Hair loss and thinning is embarrassing, and can happen to either men or women for a number of reasons. Learn 13 hidden causes of hair loss, and 9 ways to stop hair thinning and loss naturally!
Note from Dena: This post was co-written with Kendall Farr, Dietetic Intern, as part of a research partnership between Back To The Book Nutrition and post-graduate nutrition students from the University of Houston.
No matter what age or gender you are, hair loss can be embarrassing. Read on to learn what causes hair to fall out and how you can stop hair loss and thinning in its tracks.
It’s tempting to skip right to what supplements to take and other quick fixes, but the best way to find the right solution for your case of hair loss and thinning is to identify potential root causes…and there are lots of them to consider!
What Causes Hair Loss?
- Stress – Major stressors like chronic illness, emotional stress, big life events, trauma, etc. can result in hair loss since the body prioritizes responding to these stresses and puts less energy into nonessential body functions like hair growth. Hair will enter a resting phase, making it more likely to fall out. (1,2)
- Thyroid Dysfunction – Both hypothyroidism (low thyroid function) and hyperthyroidism (excessive thyroid function) can result in hair loss as they disrupt the balance of the thyroid hormones, T3 and T4, which directly affect hair follicles (5).
- Autoimmunity -Patients with various autoimmune conditions, including Lupus, Hashimoto’s Disease, and others tend to have higher rates of hair loss. In addition, one autoimmune condition – alopecia areata – attacks the hair follicles, leading to hair loss. (7,8)
- Hormone Imbalance – Imbalances in either estrogens or androgens can lead to hair loss and thinning in men and women. Specifically, excess estrogen, low progesterone, and low or high androgens (especially high DHT) can trigger hair loss.
- Pregnancy and Postpartum – Nearly half of women lose hair during pregnancy or in the first few months after giving birth (4), likely due to hormone shifts during this time. Typically, hair regrows on its own as hormones stabilize.
- Perimenopause and Menopause – As estrogen and progesterone levels fall leading up to and during menopause, hair growth decreases. Since the adrenals are taking over the role of hormone production as ovarian hormone output diminishes, this transition can be especially difficult for women who’ve battled chronic stress, poor sleep, and/or chronic health conditions that have compromised adrenal function.
- Hormonal Birth Control – Oral contraceptives with a high androgen index (meaning they have higher levels of male hormones like testosterone) can cause hair loss by shrinking hair follicles over a long period of time (3).
- Inadequate Calories and/or Protein – When you don’t eat enough calories in general, or protein specifically, the body is forced to prioritize which body functions most need the limited energy. Non essential functions like hair growth are a lower priority than essential functions like keeping the heart pumping, so hair growth will decline (6).
- Iron Deficiency Anemia – Iron transports oxygen around our body, including to our hair follicles, and higher iron intake has been associated with fuller, healthier hair. When you are iron deficient, the body reserves the iron it does have for essential tissues such as the heart and lungs rather than nonessential ones like hair (6).
- Other Nutrient Deficiencies – Low levels of various micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and/or essential fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6) can cause hair loss. Remember deficiencies can occur due to not eating enough, not absorbing enough, or the body not using the nutrient properly. See details about specific nutrients and which foods provide them in the section below (6,10).
- Scalp Infections – Scalp infections are a less common cause of hair loss and are usually accompanied by other symptoms, such as dandruff, redness, or pimples on the scalp. Some scalp infections that have been associated with hair loss include ringworm (highly contagious fungal infection of the scalp), folliculitis (inflammation of the follicles), piedra (fungal infection of the hair shaft), and seborrheic dermatitis (skin inflammation, mostly on the scalp).
- Genetics – Hereditary-pattern baldness is the most common form of hair loss in both men and women. For men, this generally begins at the temples and crown and recedes back across the head in an M-shaped pattern. For women, genetic hair loss is typically more widespread across the whole scalp. If a woman begins losing hair in patches, it may be a sign that something other than genetics is causing the hair loss.
- Medications – Many medications, including antibiotics, antidepressants, cholesterol lowering medications, blood pressure lowering medications, anti-inflammatories, steroids, immune suppressants, chemotherapy drugs, and others can cause hair loss (9).
That’s quite a list, isn’t it? Hopefully that helps you narrow the potential causes of your own case of hair loss and thinning. Now let’s talk about natural solutions!
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9 Ways to Stop Hair Loss and Thinning Naturally
1. Manage Stress
Take action to reduce stress in your everyday life. This is easier said than done in today’s world and stress looks different for everyone, so it’s important to take time to reflect on what your own personal stressors are and how to address them in a way that’s most effective for you.
2. Check Your Thyroid
If you suspect your thyroid is contributing to your hair loss, consider having a full thyroid panel run. A standard thyroid panel usually only includes TSH and sometimes T4, but these values only tell part of the story when it comes to your thyroid. A full thyroid panel will include other markers like free T4, free T3, and sometimes others to give a more clear and comprehensive picture of your overall thyroid function.
Learn which foods to eat for thyroid health here, and read more about which thyroid tests you need and where to get them here.
3. Address Underlying Autoimmunity
If you have an autoimmune condition, adjust your diet and lifestyle to support proper immune function, optimal gut health, and stress management. All of these can lead to huge improvements in autoimmune symptoms, including hair loss.
4. Balance Your Hormones
Balancing your hormones doesn’t have to be as tough or as scary as it may sound. In fact, simple foundational changes to your diet, supplements, and lifestyle can yield huge benefits for hormone balance.
If you’ve already done all 17 things outlined in the article and still have signs of hormone imbalance, working with a holistic or functional medicine practitioner to order comprehensive hormone testing like the DUTCH test can help you pinpoint specific hormone imbalances and know how to address them more efficiently.
If you believe birth control may be causing you to lose your hair, talk with your doctors about non-hormonal options like fertility awareness that provide effective contraception but still allow your body to produce hormones.
5. Increase Calorie and/or Protein Intake
Calorie and protein needs are very individualized. If you follow a low calorie diet (less than 1,500 calories/day) or don’t eat much protein (less than 50 grams per day), these are likely contributing to your hair loss. Most adults – especially very active adults will need considerably more calories and protein than this each day to keep a full, healthy head of hair.
6. Correct Nutrient Deficiencies related to Hair Loss
Below are a few hair-related nutrients and food sources of each.
- How Iron Affects Hair – Iron transports oxygen around our body, including to our hair follicles, and higher iron intake has been associated with fuller, healthier hair. When you are iron deficient, the body reserves the iron it does have for essential tissues such as the heart and lungs rather than nonessential ones like hair (6,10).
- Food High in Iron
- Heme iron (better absorbed):
- Non-heme iron:
- Heme iron (better absorbed):
It is often helpful to order a full iron panel with ferritin to assess your iron levels. This is especially important for menstruating females (especially those with heavy periods) and vegetarians since both of these groups are at greater risk for iron deficiency.
- How Zinc Affects Hair – It is believed that zinc helps to prevent hair loss by stopping testosterone from being turned into DHT, an androgen associated with hair loss (6,10).
- Foods High in Zinc
- Pumpkin seeds
- Yogurt or kefir
- How Vitamin D Affects Hair – Vitamin D regulates the growth and differentiation of keratinocytes, which are cells that contribute to the maintenance of skin and hair. Furthermore, vitamin D is involved in hormone regulation and there do seem to be links between vitamin D and hormone related hair changes that need further investigation (6,10).
- Foods High in Vitamin D
- Fatty fish
- Egg yolks
- Exposure to sunlight
BIOTIN + OTHER B VITAMINS
- How Biotin + Other B Vitamins Affect Hair – B vitamins play a role in metabolism and cell division throughout the body, including in hair follicles. Deficiencies in biotin and possibly other B vitamins often result in brittle hair or hair loss (6,10).
- Foods High in Biotin + Other B Vitamins
- Milk and cheese
- Leafy greens
- Whole grains
ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS (omega-3 + omega-6)
- How Essential Fatty Acids Affect Hair -It’s not entirely clear how essential fatty acids impact hair, but we know that they reduce inflammation, which can lead to hair loss. Essential fatty acid deficiencies can also lead to flaky skin and scalp, which are sometimes occur with hair loss. (10,11)
- Foods High in Essential Fatty Acids
- Wild caught fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines, tuna, and anchovies, etc.)
- Chia seed
If adding these nutrients from food sources isn’t enough, a SpectraCell Micronutrient test can help determine whether deficiencies still remain and need targeted supplements to replenish them. Note, the micronutrient test does not include iron, so you’ll want to get the iron panel + ferritin mentioned above if you also want to check your iron.
7. Address Fungal Scalp Infections
If a fungal issue is causing your hair to fall out, try apple cider vinegar rinses, coconut oil scalp massages, applying tea tree oil, or other natural remedies.
8. Discuss Alternative Medications with Your Doctor
If you currently take prescription medications linked to hair loss, work with your doctor to find the lowest effective dose or to consider switching to another medication that doesn’t cause your hair to fall out.
9. Consider Supplements for Hair Loss
Various supplements are marketed to help with hair loss and thinning, including:
- Vitamin D
- Essential Fatty Acids (omega-3 and omega-6)
There’s probably no harm in trying them if you’re willing to spend the money and time experimenting. But, if adding one or more of them doesn’t fully resolve your symptoms, consider digging a little deeper to find the root cause.
The Bottom Line
Whether you’re male or female, hair thinning and loss are never fun! While it can be tempting to seek out quick fixes, it is important to know that hair loss is a symptom of a bigger issue and you’ll get the best results by finding and fixing that root cause (pun intended) using some of the tips above or by working with a practitioner you know and trust.
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About the Co-Author
Kendall Farr is originally from Atlanta and attended the University of Georgia (UGA), where she obtained Bachelor’s degrees in both Dietetics and Psychology. She then continued on at UGA to pursue an Accelerated Master’s degree in Foods and Nutrition where her research focused on the creation of novel supplements for endurance athletes.
Disclaimer: Information on this site is intended only for informational purposes and is not a substitute for medical advice. Always consult with a trusted healthcare provider before implementing significant dietary change. Read additional disclaimer info here.
4. Pregnancy and Hair Loss. American Pregnancy Association. Retrieved from https://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-health/hair-loss-during-pregnancy/
8. Alopecia Areata. Harvard Medical School. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/a_to_z/alopecia-areata-a-to-z
9. Medications That Can Cause Hair Loss. WebMD. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/hair-loss/drug-induced-hair-loss-2#1.
11. Fish Oil: Interactions with Aesthetics – Hair. Examine.com. Retrieved from https://examine.com/supplements/fish-oil/research/#interactions-with-aesthetics_hair