We don't want to alarm you, but thinning hair doesn't happen only to men. A recent study by the International Society of Hair Restoration reveals that nearly 30 million women in the US are losing their hair. Before you stress (which could only make matters worse) keep in mind that some hair loss is normal. According to hair restoration specialist Dr. James Marotta, the average woman loses between 50 and 100 strands of hair per day, and even up to 150 in some cases. To quickly find out if that clog is something more than a reminder to clean the tub, Marotta recommends this trick: "Take about 60 hairs between your fingers (just a pinch, about half a centimeter wide) and pull, running your fingers through your hair. Usually between five and eight hairs will come out -- this is normal. An excess of 15 hairs, however, is not as common, and means you're losing more hair than you should be," he explains.
Suspect 1: Anemia
If, in addition to a breeze overhead, you're also feeling weak and tired all of the time, you could be suffering from low iron -- otherwise known as iron-deficiency anemia. There's a laundry list of things that can put you at risk, and unfortunately, just being a woman is at the top of it. Heavy periods (yes, yet another reason to love Aunt Flo), increased blood supply demands during pregnancy, and a diet lacking in meat and other iron-rich foods all make the fairer sex particularly prone to low iron levels. When you don't have enough red blood cells delivering oxygen throughout the body, it shows through extreme fatigue, weakness, pale skin, and hair loss. Researchers believe low iron levels inhibit an essential enzyme that is tied to how much hair you hold onto.
Solve It: Have your doc test your blood levels to see if you truly are deficient in iron, then he or she can prescribe the proper dosage of iron supplements to get your red blood cell count where it needs to be. To help nourish the cells in your hair follicles in the meantime, Dr. Elizabeth Trattner of Miami Beach, FL, recommends working iron-rich foods into your daily diet: Look for black beans, red and orange fruits and vegetables, and greens like kale and spinach the next time you're shopping for groceries. But don't expect your hair to start sprouting the next morning -- you should start to see a change in a few months once your iron levels begin to build.
Suspect 2: Too much vitamin A, not enough vitamin D
We're obsessed with popping multivitamins (or chewing the gummy versions) but as with most things in life, you can have too much of a good thing. Overdoing it on supplements containing vitamin A can actually trigger hair loss, Marotta explains, and if you look at the supplements in the grocery story aisle, it's disturbingly easy to sabotage your head of hair. "The daily value for vitamin A is 5,000 International Units (IU) per day for adults," he says. But supplements can contain anywhere from 2,500 to a whopping 10,000 IU.
Turns out, not getting enough vitamin D may be just as bad as overdoing vitamin A. Researchers at Cairo University found that women who experience hair loss had lower levels of D ... and the hair loss only worsened as the levels dropped.
Solve It: Researchers still aren't completely sure of the role vitamin D plays with hair follicle growth, but women should aim for a minimum of 600 IU of vitamin D per day. Good sources of the vitamin include fortified milk and orange juice, and salmon. As for the vitamin A issue, double-check your supplement labels.
Suspect 3: Your styling routine
It's tempting to rake through tangles and secure the tightest top knot known to man, but vigorous styling and hair treatments add up, and yes, they can cause your hair to fall out. If you get a mild headache every time you pull your hair back into a ponytail, you need to ease up for your hair's sake. "Tension, stress and pulling on hair follicles and the scalp can lead to a form of gradual hair loss called traction alopecia," says Leonard. This can be anything from "tugging" styles (think tight braids, hair weaves, corn rows) to harsh chemical treatments like relaxers and perms -- not to mention basically every hot tool on the market.
Solve It: The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using conditioner after shampooing and using hot styling tools only once a week. If that sounds laughable, try to give your hair a break once in a while -- especially if you are seeing an increase in hair loss. Leonard also recommends rethinking the way you comb through fragile, wet hair. "Be sure to comb from the ends, back to the scalp, and don't rip through tangled snarls."
Suspect 4: Not enough protein
You know when someone goes on a temporary "cleanse" (read: doesn't eat solid foods to fit into that dress) and the starvation mode argument naturally arises -- i.e., when you don't eat, your body thinks you're starving and holds onto any fat it can find? The same logic can be applied to the relationship between your protein intake and your hair. When you skimp on protein, your body rations off any remaining sources of it in the body so that it can be used toward more essential bodily functions. That means your 150,000 strands (give or take) get pushed to the back of the soup line. A lack of protein tells the body to pull the plug on way more hair follicles than usual by pushing them into the "resting" phase.
Solve It: That protein bar you had during your lunch break isn't going to cut it. Adult women need about 46 grams of protein a day, and if you're pregnant or lactating, the recommended intake jumps to 71 grams a day. For meat eaters, this means making sure you're getting an adequate amount of meat, fish and dairy into your meals. Vegetarians should make sure they're getting protein in the form of beans, whole grains, nuts and eggs.
Suspect 5: Your Thyroid
Many women who enter their doctor's office with complaints of hair thinning and hair loss often walk out with a thyroid disorder diagnosis. If your thyroid hormone levels are too low (hypothyroidism) or too high (hyperthyroidism), hair loss is a telling symptom that your levels are out of whack. "You'll usually find large amounts of hair falling out in the shower or sink, often accompanied by changes in the hair's texture -- drier than usual, more coarse or easily tangled - these are all common symptoms of a thyroid disorder," Marotta explains.
Solve It: If you suspect your thyroid is to blame, have your doctor check your thyroid levels, which can be done through a simple blood test. Fortunately, when it comes to hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism, hair will return to its natural state once the thyroid imbalance is treated.
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