Everyone loses hair—a little bit falls out during your shower while washing your hair as well as during brushing and styling. This is normal. On average, people lose 50 to 100 hairs a day as old strands of hair get replaced with new ones.
But when hair loss is excessive, it can be a traumatic and depressing experience for both men and women.
It is true that genetics, stress, use of chemical-based hair products, heating tools for hair styling, a poor diet, exposure to harsh climatic conditions and improper hair care can all cause extensive shedding of strands.
But sometimes hair shedding is due to an underlying health problem. Once the health issue is addressed, the problem of excess hair loss usually resolves on its own.
Here are the top 10 health and medical reasons that cause hair loss.
1. Alopecia Areata
Alopecia areata, an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks hair follicles (structures that contain the roots of the hair), is one of the main reasons behind hair loss.
This disorder affects both men and women. It is most common in people younger than 20, but people of any age may be affected.
It is characterized by hair falling out in round patches from the scalp. The condition rarely results in total hair loss or complete baldness. In some cases, hair loss can occur in other parts of the body as well.
The exact cause of this disorder is not known, however it may be triggered by stress or a family history of other diseases, such as Type 1 diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis.
There’s currently no cure for alopecia areata, but there are many treatment options that may help your hair grow back faster and prevent future hair loss.
Consult your doctor to learn about the treatment options.
2. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
Hair thinning as well as rapid hair loss are common signs of PCOS, which causes a hormonal imbalance in the body. About one in every 10 to 15 women in the United States suffer from this health problem.
PCOS leads to an overload of testosterone or androgen hormones in the body, which interact with the enzyme found in hair follicles and convert to its derivative dihydrotestosterone (DHT).
It is the DHT that binds with the hair follicles, causes them to shrink and ultimately leads to thinner hair.
A 2011 study published in the International Journal of Women’s Health notes that a reduction in androgens due to PCOS reduces new hair growth and slows the growth of terminal hair that is already present.
Another study published in 2013 in the same journal found that patterned alopecia, more common in females than males, is commonly caused by an underlying endocrine disorder, such as PCOS or late-onset adrenal hyperplasia.
Other symptoms of PCOS include facial hair growth, irregular periods, acne, and cysts on the ovaries. Consult your doctor as soon as possible
Timely diagnosis and proper treatment can help you avoid the complications of PCOS, such as Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, infertility and depression, to name a few.
3. Iron-Deficiency Anemia
Those who suffer from iron-deficiency anemia often complain of thinning and brittle hair. In fact, hair loss is one of the most prominent and earliest symptoms of iron deficiency in the body.
Due to a low iron level in the body, the blood lacks sufficient red blood cells that transport oxygen to cells throughout your body, including the hair follicles. Without enough oxygen, hair becomes deprived of essential nutrients required for growth and strength.
A 2006 study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology reports that iron deficiency is linked to hair loss. It may even be related to alopecia areata, androgenetic alopecia, telogen effluvium and diffuse hair loss.
Women with iron deficiency are at a risk of telogen hair loss, according to a 2009 study published in Acta Dermatovenerologica Croatica. Serum ferritin levels below or equal to 30 ng/mL are strongly associated with telogen hair loss.
Another 2013 study published in the Journal of Korean Medical Science confirms the connection between iron deficiency and female pattern hair loss, especially in premenopausal women.
Along with hair loss, if you suffer from extreme fatigue, cold hands and feet, weakness and pale skin, it’s time to get your iron level checked.
If you have an iron deficiency, eating iron-rich foods or taking an iron supplement after consulting your doctor can help a lot.
4. Hypothyroidism (Underactive Thyroid)
Hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroid, is another cause of hair loss.
The thyroid gland is responsible for secreting thyroid hormones, which are needed for proper growth and development of the body, including your hair.
An underactive thyroid doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormones, and this can affect your hair growth and the texture of the hair on your scalp as well as eyebrows and body hair.
A 2008 study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism reports that thyroid hormones directly affect several aspects of hair anatomy, from the hair growth cycle to the hair’s pigmentation.
Another study published in the Indian Journal of Dermatology in 2008 notes that hypothyroidism is associated with alopecia areata.
The study also emphasizes screening for thyroid abnormalities in patients with chronic, recurrent and extensive alopecia areata.
Along with hair loss, other symptoms of hypothyroidism are unexplained weight gain, fatigue, constipation, depression and difficulty concentrating.
Proper diagnosis and thyroid hormone medication can restore your hormone levels to normal. This in turn will stop hair loss and allow your hair to maintain its growth and strength.
Lupus, a type of autoimmune disease, can also result in hair loss. In this disease, your own immune system attacks healthy tissues and leads to inflammation.
As a result of the inflammation of the skin and scalp, hair loss occurs. In fact, thinning hair is often one of the first signs of lupus.
Hair loss in lupus patients may occur mostly while shampooing or brushing their hair. Plus, the hair becomes dry, brittle and coarse.
Moreover, lupus can lead to autoimmune thyroid disease, which is another common cause of hair loss.
A 2009 study published in the North American Journal of Medical Sciences reports hair loss to be one of the most striking clinical features of active systemic lupus erythematosus.
Along with hair loss, if you suffer from extreme fatigue, joint pain, swelling, muscle pain, headaches, oral ulcers, photosensitivity and a butterfly-shaped rash across the cheeks and nose, consult your doctor. Timely treatment may help correct hair loss problems.
6. Telogen Effluvium
Telogen effluvium is another very common cause of hair loss. It is characterized by an abrupt onset of diffuse hair loss for a couple of months after a triggering event.
Triggering events may include post pregnancy, major surgery, drastic weight loss or extreme stress. Hair loss due to telogen effluvium often occurs during shampooing, styling or brushing.
Telogen effluvium results from the early entry of hair in the telogen phase (the resting phase of the hair follicle).
Fluctuating hormones that occur following pregnancy and childbirth often result in excess hair loss. But as soon as the hormones are back to normal, the hair loss problem also resolves.
Just like post pregnancy, hormonal changes also occur when a woman enters menopause. During this time, the estrogen hormone levels are low, which makes the hair dry and also causes hair loss.
Apart from a hormonal imbalance, anemia and hypothyroidism can also cause telogen effluvium.
A 2015 study published in the Journal of Dermatology & Dermatologic Surgery reports that telogen effluvium in adult females was commonly associated with iron-deficiency anemia and hypothyroidism.
7. Scalp Infection
An unhealthy scalp can cause inflammation in the hair follicles, making it difficult for hair to grow. In fact, a scalp infection can lead to hair loss.
There are different types of scalp infections, but the most common is tinea capitis. It is a type of fungal infection, also known as ringworm of the scalp.
The fungi can live on the dead tissue of the hair and spread easily. It may affect only parts of the scalp, or all of it. Areas that are infected often appear bald with small black dots.
It most often affects children and resolves by puberty. However, it can occur at any age.
In a 2013 study published in the International Journal of Trichology, 210 out of 2,800 children seen at dermatology clinics had complaints of hair loss and scalp disorders.
Among these 210 children, tinea capitis was the most common cause of hair loss (40.0%), followed by alopecia areata (26.2%) and telogen effluvium (17.6%).
Timely diagnosis and treatment can help treat this problem.
8. Zinc Deficiency
A low zinc level in the body is another cause of hair fragility, weakness and breakage that is often overlooked. Zinc deficiency can affect the hair on your scalp as well as the eyebrows and eyelashes.
Zinc is an important mineral that promotes cell reproduction, tissue growth and repair. It helps in the maintenance of the oil-secreting glands attached to hair follicles. So, when your body lacks zinc, it directly affects your hair growth.
Plus, zinc deficiency can lead to deterioration of the protein molecules, which is what hair is made of.
Moreover, a low zinc level is linked to hypothyroidism, a well-known cause of hair loss. A 2013 study published in the International Journal of Trichology shows that zinc deficiency is associated with hypothyroidism.
To correct a zinc deficiency, include nuts like Brazil nuts, walnuts, pecans, cashews and almonds in your diet.
Other good sources of zinc include red meat, eggs, oysters, crab, lobster, pulses, legumes, whole-grain cereals, zinc-fortified breakfast cereals and dairy products like cheese and low-fat milk.
You can also take a multivitamin or zinc supplement after consulting your doctor.
9. Protein Deficiency
Hair is made of a protein called keratin, thus your protein intake is directly linked with your hair growth and quality.
Protein is important for different functions within the body –from regulating hormones to tissue repair. Its deficiency can cause several symptoms, including weak strands that lead to premature hair loss or dry and brittle hair.
Most people take inadequate protein, but your body may be deficient due to poor absorption.
Poor absorption of protein can occur due to gluten intolerance, gall bladder disease, liver failure, pancreatic disease, abnormal bowel mobility and overgrowth of bacteria in the stomach, to name a few.
If you are not taking in enough protein, you can increase your intake by including lean meat, poultry, fish, beans, soy products, almonds, yogurt and eggs in your diet.
Pregnant women and those who are building muscle with weight training should include extra protein in their diets.
10. Clogged Arteries
Clogged arteries can cause hair loss in men. In fact, male pattern baldness, which means baldness at the crown of a man’s head, is a common sign of clogged arteries. Also, it can cause hair loss on the legs.
A 2000 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine reported a link between male pattern baldness and coronary heart disease. The problem was more common in men with hypertension or high cholesterol levels.
Another 2013 study published in the Indian Dermatology Online Journal confirmed the link between male pattern baldness and coronary heart disease.
A 2013 study published in the British Medical Journal explains that male pattern baldness may indicate insulin resistance, chronic inflammation or increased sensitivity to testosterone, all of which are involved directly or indirectly in promoting cardiovascular disease.
To protect your precious hair, it is important to take care of your heart as well. Know the risk factors of heart disease and make sure you see your doctor regularly for screenings.
At the same time, quit smoking, avoid excess drinking, exercise daily and reduce your fat intake to improve your heart health.