Hair Loss in Women (Part 1):
Important Steps to Optimize Hair Health

Hair loss in women can impose a significant impact on quality of life. The prevalence of this health issue, which affects over 30 million women, is under recognized. Often, women are too embarrassed to discuss their hair loss concerns with their health care practitioners out of fear of being labeled as being superficial or vain. In some instances, women do gather the courage to raise their concerns about hair loss with their physicians only to have these concerns dismissed outright. The booming nutraceutical market speaks volumes for how worried women actually are about hair loss and how much energy, time and money they are willing to invest in slowing or reversing the hair loss process.

By age 40, about forty percent of women are affected by hair loss. Some factors that contribute to hair loss include genetics, lifestyle factors, environmental exposures, various medical conditions including hormone imbalance, nutrition, and medications. It is critical to recognize that hair supplements alone are not the answer — a comprehensive approach to identifying the underlying cause of hair loss (if there is a clear answer) and to improving one’s overall health status is key.

Let’s start with basic information about hair and the scalp itself. The scalp is a layer of skin on the head comprised of over 100,000 hair follicles as well as sebaceous glands that produce oil. Just under this skin is a layer of connective tissue that contains the blood vessels and nerve endings of the scalp. A hair follicle houses each strand of hair. At the very base of the follicle is the hair bulb, which contains the matrix (cells that produce hair) and blood vessels that nourish the hair shaft through the delivery of hormones and nutrients. These blood vessels are also how the hair follicle and stem cells are exposed to immune cells and other chemical messengers in the body. The stem cells that produce hair divide more often than most other types of cells in the human body. In the middle part of the hair follicle (known as the bulge), there are more stem cells and glands which produce oil. The part of each hair under the scalp is alive and the portion seen above the scalp is not made of live cells but primarily of a protein called keratin.

The average rate of hair growth is about half an inch per month although the rate of growth will vary from person to person. There are three phases in each hair growth cycle. Most hair is in the anagen or growth phase, which lasts several years. At any given time, approximately 90% of the hair on your head is in this growth phase. The anagen phase is followed by catagen which is a transitional phase lasting two to three weeks. During this phase, the rate of growth slows down and the hair follicle shrinks. The final phase of the hair cycle is the resting phase known as telogen. This phase lasts two to three months and involves the separation of the old hair from the hair follicle while new hair emerges from the follicle. On average, a human loses 50-100 telogen hairs daily which is normal shedding. A good tip: if you think you’re shedding too much hair, save the hair from your shower, the hair found on your pillow and on your clothes (you will miss some but do your best). Also, brush over the sink and save those hairs as well. Count the hairs you shed daily for about a week to calculate a daily average hair count to see if you’re within the normal range. Also, note that seasons may affect hair growth with the most hair growth in the Spring and the slowest rate of growth in the Fall. As we age, the growth rate also slows down.

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