Could my hair loss be linked to irregular periods?

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This is a sponsored post in collaboration with Nature’s Best

We all shed our hair on a day-to-day basis, which is why when you brush your hair and find some of it comes out, you don’t end up completely bald after few years. Hair grows in cycles, with all the hairs on your head at a different stage in the cycle at any one time.

The cycle has three parts to it – the anagen phase, the catagen phase, and the telogen phase. The first is the growth period, and lasts an average of three to five years, during which your hair will grow roughly half an inch each month. This is followed by a brief, ten-day catagen phase, a short transitional phase. Finally, your hair will enter the telogen phase, in which the hair is released and falls out.

Some people experience hair loss because of this cycle becoming disrupted. Telogen effluvium, for example, is a condition whereby there is a marked increase in the amount of hair shed each day, due to an increased proportion of hairs moving from the growing phase to the shedding phase. Typically, around 10% of the hair on your head is in the telogen phase at any one time, but in telogen effluvium this can increase to about 30%.1

The condition can come on suddenly and it can be extremely distressing. Common triggers of telogen effluvium include childbirth, severe trauma or illness, a stressful life event, extreme dieting, or even withdrawal of a hormone treatment. In many women, no cause is found, or the cause may be something quite minor.

What is a normal menstrual cycle?

Unfortunately, menstrual cycles can be less predictable than hair growth cycles. While some people may experience the onset of a period every 28 days on the dot without fail, for others their cycles may be a bit erratic.

A few day’s variation between cycle lengths shouldn’t normally be any cause for concern, but it is important to see your GP if you periods suddenly become irregular and you’re under 45, if you have periods more often than every 21 days or less often than every 35 days, or if your periods last longer than seven days.2 Other indications that you should go and see your doctor are if there is a difference of at least 20 days between your shortest and longest menstrual cycles, or if you have irregular periods and you’re struggling to get pregnant.

While you might feel like the systems which grow hair and the systems which regulate your period are completely separate, this is not the case. Hormones, commonly thought of as affecting only your reproductive organs, actually regulate every change in our body.

There are lots of common causes of irregular periods: puberty and perimenopause, or taking the mini contraceptive pill or the IUS or Mirena coil, for example. These are all completely harmless.

Other conditions causing irregular periods may need treatment. These include polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), thyroid problems, extreme weight loss or gain, or excessive exercise or stress.

What has this got to do with hair loss?

There are a number of conditions, including those mentioned above, which have both hair loss and irregular periods as symptoms, meaning that if you are experiencing hair thinning and notice your period is irregular, the two might well be linked.

While you might feel like the systems which grow hair and the systems which regulate your period are completely separate, this is not the case. Hormones, commonly thought of as affecting only your reproductive organs, actually regulate every change in our body.

Common conditions causing irregular periods as well as hair loss

Stress

Stress is a key thing to consider if you notice thinning hair and irregular periods. The science behind stress’ effect on hair growth is complex, but in short the neurohormones, neurotransmitters, and cytokines released during the stress response influence the hair cycle.3 Stress can also induce the catagen stage in hair follicles, as well has having pro-inflammatory effects that damage hair.4

Stress can also have a marked effect on your menstrual cycle. A part of the brain called the hypothalamus, the link between our brains and hormones, is attached to the pituitary gland, the regulation centre for all the hormones in our body, including those that control stress, reproduction and metabolism.

Cortisol, known as the “stress hormone”, gets elevated at times of stress. This, in turn, results in increased levels of beta-endorphins, and excesses of this can impair the release of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), a release which is needed to prompt our ovaries and reproductive systems to release hormones.5

Thyroid conditions

If you are experiencing irregular periods alongside thinning hair, tiredness, and weight gain, it could well be that a thyroid condition is to blame, and you should go to the doctor and get this checked out. The thyroid gland produces the hormones that regulate metabolism, and if it becomes underactive, (hypothyroidism), this can have a knock-on effect on your reproductive hormones, thus impacting your periods.

This can also affect your hair growth: when hormone production is disrupted it affects the development of hair at the root, meaning that hair may fall out and not be replaced by new growth. This can develop with both hypothyroidism and an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism).6

PCOS

PCOS is one of the most common causes of irregular periods. The mechanisms behind how the condition affects your menstrual cycle are complicated, but put simply, people who have PCOS have no surge of luteinising hormone (which, instead, often sits at a high level all the time), which is needed to bring about ovulation. On top of this, the ovary may produce an excess of male hormones, further preventing the egg-releasing process. The hormonal imbalance also means there is no natural change in oestrogen and progesterone levels, which is needed to stimulate the lining of the womb to thicken and shed.

Although PCOS is more commonly known for causing excess body hair growth in women, known as hirsutism, it can also cause male pattern baldness, or androgenic alopecia, again due to the high levels of male hormones present.

Furthermore, up to 70% of women with PCOS have insulin resistance,7 which means the cells are less efficient at letting in glucose. However, the body continues to produce insulin and this accumulation of insulin causes a build up of testosterone in the ovaries, inhibiting the normal function of egg growth and release.8

Although PCOS is more commonly known for causing excess body hair growth in women, known as hirsutism, it can also cause male pattern baldness, or androgenic alopecia, again due to the high levels of male hormones present. It is unknown exactly how many people with PCOS experience hair loss, but reports suggest a prevalence of between 40 and 70%.9 This is unlikely to be an isolated symptom, and irregular periods alongside this, as well as weight gain, or polycystic ovaries, may all be an indication that PCOS is the cause.

Treatment for hair loss and irregular periods

Of course, the treatment for your symptoms will depend on whether or not you receive a diagnosis for a specific condition or if it is simply put down to stress or unknown causes. Thyroid conditions, for example, can be easily treated with medication, and your doctor will discuss this with you. Make sure you go to your doctor armed with a list of all your symptoms to help them pinpoint the cause.

If you have PCOS, there are a number of treatments you may be offered. Typically, those with the condition will be advised to lose weight if they are overweight, and going on the contraceptive pill can help if you aren’t trying to get pregnant. Again, you will be able to discuss all your options with your doctor.

With stress, the most obvious course of treatment is to remove the stressor, although of course this is easier said than done. Other options include counselling or CBT if there is something particular giving you anxiety, or, occasionally, anti-anxiety medication.

While you are waiting for medication to work, or if there is no particular cause for your hair loss and irregular periods but they could be attributed to stress, you may be wondering if you can improve you hair growth through diet, or taking some form of nutritional supplement.

A key dietary component needed for healthy hair is iron, which can be obtained through a diet rich in green leafy vegetables, red meat and liver, among other foods. Vitamin C aids absorption of iron, so ensure you are getting vitamin C in your diet too. L-lysine is an essential amino acid that is present in the inner part of the hair root, and gives hair its shape and volume, as well as helping your body to absorb iron. Examples of lysine-rich foods include tempeh, lentils, lean meat and cheese. Finally, selenium has been reported as having some links with hair health.10 Selenium can be obtained through a diet rich in seafood, nuts, eggs, and soy products.

There are supplements that contain all of these vitamins and minerals, which may help restore your hair growth, although supplements are unlikely to regulate your periods. If your periods do suddenly become irregular, or you have other symptoms alongside hair thinning, do go to the doctor to rule out anything serious and put your mind at rest.

Featured image shows a woman looking in the mirror touching her hair. The image is cropped so you can only see her hand, face and shoulders.

References

  1. BAD, ‘Telogen Effluvium (a type of hair loss)’, British Association of Dermatologists, 2016.
  2. NHS Choices Health A-Z, ‘Irregular periods’, [website], 2018, https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/irregular-periods/, (accessed 11 July 2018).
  3. V. A. Botchkarev, ‘Stress and the Hair Follicle’, Am J Pathol., Vol. 162, No. 3, 2003, pp. 709-712.
  4. I. M. Hadshiew et al., ‘Burden of Hair Loss: Stress and the Underestimated Psychosocial Impact of Telogen Effluvium and Androgenetic Alopecia’, Journal of Investigative Dermatology, Vol. 123, Iss. 3, 2004, pp. 455-457.
  5. Dr. S. Merrifield, ‘Period pain but no period? What stress could have to do with it’, The Femedic, [website], 2017, https://thefemedic.com/menstruation/period-pain-no-period-stress/, (accessed 11 July 2018).
  6. A. Marcin, ‘How to Reverse Hair Loss Related to Thyroid Conditions’, Healthline, 2018.
  7. M. L. Traub, ‘Assessing and treating insulin resistance in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome’, World J Diabetes, Vol. 2, No. 3, 2011, pp. 33-40.
  8. Nature’s Best, ‘I have PCOS, can inositol help me get pregnant?’, The Femedic, [website], 2018, https://thefemedic.com/menstruation/have-pcos-can-inositol-help-get-pregnant/, (accessed 11 July 2018).
  9. W. Futterweit, ‘A Patient’s Guide: Management of Hair Loss in Polycystic Ovary Syndrome’, [website], www.obgyn.net, 2011, (accessed 11 July 2018).
  10. K. Masumoto et al., ‘Clinical features of selenium deficiency in infants receiving long-term nutritional support’, Nutrition, Vol. 23, No. 11-12, 2007, pp. 782-7.

Nature’s Best

Nature’s Best have over 35 years’ experience in the nutritional supplement industry. With high potency products backed by science and consumers they have more than just an interest in health and wellbeing, they live and breathe it. From their extensive knowledge they have developed unique formulas to help support specific health problems, and as a result have researched the causes, symptoms and treatments. They hope that sharing this valuable knowledge with the public will help raise awareness and hopefully empower readers to live happy, healthy lives.

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