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When Hair Follicles Get The Wrong Instructions

Posted Nov 30 2012 7:20pm

You don’t have to count the number of hairdressing and beauty salons in every town, big or small, to know that looking good is important to women. Walking out of the salon with a thick glossy head of beautifully styled hair just seems to lift your self-esteem up a few notches. So finding increasing amounts of hair loss on your hairbrush is worrying. When will it stop? Will it stop? Is this the start of baldness? For the same emotional reasons, discovering hair growing on your face, chest, sometimes tummy and toes can seriously erode a woman’s confidence.

Blame DHT first. The full name is dihydrotestosterone – quite a mouthful - it’s a metabolite of testosterone. Both women and men produce testosterone, but women produce far less than men. For women, problems can emerge with hair growing in the wrong places or not growing in the right places when circulating testosterone levels are too high, or, if you have the genes for it, your hair follicles have become sensitised to DHT.

A normal healthy hair follicle (on your head or on your body) has a predictable routine. It spends some time actively growing hair, then stops growing the hair but just rests for a while, then lets the hair go, then has another rest before beginning the process of growing another hair. What DHT does to the hair on your head is increase the length of time the follicle waits, empty, before growing a new, but thinner hair. On your body however, DHT will push the hair follicle to grow thicker and faster, and wait less time before growing a new one. It’s as though the hair follicles on your head and those on your face and body have received the wrong set of instructions.

There can be another reason for hair loss, and that’s a malfunctioning thyroid gland. A hypoactive (underactive) thyroid gland is a common disorder in women. Diffuse head hair loss can be one of the symptoms. The big difference between DHT-driven hair loss and thyroid-driven hair loss is that DHT style hair loss tends to make hair fall out in the same way as a male’s. (It’s sometimes known as male pattern baldness, or androgenic alopecia.)

If you have DHT-style hair loss, you can take steps in your diet and lifestyle to minimise the effects. First, a diet high in fibre from non-starchy vegetables and legumes will increase your body’s level of sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG), which mops up and disposes of excess hormones in circulation. A no-sugar diet combined with daily exercise will increase your body’s sensitivity to insulin, which will help your hormones stay better balanced. Your natural health practitioner can also prescribe herbs which will actively block the effect of DHT at the hair follicle.

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