Women can lose their hair too

RENAE LEITH-MANOS
Last updated 05:00 11/06/2013
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FROM HAIR TO ETERNITY: Hair loss in women can be an indication of metabolic or hormonal problems.

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So ladies, is your hair brush full of hair at the end if every day? Is your shower plug clogged? If you are losing a significant amount of hair, the problem could be a reflection of something more serious going on in your body.

When something is wrong metabolically, women's hair can be the first to show signs.

Specialist trichologist Tony Pearce from National Trichology Services in New South Wales says, "Hair is a non-essential tissue in nutrient, metabolic and hormonal terms. It is often the first to show signs of internal distress. It is a barometer of what is going on within the body, and extreme hair loss should not be ignored.

"It is on the rise - I am seeing more than double the cases I saw ten years ago, and it's due to stress and internal issues women don't know about. Genetics, hormones, genes, lifestyle changes of the modern world as well as stress all play a part," he says.

Sydney-based hair replacement surgeon Dr Russell Knudsen says there are broadly two types of hair loss in women, "There's genetic hair loss and loss caused by other factors. Hormones contribute significantly to both types, as they can trigger a pre-existing genetic condition or cause hair loss in someone independently."

The pill is another factor.

It can both cause and prevent hair loss, depending on a woman's hormonal balance. Associate professor of women's health and research at UNSW, Dr John Eden explains, "Both oestrogen and progesterone play a role in hair loss. If a woman has polycystic ovarian syndrome for example, the right contraceptive pill can stop the hair loss she is experiencing by blocking male hormones and help reverse the male pattern of hair loss, whereas the wrong one can encourage it. Taking the right one is critical."

"There's no one solution for all women," Knusden agrees. "It is highly complex, which is why the first thing we do is run a number of tests. For women with a genetic history of hair loss, seeing a specialist as soon as possible can prevent further loss down the track. Usually something triggers the hair loss in women (such as a major personal stress or illness), and if we can address that sooner rather than later, we can block future hair loss."

Knusden says when women experience hair loss it can hit their self esteem hard, but with the right help, there's no need to panic. "There are so many myths out there like wearing hats will make you go bald, or cutting your hair will make it grow longer," he says. "Hair grows from under the skin, so nothing you do above that, including colouring it, will affect its growth."

Melbourne research pharmacist Arthur Chan, who specialises in hair loss believes in the holistic approach, "The first thing I do when presented with someone with severe hair loss is a series of pathology tests. We need to see what is happening within the body. Low iron or low vitamin D or a combination is common, as is polycystic ovarian syndrome and thyroid. Often there are other signs such as severe tiredness, feeling very cold, dry skin, low libido or a lack of ability to concentrate at work. They can all be a part of the same problem. I have seen good long term results with a vitamin, exercise and good nutritional program over the long term."

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Knusden  says severe stress can literally make our hair fall out in clumps, "By severe stress I mean the death of a family member, abusive relationship or loss of job leading to not being able to pay the mortgage. Women come to me with hands full of hair, known as shedding, and it's because the stress hormones have temporarily switched off the chemical growth pathways to the hair.

"The other thing to remember is every woman loses 50-100 hairs a day. Even if it's more than that, the essential thing is that new hair is growing back, that's the real issue here. If it is not, women need to go to a clinic with a medical background, have a proper diagnosis and go from there. The worst thing they can do is try a potion in a bottle as a quick-fix. It won't work," he warns.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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