Thinning Hair? Don’t Despair!
Bad hair days may be annoying but they are just days, whereas by the age of 50, half of all men and a quarter of women are affected by hair loss and the prevalence continues to rise with advancing age. Thick, abundant hair is considered socially desirable in most cultures; associated with health, vitality and attractiveness, so the loss of hair can be very distressing, sapping confidence and negatively impacting mental health, writes Dr Julia Sen.
As I approached 50, I noticed my hair thinning around the parting (typical female pattern hair loss distribution) and found the loss of volume made it more difficult to manage my signature bob. Fortunately, I was able to reverse this unwelcome change and will reveal how you may be able to do the same.
Why do we lose hair?
It is normal to shed 50-100 hairs every day. Following shedding of a mature hair, a vital skin structure known as the Dermal Papilla produces growth factors which stimulate cells at the base of the hair follicle. This stage of the hair life cycle, anagen holds the key to hair loss and its treatment. During the second stage, catagen the follicle shrinks and the hair separates from it.
During the third stage, telogen, hair growth ceases and the mature hair is shed in the final stage, exogen.
In hereditary hair loss, the dermal papilla functions poorly or dies prematurely, anagen is not initiated and the normal hair cycle is arrested. Follicles become smaller (an effect accelerated by androgens such as testosterone) and mature, coloured hair is replaced by fine, non-pigmented (vellus) hair. Ultimately the follicles become dormant.
Whilst genetic predisposition is by far the most common cause for thinning hair, hormonal changes, anaemia, medications (e.g. chemotherapy), stress, immune system disorders, poor nutrition and mental illness can also cause or exacerbate the problem.
Can I reverse my hair loss?
Whatever the cause of hair loss, the more advanced it becomes, the less likely it is to recover; however if your hair loss is not already well established, there are things you can do to slow or in some cases reverse it.
Diet. Hair is made of keratin, which is a protein. Our bodies require the basic building blocks to construct it. I don’t advocate eating keratin (unless you have an appetite for hooves, horns or feathers!) regular sources of protein, B vitamins, Omega 3 fatty acids and Zinc will suffice. Including eggs, cheese, meat, oily fish, nuts, seeds, pulses, wholegrains and leafy greens in your diet will give your body the requisite ingredients to grow healthy hair (and indeed nails).
Hormones: Vitamin D – yes, it’s actually a hormone and deficiency is extremely common in the UK; menopausal oestrogen and progesterone deficiency and thyroid gland underaction all reduce the speed of hair growth and time before shedding. Correcting levels of these hormones can help to restore hair growth. In polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) an increase in androgens including testosterone can result in male pattern balding. See your GP if you suspect a hormonal cause for your hair loss – treatment may help your overall health and not just your hairline.
Medication: Despite the distress hair loss can cause, treatment is unfortunately not usually available on the NHS. There are some well established pharmaceutical products which can help:-
Minoxidil, is sprayed twice daily onto the scalp. It dilates blood vessels, increasing circulation to the follicles and reversing follicular shrinkage. It also prolongs the anagen growth phase so the hair becomes thicker. Minoxidil is marketed as Regaine in the UK and is available without prescription in 2% and 5% strengths. It is suitable for both men and women.
Finasteride, a drug commonly used to treat symptoms of prostatic enlargement in older men is taken as a tablet. It works by inhibiting an enzyme involved in the production of dihydrotestosterone. It is unsuitable for women, is available only on prescription and potential side effects include reduced libido and erectile dysfunction when taken as a tablet. A preparation for topical application has been developed but is not yet widely available in the UK.
Stem Cell-Derived Conditioned Media (SCCM). Stem cells produce a series of growth factors and rejuvenating substances, known to accelerate healing and promote rejuvenation. SCCM is a concentrate of these bioactive substances, the cells themselves having been removed. It is already being used in medicine to promote wound healing. Delivered into the scalp via Plasma shower, microneedling or cold laser, it not only nourishes the dermal papilla and follicle but also prolongs the anagen phase and stimulates hair growth.
Hair Transplantation. This procedure redistributes existing hair in the same person from areas where it is plentiful to those where it is deficient. Between 10 and 80% of transplanted hairs will usually grow back over a period of 3-4 months. It is expensive and requires a surgical procedure lasting several hours, undertaken by highly skilled specialist. Adjunctive treatment with minoxidil, finasteride and/or SCCM can improve the success rate of transplantation.
The treatment cocktail which proved successful for me has been a combination of vitamin D supplements, HRT, topical minoxidil and Calecim SCCM, delivered painlessly with plasma shower. It takes at least 3 months to see the effects of any intervention, so you need to be patient but having been concerned about my thinning hair, I am now looking forward to many more years of happy swooshing!
Love Julia x