From smoking to stress and your diet…why your hair is thinning – and how to stop bald patches

It starts off as hair that's not as luscious as it once was, then it gradually gets thinner, you notice bald spots, then one day it's a barren wasteland.

So why does your hair thin? And is it something everyone will experience?

The first thing to understand is that losing your hair isn't the same as going bald.

As you age it's inevitable your hair will start to thin – hair ages just like everything else in your body.

Many men suffer from what's known as male pattern baldness, a genetic condition that causes the hair to fall out, usually in a receding pattern from the temples and crown of the head.

Unfortunately, there's not much you can do about that except maybe buy a hat or steer into the storm and shave it all off anyway.

There are some hair loss drugs available that could help your hair grow back – finasteride and minoxidil – but they don't work on everyone and aren't available on the NHS.

That's baldness out of the way, now on to why your hair gets thinner.

To understand that you first need to understand the structure of your locks and the hair follicles.

Your scalp contain everything your hair needs to grow, from your hair follicle to the dermal papilla that sends nutrients from your blood, and your hair bulb which absorbs the nutrients to help your hair grow.

The healthier your scalp, the more luscious your mane of hair is.

When your scalp isn't at it's healthiest, that's when you will notice your hair thinning.

1. Age

Unless you have a time machine there's not much you can do about this one.

As you get older your hair follicles start to degenerate, so your hair isn't as healthy as it once was.

Men especially have this problem thanks to a chemical called dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a by-product of testosterone, which attaches to the hair follicle causing it to shrink and die.

A drop in female hormones can also cause the hair to thin as we age.

With post-menopausal hair loss, you don’t tend to see hair falling away excessively; your scalp becomes more visible particularly at the front and not as manageable as it once was," hair specialist Sally-Ann Tarver said.

"The earlier this is treated the better, treatment is based more around keeping what you’ve got and improving it to some degree, rather than restoring your hair to how it was in your 20’s and 30’s."

By the time you are in your 60s treatments to prevent hair loss become less effective.

"In this decade and beyond, the same happens with our hair as our skin, it ages," she said.

"Each strand of hair becomes slightly finer so will give less scalp coverage. Hair treatments become less effective and more limited, as many are contra-indicated to other health conditions and medications common in the over 60’s.

"It is essential we look after our hair. We spend thousands on anti-ageing for our face, but give very little thought to our hair, which also goes through the ageing process."

2. Stress

So stressed you're pulling your hair out?

It's not a far cry from what actually makes your hair thin when you are stressed.

Both physical and emotional stress can cause the hair to thin or even fall out.

The hair has a shedding cycle – a growth phase, rest phase and shedding phase.

It's normal to lose a certain amount of hair every day, but when you are stressed the shedding phase is sped up so your hair can appear thinner than usual.

The good news is, your hair will return to normal when you are less stressed out, so try to focus on taking steps to reduce your stress.

3. Smoking

Like smoking didn't have enough health risks, you can now adding thinning hair to the mix.

It comes down to two things, toxins and blood flow.

A study of Taiwanese men in 2007 found that those who smoked reported higher rates of hair loss.

Scientists speculated that the toxins in fags damaged the hair follicle and therefore it's ability to maintain thick, luscious hair.

Another reason smoking may cause hair loss is that is can cause restricted blood flow.

Smokers are at a higher risk for heart disease and stroke thanks to thicker arteries caused by smoking, which restricts blood flow.

If blood flow is restricted to the scalp then the hair is getting less nutrients than it needs and may start to thin.

So if you want to protect your head of hair, stub out your cigarette.

4. Diet

Eating a well balanced, healthy diet is essential for your body's functioning – and your hair is no different.

If you are lacking certain vitamins, nutrients or even food groups from your diet you may find your hair is less shiny and thick.

A diet lacking in protein is likely to cause some problems with your hair.

If you aren't eating enough you body may start to ration protein to other parts of your body by shutting down hair growth.

You'll probably notice a change within two to three months after you cut back on protein.

You can prevent it by eating plenty of fish, eggs and meat.

If you're not getting enough vitamin B, or biotin, in your diet it can also cause hair to thin.

Biotin is the best vitamin known for hair growth, and is often used in supplements to promote hair growth.

You can get B-vitamins from many foods, including whole grains, almonds, meat, fish, seafood and dark, leafy greens.

On the flip side, eating too much vitamin A can trigger hair loss, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

But it's usually quite hard to do this just through eating, overdosing on vitamin A is usually done through taking too many supplements or medication containing the vitamin.

5. Iron deficiency

Iron deficiency anaemia is not an uncommon problem, especially among girls.

The body needs iron to promote the growth of healthy red blood cells, which keeps us healthy overall.

People with an iron deficiency tend to have pale skin, constantly feel fatigued, may experience heart palpitations and can suffer hair loss.

If your red blood cells aren't healthy then it's hard to keep everything else in your body supplied with enough oxygen and energy to run at top form.

Your hair is usually one of the first things to suffer as your body will ration iron to where it is needed most – you need healthy red blood cells more than you need healthy hair.

If you are eating plenty of iron rich foods, like meat, dark leafy vegetables and pulses, and still struggling with the above symptoms it's a good idea to speak to your GP.

6. Weight loss

Been on a strict diet and suddenly lost a lot of weight?

You may be feeling incredibly proud of your efforts, but have you noticed your hair has changed?

When we lose a lot of weight very quickly your body interprets that as a form of physical trauma, like how an illness can cause weight loss.

It can cause the body to hoard the food it's getting and direct it to the things that need it the most, like internal organs.

The weight loss can also be interpreted as stress, mentioned above, which will also leave your hair looking less than desirable.

Plus, strict diets often mean you aren't eating enough nutrients for your body to function properly.

The best thing you can do is lose weight gradually and make sure you are eating all of the right foods.

7. Medication

There are side effects to all medication, that's a given.

Chemotherapy will likely cause your hair to fall out, as can other aggressive treatments.

Blood thinners and bet-blockers, used to treat high blood pressure, can cause the hair to thin.

It's almost the same as the reasons smoking can damage your hair by restricting blood flow.

When you are on blood thinners you're blood is thinner (the key is in the name) and that means that the amount of nutrients flowing past hair follicles can be less.

Just like anything that needs nutrients to grow, your hair will suffer if there's less to absorb.

Antidepressants and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs have also been linked to hair loss.

8. Polycystic ovary syndrome

Polycystic ovary syndrome affects one in five women in the UK.

For many the only hint of PCOS is irregular periods, while in more severe cases sufferers can be left with embarrassing hair growth on their faces, chest, back and backside.

The condition affects how a woman's ovaries function.

It occurs when the sacs the ovaries sit in are unable to release an egg, which means ovulation doesn't happen.

PCOS is often brought on by a hormone imbalance and that hormone imbalance can cause hair loss and well as hair growth.

The excess testosterone in a woman's body, caused by PCOS, can cause excessive hair growth.

But the lack of oestrogen, required for the ovaries to release and egg every month, may cause the hair to become thin and dull.



 

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