10 reasons for hair loss in women over 40
There are many causes for hair loss in women so let’s get to the root cause.
Various nutrient deficiencies, thyroid issues, hormone imbalances, stress, radiation, harsh hair treatments and genetic influences can all promote hair loss in women over 40. The key to combatting hair loss is to find the correct cause and then treat it appropriately.
Hair loss is no fun at any age but it has many different causes, particularly in women over 40. Discovering the root cause is essential to getting the right treatment.
- Autoimmune hypothyroid
- This is a very common cause of hair loss particularly in women. Most often called Hashimoto’s or autoimmune thyroiditis, this is a disorder where the immune system attacks the thyroid. This is problematic as the thyroid is responsible for metabolism (weight gain), hair health (hair loss), nail strength (weak nails), heart rate (can be low or high), digestion (constipation) and so much more. Low thyroid function affects the body in so many ways.
- Post-partum hypothyroid
- This condition is similar to an autoimmune thyroid problem but is thankfully usually short-lived. For reasons we do not fully understand, the body attacks the thyroid after giving birth and many of the same symptoms can be experienced (as listed above). However, this condition usually resolves on its own within 6-12 months.
- Iodine deficiency
- Even though Americans tend to eat more salt that is strictly healthy, I still find a lot of low or borderline iodine levels in my patients. That is because much of our table salt is not fortified with iodine and we typically do not eat enough seafood (the optimal source of it). Add to that the popularity of Himalayan pink salt. This salt contains many other beneficial nutrients but is completely devoid of iodine because it comes from the mountains and not the sea. Iodine is a crucial nutrient for thyroid function and so iodine deficiency can cause all the symptoms of hypothyroidism (see #1).
- Iron deficiency anemia
- Another very common cause of hair loss is a lack of adequate iron in the body. Iron deficiency can occur with certain diets (vegan, vegetarian, raw), malabsorption of nutrients or heavy periods. Low iron levels will cause paleness, weakness, lightheadedness and can also cause hair loss. This is easy to remedy if you work with a provider to find the root cause – manage heavy periods, increase consumption of iron-rich foods, improve digestion and absorption and/or take a high-quality iron supplement.
- Folate deficiency
- Another nutrient that is very important for hair growth is folate or folic acid – a B vitamin. It is found in high amounts in green, leafy vegetables and also added to fortified grains, cereals, breads and flours. Unfortunately, the inactive form (folic acid) is usually what is added to fortified foods and also found in many over-the-counter supplements. Many of us have a genetic variant (MTHFR mutation) where we do not process folic acid into its active form very efficiently or sometimes at all. So if you are supplementing with B-vitamins, always look for methyl-folate and methyl-B12 (methylcobalamin) which are the active forms of these vitamins.
- Oh yes, our old friend stress. Culprit of so many diseases and disorders. Sad but true that high levels or prolonged stress can cause hair loss. This is because your body is in survival mode when you experience stress and so it prioritizes survival functions (fight or flight). The brain sends blood to the large muscles of the extremities and inhibits other functions like reproduction, digestion and repair. So digestion slows down, libido drops, wounds heal more slowly and the body does not regenerate tissue (hair, skin, nail) as readily. Stress management can take many forms and have various health benefits.
- Hereditary factors
- Unfortunately, some of us are just prone to balding. Just like some of us inherit bad knees, poor eyesight or high cholesterol. For some health issues, the culprit is our genes. Now, just because someone is predisposed to a health condition, does not mean they are guaranteed to get it. But the dice are loaded against you if you have a strong genetic inheritance of hair loss (for both men and women).
- Hormone imbalances
- While this probably makes you think menopause (which is true), there are various imbalances that may be the culprit. Menopause causes decreased levels of estrogen and progesterone which can have various side effects in the body. However, women can also experience elevated levels of testosterone and start to experience male-pattern balding (hair loss at the temples or the top of the head). So don’t just assume it is menopause or perimenopause. Work with a qualified healthcare professional and get your hormones checked to be sure you are getting the right treatment.
- Radiation therapy to the head
- This cause is mostly due to cancer therapy treatments. Women who had skin cancer on the scalp or face or brain tumors may experience prolonged radiation therapy to the head. Chemotherapy can also cause hair loss but this is due to the general stress on the body and the toxic nature of the treatment. Radiation may cause more lasting damage as the hair follicles can die depending on the amount of treatment received.
- Hair styling/treating
- There are many possible offenders in this category: perms, hot-oil treatment or excessive pulling (braids, cornrows) can cause trauma to the scalp and cause temporary hair loss or permanent scarring of the hair follicles. Over-bleaching and other chemical treatments can also damage hair and cause it to fall out more rapidly. The solution here is mostly just abstinence. Take a break from the more aggressive hair treatments and explore gentler or more natural approaches. Give your hair some time to recover and you may even try castor oil with hot packs to the scalp to restore blood flow and stimulate the hair follicles.
- Side effects of medications
- Just to be a rebel, I had to have an 11th cause! This applies especially to those medications used for cancer, arthritis, depression, heart problems, gout and high blood pressure. Be sure to read the product insert or search the medication on an online database like www.drugs.com to see if hair loss (the medical term is alopecia) is listed as a side effect. If you suspect this is causing your hair loss, speak to the prescribing doctor about alternative medications that you may be able to try instead.
Supplements to consider for hair loss
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