It’s no secret that menopause means you will be experiencing lots of bodily changes. But what you may not have been expecting is for menopause to cost you your hair! It is true though, that most women will experience thinning hair during menopause. How much loss you experience and how long the loss lasts depends on a number of factors including genetic propensity, lifestyle, diet, and health.
Even though it is by no means rare for a menopausal woman to suffer from alopecia, many doctors don’t seem to have a solution and can be unsympathetic. The condition is often overlooked as a normal part of the aging process. Sometimes, Rogaine is suggested; but while Rogaine has the potential to enhance existing hair it does not offer a real solution to the original and underlying cause of your hair loss. And it cannot prevent future thinning.
Finding The Cause
Alopecia can be caused by many conditions but most alopecia in women (and men) can be attributed to hormonal factors. It has become obvious that hair is very sensitive to large hormonal shifts. Think about getting on and off birth control, pregnancy, and yes, menopause. Changes in your body’s levels of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone can and will likely affect hair growth. So much so that if a woman is experiencing a significant amount of loss, the first thing to consider is whether there has been any significant hormonal changes.
This is why doctors will say that it is “normal” for women to start thinning as they head into menopause. A better way to put it is that it is understandable that a menopausal woman experience hair shed. One great misconception about menopause is that the symptoms of menopause are always caused by an estrogen deficiency. The symptoms of perimenopause and menopause are caused by changes and fluctuations of hormones. When it comes to hormones, balance is key. Estrogen levels do fall as women head into menopause, but the hormone progesterone falls much more.
Hormonal imbalance is the primary cause of what is known as male pattern baldness when it occurs in women. This pattern of hair loss can be seen in women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, sometimes after pregnancy, and when heading into menopause. The problem is exacerbated when some women have a genetic predisposition to male pattern loss. If all this information has gotten you down a bit, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. The good news is that most cases of male pattern loss do not result in complete baldness. There’s more good news; hormonal alopecia in women can be treated. Women who are able to balance their hormones can stop the hair shed and restore a full head of hair.
Hormonal Imbalance & Estrogen Dominance
Have you ever wondered why some women who are going through menopause still have a full head of hair while others are so thin on top? A lot of it has to do with lifestyle and how that lifestyle affects our hormones. We’ve already established that large fluctuations and imbalances in hormones can cause balding. With that, I’d like to introduce the term ‘estrogen dominance’. Estrogen dominance is the state where the level of estrogen in the body outweighs the level of progesterone in the body.
In the west, it is estimated that half the women over 35 are estrogen dominant. Progesterone is estrogen’s antagonist. Estrogen, for example will stimulate cysts in the breast and progesterone protects against cysts in the breasts. Estrogen will cause you to retain salt and water and progesterone acts as a diuretic. Breast and endometrial cancers are thought to be estrogen dependent while progesterone protects against those types of cancers. Estrogen is not all bad, but progesterone needs to be available to work synchronously with estrogen. Both are necessary for the proper and normal functioning of the female body.
It is not simply the estrogen deficiency that causes many of the health problems prevalent in women; it is the dominance of estrogen compared with the amount of available progesterone. Estrogen declines gradually as we age, but there is a dramatic difference in the rate of decline of estrogen as compared with progesterone. From the ages of 35 to 50, there is a 75 percent reduction in the amount of progesterone produced by the body, while estrogen declines only 35 percent during this same time period. When women finally reach menopause, the amount of progesterone in the body is severely low, compared to the amount of estrogen (which, is still present at about one half of premenopausal levels).
The world’s authority on natural hormone replacement therapy, Dr. John Lee, stated that in order for women to have optimum health, the ratio of progesterone to estrogen should be about 250 to 1.
Besides menopause there are a lot of ways women can become estrogen dominant. Anytime a woman is prescribed estrogen without progesterone, she can become estrogen dominant. Many hormone replacement programs put women on estrogens such as Premarin. Despite many years of research that shows that women receiving unopposed estrogen from a hormone replacement therapy program can increase a woman’s risk of breast and endometrial cancers. Other sources of extra estrogen include:
- Xenoestrogens- these are estrogen-mimicking chemicals that are found in plastics, lotions, cosmetics, shampoos, hair products, room deodorizers, soaps, car exhaust, pesticides, nail polish, glues, dry cleaning chemicals, industrial waste, and fragrances. Xenoestrogens disrupt hormonal interactions in the body and act like estrogen.
- Dairy and animal products that have been supplemented with hormones
- A healthy liver helps to get rid of excess estrogen, but an overwhelmed liver will not be able to do this.
- An unhealthy gut will allow excess estrogens to be reabsorbed in the digestive tract.
- Birth control pills
- Obesity is another contributor. Fat cells can convert other hormones into estrogen.
- Stress can cause adrenal gland exhaustion, which will lead to reduced progesterone production.
- An unhealthy diet can cause estrogen dominance. Studies show that both estrogen and progesterone levels decreased in women who changed their diets to a low fat, high fiber diet- even if they did not lower their caloric intake. Plant foods contain compounds that act as progesterone to counter balance estrogen. Women who eat healthier will have less severe menopause symptoms because the level of hormones in their bodies does not change as significantly.
- Caffeine intake is linked to increased levels of estrogen.
You may be shocked at all of the external factors that can contribute to estrogen dominance. Almost all of us who live in the developed world are continuously exposed to estrogenic compounds.
How Estrogen Dominance Leads to Hair Loss
At this point you may be asking yourself, “How does estrogen dominance lead to hair loss?” Well, the estrogen dominant condition mimics the effects of hypothyroidism by interfering with thyroid hormones. Hair thinning is a well-known side effect of hypothyroidism. Hair loss is not the only hypothyroid mimicking symptom of estrogen dominance; other symptoms include water retention, dry skin, loss of memory, and some autoimmune disorders.
Estrogen increases Thyroid Binding Globulin in the blood, which stops thyroid activity. Thyroid Binding Globulin (TBG) is a protein that carries thyroid hormones. Increasing levels of TBG reduces the amount of thyroid proteins available to bind to their receptors because they are being “bound” by TBG. This means less available thyroid proteins to regulate and maintain metabolism. What is particularly interesting is that if you are tested, blood thyroid levels will test normal or high because the problem is not the amount of thyroid hormones available in the body, it is that they are being bound by TBG.
Women who are estrogen dominant will require more thyroid hormone for normal function because of the high levels of estrogen compared to progesterone. Effectively, estrogen dominance causes a decrease in thyroid secretion and decreases sensitivity to thyroid hormones. This is what estrogen is meant to do. High levels of estrogen are meant to cause fat build up to prepare the body for pregnancy. The way that estrogen does this is by lowering your body’s sensitivity to thyroid hormone.
Make Lifestyle Changes That Will Promote Hair Growth
If you think that estrogen dominance could be the cause of your hair loss you can start by talking to your health care provider about getting the following tests:
- Full hormone panel – look at levels of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone
- Fasting Insulin
- Metabolic Panel – Liver function
- Ferritin – Iron deficiency
Once you have established that estrogen could be contributing to your thinning there are many things you can do to recover. No one knows the absolute cure for hair loss, at the same time menopause does not have to be a hair death sentence. If and when you begin to notice thinning hair please do not yet resign yourself to wigs, hair thickeners, and a lifetime of Rogaine- not just yet. You have many choices that really do work. Here is a piece of information that I would like for you remind yourself of when you begin to doubt- hair is amazingly adaptive and resilient. Most women notice huge improvement with just paying a bit of extra attention to nutrition, stress levels, and lifestyle. Here is what we recommend:
1. Diet is where you should start. Make sure that you are eating plenty of plant foods that will support your body, and give your hair the nutrients that it needs. Also, hair loss and stress can be caused and exacerbated by insufficient vitamins and minerals. Taking a multivitamin containing B vitamins (biotin, B6, and B12), zinc, selenium, and copper can help.
Studies show that diets high in fats and refined carbohydrates tend to increase estrogen levels. Women who eat wholesome meals and exercise frequently have a much lower incidence of menopausal symptoms. Foods that have high caffeine content are also linked with higher estrogen levels.
2. Balance your hormones. This can be really difficult and you may not know how to begin. An easy way is to get rid of items that may be introducing xenoestrogens into your body. You may also want to supplement with natural progesterone. The specific dosage will depend on how severe your condition is. Try to find a health care provider that has experience with natural hormone therapy. A look online can help you to find saliva tests, which can help you to determine your estrogen progesterone balance. A normal female body produces about 20 mg of progesterone daily. This is the amount of progesterone in natural cream form that is most often suggested. Again, it is recommended that you speak with a physician who has experience treating hormonal conditions with naturally derived hormone substitutes.
3. Maintain Ideal Body Weight. Remember that fat cells can increase estrogen production. Exercise has been shown to help balance hormones.
Despite what many conventional doctors may tell you, there is help for alopecia. You do not have to settle to “live with it.” Start by taking a look at your hormonal health. This may leave clues as to what may be contributing to your hair loss (and other menopausal symptoms). Begin with making small changes; these can have a much larger impact on your hair and health than you expect.