cuticle (the outer layer). (3)
The root of the human hair ends in the hair follicle which nourishes the hair through an artery. The hair follicle is considered as the place where hair is actually produced.
How does hair grow?
Hair growth is characterised by cycles, each one consisting of three phases:
- The anagen or growth phase - Hair is in anagen phase for years and hair is growing at any given time.
- The catagen or transitional phase- It has a few weeks duration and hair growth slows.
- The telogen or resting phase – This phase lasts for months. The main characteristic of this phase is that hair growth stops. Afterwards, the anagen phase begins for new hair, pushing the old hair out. (4)
How does hair thinning begin? What is the cause of hair thinning?
Genes, hormones and nutrient deficiencies seem to be the most important factors resulting to hair thinning. However, there are many types of hair loss, each one characterised by different symptoms and causes:
Male and female-pattern baldness
It is considered as the most common type of hair thinning, affecting about 1/2 of all men by 50 years of age. For men, the problem might start as early as their teens or early 20s. This hair loss type starts as a receding hairline, followed by hair loss on the temples and crown, leaving a horseshoe shape around the back and sides of the head. Male-pattern baldness is caused by genetic factors; thus, it is hereditary. Testosterone (a male hormone) is too high in these men, resulting to oversensitive hair follicles and hair thinning. Women (female-pattern baldness) might face the same problem, but hair usually only thins on top of the head. Women experience the problem of female-pattern baldness after menopause, due to the lower levels of female hormones. (5)
An English study (2001) showed a 6% prevalence among women under 50 years of age. However, the highest prevalence was observed among women over 70 years of age 38%. (6)
It is another type of hair loss, causing patches of baldness on the scalp, about the size of a large coin. It mainly affects teenagers and young adults but can occur at any age. It affects 1-2 people /1,000 in the UK and it seems to be related to the immune system.
It is usually caused by other conditions or complications like scleroderma or lupus. Its main characteristic is that the hair follicle is completely destroyed. It is estimated that about 7% of hair loss cases are due to scarring alopecia.
There are also several other types of hair loss among which hair loss caused by chemotherapy or radiotherapy during cancer treatment. The hair loss is usually noticeable within a few weeks of starting treatment, but it is temporary because hair starts to grow back a few months after treatment has stopped. (5)
Lifestyle and hair thinning.
Some lifestyle habits like overuse of shampooing or blow-drying may contribute to hair thinning. Additionally, hair dying, perming and straightening can also damage your hair and lead to hair thinning. Therefore, you should dry your hair gently. Moreover, massaging contributes to increased blood flow to the scalp, helping in the re-growth of hair. (7)
Dietary changes and supplements consumption.
Vitamin and nutrient deficiencies may cause hair loss; therefore, you must find out which ones you are lacking to overcome the deficiency. (8)
Zinc is an essential mineral important for many body functions. It can be found in seafood, lamb, beef, wheat germ, spinach, nuts, cocoa, mushrooms, chocolate and others. Because seafood and meat sources are the greatest zinc sources compared to plant sources, vegans and vegetarians might need extra supplementation to meet their daily requirements. A study among patients with hair loss and zinc deficiency showed that oral supplementation of zinc resulted to the reverse of hair loss and all patients reported an improvement in their hair. (9)
Vitamin B5 or Pantothenic acid is responsible for proper hair growth. Dietary sources of Vitamin B5 are: liver, soya, mushrooms, cauliflower, baking yeast, milk, whole grains, beans and green leafy vegetables. (10)
Omega fatty acids
Deficiency of the polyunsaturated essential fatty acids may result to hair loss. Good sources of Omega-3 fatty acids are mainly fish, flax seeds, wheat sprouts and walnuts. Omega-6 fatty acids can be found in plant oils and they are essential for keeping proper build of hair. (10)
Hair is able to uptake selenium in its matrix during keratinization (p the rocess of making keratin). The main foods providing selenium are bread, cereals, meat, fish, liver, eggs and dairy. (10)
Several factors can cause selenium deficiency: living in areas with low selenium soil content malabsorption disorders, long-term hemodialysis, HIV. Thus, taking a selenium supplement would benefit these groups of patients. (9)
One of the common symptoms of biotin deficiency is hair loss. According to a study, biotin deficiency was found in 38% of women complaining of hair loss. (11) Good sources of biotin are: eggs, dairy, grains, nuts, yeast, meat, fish and legumes. (12)
To sum up, having healthy hair is considered as an important factor of self-esteem and social interaction. Genetics play a key role in the hair thinning, but lifestyle factors such as diet can contribute significantly. There is no need to wait until you get nutrient deficient to start eating a healthy diet. Variety of foods helps you avoid nutrient deficiencies. Food supplements are important for people who face nutrient deficiencies, do not meet their daily vitamin intake requirements or experience a malabsorption problem.
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