Hair loss or alopecia is a common and embarrassing problem for many people. Catherine the Great, empress of Russia from 1762 to 1796, suffered from this problem and had to wear a wig. She was so fearful of gossip that she kept her hairdresser confined in an iron cage in her room for three years.
There are many reasons why hair loss occurs, including nutrient excesses and deficiencies, impaired circulation and hormonal imbalances. Let us begin by describing the structure and growth of hair.
The Structure of Hair
Hair is a connective tissue composed of strands of protein. These are linked, or cross linked in various ways. This type of cross linking makes some individual's hair straight, while others are curly, waved, or kinky. (Permanents alter the cross linking of hair proteins.) The particular protein structure determines the health as well as the appearance of the hair.
The hair follicle goes through three different growing phases called anagen, catagen, and felogen phases. If certain nutrients are deficient during any one of these phases, hair loss may occur.
Individual Nutrients and Hair Loss
Zinc and RNA Transferase
Zinc is required for RNA (ribonucleic acid) transferase; an enzyme involved in DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) synthesis, or synthesis of all body proteins. Impairment of zinc metabolism will affect all protein structures of the body. Zinc is also required for synthesis of carboxypeptidase; a digestive enzyme required for digestion of dietary protein.
Copper and Lysyl Oxidase
Lysyl oxidase is a copper-dependent enzyme involved in connective tissue synthesis.
Copper imbalance often leads to lackluster hair and hair loss. Excessive copper, by interfering with the sulfide bonds in the hair, literally causes a dissolution of the hair structure. This may cause certain individual's hair not to hold a permanent.
Copper is also required for tyrosinase; an enzyme required for melanin production. Melanin is a pigment substance, which gives color to the hair.
Many hair products contain B-complex vitamins, especially vitamin B6, PABA and biotin. These vitamins are involved with amino acid metabolism. Amino acids are the building blocks from which proteins are constructed.
Mucopolysaccharides are a group of connective tissue compounds that have been found helpful to the growth of hair. Their synthesis depends on the bio-availability of copper and other nutrients.
It has been noted that excessive male hormone levels can cause 'male pattern' hair loss in both men and women. Balancing body chemistry can often balance these hormone levels and restore hair growth.
A protein deficiency is a well-known cause of hair loss. Protein deficiency causes a reduction in the linear rate of growth in the hair and in the diameter of the hair shaft, which causes the hair to shed easily. Poor digestion and utilization of protein can cause hair loss even if one's protein intake is adequate.
Other Important Nutrients
Deficiency of sulfur, vitamin B6 and B12 have also been shown to cause hair loss. Exceedingly high dosages of vitamin A can also cause hair loss.
Body Chemistry and Hair Loss
Fast oxidizers have elevated sodium levels. Sodium is eliminated in part through the skin and hair. You may notice a salty taste to your skin if you are a fast oxidizer.
The first inch or two of the hair represents a section of active growth where minerals can be stored and called upon during stressful periods. As sodium accumulates in the tissue, it can 'petrify' the hair follicle resulting in hair loss.
Fast oxidizers are also prone to a deficiency of copper and zinc, which may contribute to hair loss. Excessive male hormone production by the adrenal glands is also associated with a fast oxidation rate.
Fast oxidizers have low glycogen reserves and commonly convert some of their body protein to sugar to burn as fuel. Thinning hair in fast oxidizers can be due to the breakdown of hair protein for fuel. A loss of the hair protein is much better than loss of protein from vital organs and tissues.
Hair loss in slow oxidizers is associated with excess, or bio-unavailable tissue copper. A copper imbalance causes a dissolution of the hair structure, resulting in impairment of hair growth and 'lifeless' hair.
An excess of tissue copper also contributes to low sodium levels in slow oxidizers. When the tissues are low in sodium, transport of vital nutrients into the hair follicle is impaired. When nutrients cannot be transported into the hair cells, hair loss will eventually occur.
An elevated copper level and/or adrenal exhaustion also causes calcium accumulation in the soft tissues of the body, including the hair. Calcium accumulation impairs transport across cell membranes, impairing the flow of nutrients to the hair.
Slow oxidation is also associated with sluggish thyroid activity, which is known to be associated with hair loss.
Blood pressure is often low in the slow oxidizer and circulation poor due to impaired adrenal and thyroid activity. Blood circulation to the scalp may be impaired, contributing to hair loss.
Hypothyroidism and Hair Loss
The alopecia of hypothyroidism is well known. Thinning of the hair is one of the recognized signs of low thyroid activity. On a hair analysis, high calcium is an indicator of lowered thyroid activity.
Pregnancy and Hair Loss
Loss of hair frequently occurs in a woman just after delivering a child. The accumulation of copper during
pregnancy depresses the thyroid gland, which will result in hair loss.
Low Hair Sodium-to-Potassium Ratio
A sodium-to-potassium ratio on a tissue mineral test below 2.5:1 is indicative of protein breakdown. Potassium is released from cells, causing the potassium level to rise relative to sodium. Since hair is a protein structure, excessive protein breakdown can cause hair loss.
Stress and Hair Loss
Frequently, hair loss occurs directly following a stressful situation.
Stress can be physical, such as an illness or chemotherapy, or it may be mental, or emotional. Reasons for hair loss resulting from stress are;
- stress causes rapid zinc depletion,
- in fast oxidizers, copper is lost also under acute stress,
- in slow oxidizers, copper can become bio-unavailable due to stress,
- stress can impair blood circulation to the scalp,
- stress impairs protein digestion and utilization,
- stress increases the demand for many "B" vitamins, which can lead to a deficiency.
Chemotherapy and Hair Loss
Certain cytotoxic drugs used in cancer chemotherapy result in hair loss. We have observed a reduction of hair loss in those persons undergoing chemotherapy when supplementary nutrients are given along with the chemotherapy. This leads us to suspect that the loss of hair associated with chemotherapy may be due to nutrient deficiencies, or imbalances, induced by the drug therapy.
Through a deeper understanding of the role of nutrients and metabolic balance in hair growth, it is often possible to prevent and even reverse the troubling symptom of hair loss.
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