Do you ever find yourself asking the question – “where did all of this hair come from?” Increased shedding or hair loss, often occurring a few months after delivery, is a common postpartum condition known as telogen effluvium or telogen gravidarum, and results from a disturbance in the normal hair growth cycle. A condition that affects 40-50% of new mothers, this is a temporary condition that will usually correct itself within 6-12 months postpartum. Temporary or not, hair loss is often met with a significant amount of emotional distress and anxiety for women.
Who Doesn’t Love Hormones?
During pregnancy, a rise in hormones – specifically estrogen – prevents you from losing your hair by binding to local estrogen receptors on the hair follicles, which effects their growth and normal cycling. After pregnancy, your hormones return to normal levels, putting your body in a hypo-estrogen state. This causes you to lose your hair as the normal hair growth-shedding cycle is restored.
Hair loss or shedding in the months following delivery may also be associated with other conditions that change hormonal levels in the body. For example:
Thyroid function – Hair loss is closely related to thyroid hormone levels (i.e. hyper/hypothyroid). It important to speak to your health care provider about testing your thyroid hormone levels if you feel like this may be a contributing factor.
Excess androgens – Natural steroids produced by the adrenal glands and ovaries that act like male hormones within the body. Higher levels of androgens are commonly associated with conditions like polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), acne, weight gain, and hirsuitism, and can promote increased hair shedding and loss.
Breastfeeding – Increased prolactin levels associated with breastfeeding can also lead to an increase in shedding and hair loss.
Stress – Physiological stressors like surgical trauma, postpartum hemorrhage, or high fever can result in increased levels of cortisol in the body and can lead to hair loss.
Birth Control – Changing or stopping the birth control pill can also lead to a drop in the sex hormones – estrogen and progesterone – thereby contributing to hair loss.
Nutrition and Hair
A well-balanced diet postpartum is crucial for overall health and well being, but becomes particularly important for hair health. Insufficient caloric intake, or a deficiency in some of the nutritional components listed below can lead to hair loss:
Vitamin D – Studies have shown that low serum levels of Vitamin D are associated with female hair loss. You can get Vitamin D from the sun, however you can also receive it from fortified food sources. Speak to your Naturopathic Doctor about testing your Vitamin D levels. Iron – Numerous studies show that low serum ferritin levels have been linked to increased rates of hair loss. Iron is an essential nutrient in restoring hair growth and preventing shedding. Speak to your Naturopathic Doctor about your best dietary sources of iron, and whether supplementation may be appropriate. Minerals – Copper, magnesium, selenium and zinc are just a few of the minerals that help to maintain hair health and aid in the ability of our hair to function properly. Biotin – As an essential B vitamin (B7), biotin acts as a co-factor in the body for a variety of metabolic reactions including the formation of various proteins and amino acids. These proteins and amino acids play a crucial role in hair health. Protein – Although not a common deficiency in North America, inadequate protein intake can contribute to hair loss. Adults should aim to consume approximately 50 grams of lean protein per day. Omega 3 Fatty Acids – Along with adequate protein intake, omega 3’s can help to prevent hair loss.
How Can Naturopathic Medicine Help?
A naturopathic approach to hair loss involves identifying the root cause of hair loss through a holistic and research-based approach that directly treats the issue. Medical lab testing may be indicated, and may include assessing for thyroid and adrenal function, hormonal imbalance and nutritional deficiencies.
A comprehensive treatment plan to address the root cause, while also emphasizing prevention of hair loss may include any of the following modalities:
Botanical Medicine – Herbs are often used to support adrenal function, balance hormones, and promote optimal health and well being. Essential oils such as lavender, rosemary, sageand thyme have also shown to be beneficial in promoting hair growth.
Traditional Chinese Medicine – Hair loss and shedding according to TCM principles is often associated with weakened kidney function, and acupuncture may be able to assist with restoring optimal energy
Diet and Lifestyle Counselling – This can help to ensure that you are getting adequate amounts of essential nutrients, while also advising appropriate supplementation as needed. Diet and lifestyle counseling also includes stress management, ensuring good sleep hygiene, and the use of ‘natural’ skin and hair care products for you and your family.
Homeopathy – The use of specific remedies to address physical, mental or emotional energy imbalances that can support the body in addressing hair loss.
Physical Medicine – This can help to increase circulation to the scalp and promote stress reduction.
Please speak to your Naturopathic Doctor about creating a treatment plan that is right for you.