Getting to the bottom of what is causing your hair loss can be tricky. Often, it is genetics or stress that cause thinning. But sometimes, hair loss is just one of many symptoms that is related to a medical condition. Hair is not vital for our survival, so it is often one of the first things to go when other organs are suffering in the body. Thyroid dysfunction is an example of a medical condition that commonly affects the hair growth cycle. Let’s take a look at the role of the thyroid on hair loss and why treating the thyroid also treats hair loss.
What is the thyroid?
The thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped organ situated at the nape of the neck. Although it is tiny compared to your other organs, it plays a major role in regulating your metabolism, growth, and development. Indeed, when something is not right with your thyroid, everything in your body is affected.
The thyroid is an endocrine gland, meaning that it produces and secretes hormones. Our body needs hormones to communicate between different cells so our organs can function in unison. Hormones are essentially chemical messengers sent from endocrine glands to tell other organs what they should do. The thyroid produces thyroid hormones, which are present in our blood as thyroxine (T4) or triiodothyronine (T3). T4 is much more abundant in the body, but T3 is far more potent.
If your thyroid secretes too much thyroid hormone, it can cause your body systems to speed up. On the contrary, if your thyroid secretes too little thyroid hormone, it can cause your body systems to slow. Maintaining a euthyroid (or normal thyroid) state is essential for your overall health and wellbeing.
What is hypothyroidism?
Hypothyroidism is a condition where too little thyroid hormone is produced in the thyroid. The number one cause of hypothyroidism in the United States and other developed nations is the autoimmune condition called Hashimoto’s. In Hashimoto’s, your own immune system attacks healthy tissues in your thyroid gland, causing inflammation and eventually decline in function. In other parts of the world, the leading cause of hypothyroidism is a lack of iodine, which is an essential component in making thyroid hormone. Iodized salt was created to combat hypothyroidism (and goiter as well, which is an enlargement of the thyroid gland).
The thyroid gland is controlled by the pituitary gland in the brain. The pituitary is a small pea-shaped organ that controls most of the hormone-producing organs in the body, including the thyroid. The pituitary releases thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) to signal the thyroid to produce more thyroid hormone. When a person has hypothyroidism, TSH levels are high in your body because the pituitary keeps releasing TSH as it does not detect enough thyroid hormone in the body. Thus, to test for hypothyroidism, your doctor will order a TSH and check your T4 and T3 levels in your blood.
Hypothyroidism tends to run in families and is more commonly found in women than men. According to the American Thyroid Association, women are five to eight times more likely to have a thyroid condition compared to men. It is also more commonly diagnosed after age 60, but you can have hypothyroidism for years before experiencing symptoms or recieving a diagnosis.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism
If you have hypothyroidism, you will experience a general slowing of systems in your body. Remember, the thyroid controls your metabolism, so when thyroid hormones are low, your body slows down, On the contrary, when thyroid hormones are high, such as in hyperthyroidism, your systems speed up (like your heart rate and digestive tract).
Symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
- Weight gain
- Fatigue and malaise
- Cold intolerance
- Puffy face
- High blood pressure
- Slowed heart rate
- Decreased sweating
- Muscle and joint soreness
- Dry skin and brittle nails
- Hair loss on scalp and other areas of the body including the eyebrows
- Irregular menstrual periods
- Fertiltiy problems
How does the thyroid affect hair loss?
When thyroid hormones are too low or too high for a prolonged period of time, your hair can start to thin. In general, you will likely notice a uniform thinning all over your head. Hair follicles are nourished by small blood vessels that carry oxygen, nutrients, and hormones. When thyroid hormones are off, it can affect the hair growth cycle, causing more shedding and forcing follicles into a dormant state.
If you notice your hair has thinned all over and you recognize other symptoms of hypothyroidism in your body, like fatigue and weight gain, it is imperative that you see your medical doctor to check your thyroid function.
How to treat hair loss caused by low thyroid hormone
Fortunately, treating hair loss caused by thyroid dysfunction is generally easier than combating hair loss due to genetic conditions. Your doctor will check you thyroid function with a blood test and will also perform a physical exam, including palpating your thyroid gland.
If your blood test suggests hypothyroidism, your doctor will give you a medication that you will need to be on for the rest of your life. This medication replaces thyroid hormone in your body. Your doctor will most likely put you on levothyroixine (known by brand names such as Synthroid, Tirosint, and Unithyroid). It can take several weeks to titrate your dose of thyroid medication to optimize your thyroid function. Once you find the perfect dose for your body, you will start to see an improvement in your symptoms, including hair regrowth. In fact, the only way to start to reverse hair loss from hypothyroidism is to take thyroid hormone replacement medication.
Supporting hair re-growth after untreated hypothyroidism
Along with taking the right dose of thyroid medication, it is important to nourish your hair with a healthy diet and good hair habits. Follicles require plenty of oxygen, hydration, and certain nutrients to grow healthy strands of hair. Make sure your diet is full of protein, biotin, vitamins, antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and beta-carotene. For example, you may want to boost your intake of the following foods:
- Fatty fish
- Sweet potatoes
To ensure you are getting the right nutrients to support hair re-growth, it can be helpful to take a supplement. Look for a supplement that contains:
- Vitmain D
- Alfalfa extract
Your hair habits are also essential in the re-growth process. When your hair is thin, it is more prone to damage from harsh styling behaviors like chemical processes to change the color or texture and using hot styling tools. Even wearing tight ponytails or too-frequent brushing can damage your hair.
During the hair re-growth phase, give your hair the best chance by using shampoo and conditioner products that nourish your follicles and scalp. Ideally, you will want to use products that increase circulation in your scalp, decrease inflammation, and add moisture to your hair.
You can also find professional-grade hair regrowth products through DS Laboratories. These products use cutting-edge nanosome technology to deliver safe and effective ingredients to every hair follicle. Using a hair regrowth system can speed up the time it takes for your hair to regrow to its optimal thickness after undergoing hair loss from thyroid dysfunction.