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

As you can imagine, if the earth’s soil is not optimal, the food produced from that soil will be lackluster. The same goes for hair and the scalp from which it grows. The scalp has a rich microbiome and in scalp disorders, there is a disruption of this microbiome which creates a poor environment for hair growth. In certain scalp and hair disorders, we see evidence of damage from substances produced by our own bodies called free radicals. Free radicals (also known as oxidants) are by-products of chemical reactions in the body which occur when the body is trying to neutralize something. Free radicals can cause signs of damage in the scalp, leading to a suboptimal environment for hair health. The dominance of damaging free radicals can lead to aging of hair, diminished quality of growing hair and hair loss over time. A great way to combat free radicals or oxidants is to have healthy exposure to antioxidants that counteract the damaging effects of oxidants in the scalp and around the hair follicles.

Here is the million-dollar question: How can a woman optimize her scalp health and thereby her potential for hair growth while avoiding unnecessary hair loss? Without a good foundation, expensive hair supplements, scalp treatments and medications will not yield the best possible results. While there is no single solution, here are some important lifestyle steps to take to optimize hair health:

  • Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables: A varied diet, rich in plants, is the best way to add antioxidants to your body and to your scalp. Supplement use does not replace our dietary needs of antioxidants because there are unidentified antioxidants present in food which likely benefit us. It’s best to include dark leafy vegetables and foods like olives, apples, onions, bell peppers, flaxseeds, walnuts and other nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables which contain flavonoids, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants for our cells to function at their best. Ideally, one’s diet would include magnesium and adequate omega-3 fatty acids to help mitochondria combat oxidative stress.
  • Mind your microbiome: It may surprise you to learn that your scalp has a microbiome. If a species of bacteria called Malassezia predominates in the scalp, the oxidant level of the scalp may be increased which can cause damage and inflammation. For this reason, many shampoos that help with dandruff, seborrheic dermatitis, and other scalp conditions tend to treat the Malassezia species of bacteria, reducing their count in the scalp. You can also improve your overall microbiome balance by avoiding processed foods and refined sugars/flours.
  • Re-think your meal strategy: Another way to improve your body’s ability to deal with damaging free radicals/oxidants is to make your mitochondria do the work. Mitochondria are the powerhouses of each of our cells and they are responsible for our metabolism. The more time we spend in the “fed” (post-meal) state, the slower our mitochondria become at clearing oxidants. In the three-meals plus snacks per day structure, the average person spends quite a bit of time digesting food which is not ideal. Over-eating and eating too frequently can disrupt the body’s ability to clear oxidants and this may have a negative impact on hair growth potential.
  • Get an adequate amount of sleep: Lack of sleep can alter hormone levels (i.e. increased cortisol) which would create a poor environment for hair growth.
  •  Manage your stress: Psychological stress plays a significant role in inflammation and therefore in hair loss. Practicing mindfulness, engaging in meditation practices and performing breathing exercises can all help to lower stress levels in addition to regular exercise and adequate sleep.
  • Exercise regularly: Exercise promotes the body’s ability to react to oxidative stress (which damages cells and tissues) and it helps with insulin resistance which is beneficial in terms of decreasing overall inflammation.
  • Avoid smoking: Smoking has a negative impact on blood vessels throughout the body, including those in the scalp.
  • Minimize exposure to toxins, chemicals, and ultraviolet radiation: This includes in one’s diet and also topically/environmentally. Some examples of harmful scalp toxins include air pollutants, oxidizing hair chemicals, and ultraviolet radiation. Wear a wide-brimmed protective hat if you will have prolonged sun exposure and even at other times if possible.
  • Take care of your scalp: Though there is insufficient evidence to support strict recommendations, it is likely best to wash one’s hair no more often than every other day and to use products that do not cause harm to the skin of the scalp. If possible, avoid harsh chemical treatments on the scalp and avoid over-exposure to the sun (see above). Conditioner should generally be applied to the hair shaft, not the scalp. If your scalp is itchy or tingling, it may be time to visit your doctor or dermatologist for an evaluation.

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