More than a bad hair day

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HAIR LOSS: Diet, hormones and stress are all common causes Credit: Shutterstock

ON average we lose 50 to 100 scalp hairs each day, but this is normal and new hairs grow in their place.

The hair’s programmed life cycle consists of three phases: the growth phase, the shedding phase and the resting phase.

When this cycle has been disrupted or when the hair follicle has been destroyed, excessive hair loss or thinning of the scalp can begin to happen, and receding hairlines, bald patches and complete baldness can occur.

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Hair loss mainly affects men, but women are still susceptible, and there are normally certain triggers.

According to dermatologists, experiencing a highly stressful event such as a physical injury or severe anxiety can cause shock to the hair cycle, pushing more hair into the shedding phase. Also, fewer hair follicles are available to grow new hair during the growing phase. This can trigger telogen effluvium, a type of hair loss that sees as many as 70 per cent of the scalp hairs being shed, usually in handfuls. It becomes noticeable about two to six months after the shock occurs.

The body begins to go back to normal once the stress is over, which will then kick start your hair’s growth cycle.

Hair loss can run in the family. Androgenetic alopecia, or female-pattern hair loss (FPHL), causes thinning on all areas of the scalp. This leads to increased diffuse hair shedding or a reduction in hair volume, or both. It’s the most common form of hair loss, affecting 40 percent of women by age 50. Factors tied to hormones also play a major role, so FPHL can also occur after menopause or pregnancy.

Minoxidil is the preferred medication to use to treat FPHL, as you can easily apply it to your dry scalp.

Hair thrives on a diet rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. A lack of vitamin C can make your hair dry and brittle. Protein powers growth in hair cells, but an absence of it results in less new hair growth. Iron helps red blood cells to carry oxygen, once your iron levels are low you become anaemic and your cells struggle to function, causing you to lose your hair.

Zinc is important for tissue growth and repair, plus it keeps oil glands around the hair follicles in good working order. But if your zinc intake is low, you’ll experience slow hair growth and dandruff in addition to the hair loss.

Start eating foods that contain these vital nutrients. Oranges, mangoes, cauliflower and tomatoes contain Vitamin C, whilst protein can be found in meats, eggs, fish, yogurt and beans. Whole grain cereals and dark green leafy vegetables are great for providing you with iron, plus you will need zinc-rich foods like nuts, chickpeas and sweet potatoes.

A sudden or excessive loss of weight can result in the thinning and loss of hair. It can be a shock to the system, which can trigger telogen effluvium. Stress from dieting can cause more hairs than usual to fall out during the shedding phase. And vitamin or mineral deficiencies are also major factors.

As we age, our bodies begin to lose the ability to renew and regenerate cells quickly. This results in thinning hair, hair loss and greying. Research also points to menopause as a cause. A decrease in hormones like oestrogen and progesterone, which help to grow and retain hair, leads to slow hair growth and thinning. This prompts the increased production of androgens, a group of male hormones. Androgens shrink hair follicles, resulting in hair loss on the head.

Childbirth is another cause. During the pregnancy itself, oestrogen levels increase, meaning hairs remain in the growing phase. But hair loss can occur approximately three months after the delivery when hormones are returning to their normal levels, causing the hair cycle to resume. It will recover within six to 12 months as the follicles start to rejuvenate themselves. Supplement your diet with fruits and vegetables rich in Vitamins B, C and E, and zinc to promote hair growth.

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