Break The Fall

Each day, we shed about 100 hairs from our head. Find out why women lose hair and what we can do about it

Women's Weekly (Malaysia) - - CONTENTS -

Fac­tors that con­trib­ute to hair loss

Your scalp has around 100,000 hair fol­li­cles and ev­ery three years, each of those fol­li­cles goes through a cy­cle of hair growth, with the hair rest­ing and fall­ing out, fol­lowed by growth of new hair. How­ever, some­times that pat­tern is dis­turbed and ei­ther the hair does not grow or it be­comes finer, so women get thin­ning hair, hair loss and patches of bald­ness.

Just over half of women suf­fer some hair loss and thin­ning as they age. In most cases it is not no­tice­able, but for some of us, the loss can be more ob­vi­ous and dis­tress­ing.

“About 50 per cent of women in their 40s suf­fer some thin­ning. And now women are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing this prob­lem in their 20s and 30s.” says tri­chol­o­gist David Salinger.

From su­gar over­load to di­a­betes and crash di­et­ing, we look at some of the rea­sons be­hind fe­male hair loss and thin­ning, and find out what can help.


“The amount of su­gar in our di­ets has an ef­fect. Hid­den sug­ars are part of the prob­lem,” says David. Su­gar causes in­flam­ma­tion and leads to white blood cells at­tack­ing the cells that pro­duce hair. Fin­nish stud­ies found that women with high su­gar di­ets and in­sulin re­sis­tance had a higher risk of hair loss.

“When a wo­man has a nor­mal level of in­sulin, that fa­cil­i­tates the con­ver­sion of testos­terone back to oe­stro­gen,” ex­plains tri­chol­o­gist An­thony Pearce.

Fe­male hor­mones pro­mote hair growth while male hor­mones, like testos­terone, can ag­gra­vate hair loss and thin­ning.

Re­duce su­gar in­take by read­ing food la­bels care­fully, and if su­gar is one of the first three in­gre­di­ents listed, choose an al­ter­na­tive item with 15g of su­gar or less per 100g.


“Some birth con­trol pills can trig­ger hair thin­ning be­cause they have a male hor­mone in­flu­ence,” ex­plains David. Pills like Diane-35, Yaz and Yas­min have a weaker male hor­mone ef­fect than oth­ers. If you are tak­ing the Pill and feel it is af­fect­ing your hair, speak to your GP about al­ter­na­tive birth con­trol.


“If you are 10kg to 30kg over­weight, that will bring meta­bolic dis­tur­bance and hair loss,” says An­thony. Los­ing weight by cut­ting out key food groups is a fac­tor in thin­ning hair or hair loss as well. Hair is made of pro­tein and not get­ting enough pro­tein can af­fect hair growth. Iron and zinc de­fi­ciency has also been linked to hair loss.

“With crash di­et­ing, you change your diet and three months later you get tem­po­rary hair loss be­cause your hair is al­ways three months be­hind the rest of your body,” says Salinger.

Eat­ing a bal­anced diet en­sures that you get enough pro­tein and min­er­als for healthy hair growth. An iron sup­ple­ment can help as well.


Our body releases a nat­u­ral sub­stance called nerve growth fac­tor when we are stressed. This causes the nerves around the hair fol­li­cle to be­come ag­i­tated and in­flamed, which leads to dif­fuse hair loss.

“Stress also in­creases cor­ti­sone, a hor­mone re­leased by the adrenal gland. It has a sim­i­lar ef­fect to male hor­mones, so leads to thin­ning,” says David. “With ex­treme stress, women can also get alope­cia areata – cir­cu­lar patches of bald­ness that crop up quite quickly, within a week or two.”

Last year, sci­en­tists at Columbia Univer­sity Med­i­cal Cen­tre in the US found 75 per cent of pa­tients with mod­er­ate to se­vere alope­cia areata saw hair re­growth im­prove af­ter they were treated with a drug called rux­oli­tinib. The drug iden­ti­fies the im­mune cells that cause the in­flam­ma­tion that dam­ages the hair fol­li­cles.


Scar­ring alope­cia is a com­mon prob­lem af­ter menopause, with scar­ring mostly oc­cur­ring along the front hair­line and front sides of the scalp. A loss of fe­male hor­mones is be­hind the prob­lem and leads to white blood cells at­tack­ing and scar­ring hair fol­li­cles. Hor­mone re­place­ment ther­apy can help.

“Eye­brows can be af­fected too. You can­not see the scars on the scalp, but you see a lit­tle red­ness around the fol­li­cle or a small scale around the fol­li­cle,” says David.

A spe­cial­ist may also pre­scribe an amino acid called ty­ro­sine or rec­om­mend steroids to treat scar­ring alope­cia.


There is not a lot you can do about your ge­net­ics, but know­ing if you are more prone to thin­ning hair or hair loss can en­cour­age you to act when you no­tice your hair is chang­ing.

“Ge­net­ics are a ma­jor fac­tor and we think for a wo­man to have ge­netic thin­ning, she will in­herit the genes from both par­ents,” says David. “How­ever, even if both par­ents have great hair, their child can get ge­netic thin­ning.”

Ad­vances are be­ing made in treat­ing hair loss and thin­ning. One op­tion is platelet-rich plasma, where platelets from the blood are con­cen­trated and then those platelets are in­jected into the scalp.

“The platelets are rich in growth fac­tors for the hair, so in­ject­ing them helps hair growth,” says David. “It is in­va­sive, and sev­eral places in the scalp are in­jected ini­tially but it can be of ben­e­fit. Hair trans­plan­ta­tion is also ef­fec­tive for women who are re­ally thin­ning on top, but if your hair is only slightly thin­ning, you should try other treat­ments first.”

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