Thinning hair is a common occurrence during what is still euphemistically called "change of life." The loss of estrogen in menopause, paired with spikes in testosterone, reprogram the hair follicle and result in what some women call "menopause hair"— hair that not only becomes thinner in the sense of density of distribution on the scalp but results in an actual narrowing of the follicle, so the individual strands become skinnier, drier and more brittle.
For some women, their ponytail just gets a little lighter and a little skinnier, with no bare patches and no visible retreat of their central hairline. Other women endure more severe forms of alopecia. Unfortunately, all of these experiences can bruise a woman's self-esteem, which may already be battered by mood swings driven by unruly hormones and other symptoms starting in perimenopause.
But there's a light at the end of the tunnel. Here's more of what to expect during menopause and what you can do to keep your hair healthy.
What's the Medical Definition of Menopause?
Menopause is declared after you've gone 12 months without a menstrual period. According to Mayo Clinic, the average menopause age in the U.S. is 51. As with the two other major benchmarks of a woman's reproductive health, namely puberty and pregnancy, hormone levels begin to behave erratically and affect every area of life and well-being.
The traditional male-dominated medical establishment still uses language which places menopause into the realm of disease. But advocates for female reproductive health maintain that changing the health industry lexicon is essential to women's agency in at last reclaiming their own bodies. This means that perimenopause and menopause do not need to be diagnosed, but rather simply identified. And the arrival of these conditions is not considered symptomatic, which is evidence of disease, but simply acknowledged by common signs and signals.
Menopause and Hair Loss
Menopause is one of the major causes of hair loss as women enter middle age. While losing 50-100 hairs every day — and a few more on shampoo days — is common, menopause may double that loss rate.
Other common signs are more time than usual between periods, and shorter periods, along with night sweats, hot flashes, weight gain, especially in the belly (hormones literally redirect fat from the thighs to the belly during this transition!) and dry skin.
When these signs start showing up, talk to your doctor. A few basic blood tests will pinpoint your current testosterone levels and estrogen loss, and you can begin to explore treatment options if you choose to do so.
The Updated Thinking on HRT
Hormone replacement therapy has an image problem. The use of hormones — including those found in estrogen-rich pregnant mare's urine — have consistently proven to ease the discomfort from menopausal symptoms. Initially, hormone replacement was de rigueur and widely prescribed by gynecologists. Then came the Women's Health Initiative, which cast this practice in a newly negative light and led to an abrupt decrease in women's access to HRT. The trial was stopped early, in 2002, because the hormone-users in the study had a higher risk of breast cancer, heart disease, stroke and blood clots. As of this writing, many clinicians maintain the stance that HRT is dangerous.
But a recent reexamination of the WHI has led forward-thinking practitioners to a new set of conclusions which again opens the door to the utility, safety and value of HRT. Current analysis of the data establishes that when HRT is initiated soon after menopause, coronary heart disease and osteoporotic fractures due to thinning bones are reduced, and life expectancy is extended. The National Institutes of Health states that "In younger healthy women (aged 50-60 years), the risk-benefit balance is positive for using HRT, with risks considered rare."
"Menopausal hormone therapy is definitely a safe option for most women (those without risk factors for cancer or cardiovascular disease) entering perimenopause and menopause to treat menopausal symptoms and in some cases to protect against bone loss," said Dr. Kelly Culwell, board-certified OBGYN and nationally-renowned women’s health expert. "The earlier studies (Women's Health Initiative or WHI) that showed significant risks for cardiovascular events and breast cancer with use of hormone therapy in menopause largely enrolled older women who had already gone through menopause but were still having symptoms. Most women enter the perimenopausal/menopausal period in their late 40s and early 50s, at which time their risks of breast cancer and cardiovascular events (like strokes and heart attacks) are much lower than that of older women."
What You Can Do To Help Encourage Healthy Hair
When menopause hits, it's important to commit to taking tender, loving care of yourself and your hair. After your doctor's visit, see your hairdresser for expert advice. Here's some of what you may hear.
Give Your Hair a Break
If your hair's been living life in the fast lane — coloring, daily blow-outs, flat-ironing, scalp-stressing hair extensions, tight braids, backcombing, or straightening and relaxing processes — now's the time to give your tresses a breather.
Consider letting go of your extensions, and reserve hot tools for special occasions. If your hair is midback or longer and feeling a bit damaged and depleted, go shorter. There's zero truth to the old belief that cutting your hair makes it grow faster, but clean ends and a shorter shape can make hair appear thicker, fuller and healthier.
Use Products Designed to Encourage Healthy Hair
Relax with CBD products created for thicker, fuller hair. We recommend that you take the two-pronged approach to hair growth, building your mane's bounce and vitality from the inside and the outside. Pop a GRO+ Advanced Gummy with CBD every morning to support your hair's health, and soothe the scalp irritation that can arrest hair production in the follicles with CBD-enhanced GRO+ Advanced Hair Serum.
You can also take a hands-on approach to hair-loss treatment. Indulge yourself with a daily scalp massage to increase blood flow to the scalp, with or without a hair product. If you want a rich, super-relaxing rub, work our marula oil, GRO Hair Serum or GRO Scalp Detoxifying Serum into your scalp with your fingertips or a scalp massager.
Simply: yup. Here are some suggestions of how you can tweak your diet in an effort to positively affect menopause symptoms.
Rethink Your Menu
It's a proven fact that omega-3 fatty acids may reduce hot flashes and night sweats, so add flax, chia and hemp seeds to your plate. If you're not vegan and are pescatarian, focus on juicy, fatty, cold-water fish — mackerel, salmon and anchovies — instead of burgers or chicken for your animal protein fix.
Try tracking what you eat for a week to examine which nutrients you're not getting from your diet. Then, tweak what you eat. You can also add a hair vitamin to your routine like GRO Biotin Gummies to ensure you get your daily dose of biotin, folic acid and other hair healthy vitamins.
Eat More Protein
In general, doctors recommend that menopausal women eat more protein, not less, as they age. Good news for vegans: In early studies, eating plant protein has been demonstrated to be more effective than dairy protein in reducing the risk of hip fracture.
Eat More Cruciferous Veggies and Some Fruits
Cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage), grapes and berries show evidence in early studies that they may lower blood pressure and fight the inflammation that's an inevitable part of the aging process.
Add Botanical Phytoestrogens
Phytoestrogens, compounds in food that act as mild estrogens in your body, are demonstrated in recent research to lower hot flashes in some studied control groups. Although the soy craze of the 1980s was misguided, experts today agree that botanical phytoestrogens support overall body health, especially for women who are losing estrogen in the process of menopause. Foods rich in natural phytoestrogens include chickpeas, peanuts, barley, plums and spinach.
Avoid Starches and Sugar
Of course, refined white sugar, along with high-fructose corn syrup and other sweeteners, are present in desserts. But they're also present in a staggering majority of processed foods, including many cereals, soups, breads, salad dressings and even commercially produced tomato sauce. Avoiding blood sugar spikes by avoiding these foods may be helpful in avoiding the most infamous of menopause markers, the Menopause Meltdown. Also, be aware that other foods, like potatoes, pasta, rice and other carbohydrates, spike your glycemic index as well. A general rule of thumb is to avoid all white foods (except egg whites).
Cut Back on Caffeine and Alcohol
The effects of those two old standbys, caffeine and alcohol, are highly subjective, but both are known sleep disruptors. If you're tossing and turning at night, experiment by skipping that nightcap, that morning joe or both.
Nix the Salt
Lowering your salt intake is a good move at any time of life, and especially when the risk of high blood pressure rises. Buy organic lemons and limes, and squeeze fresh, sunny citrus over your food in place of salt. It's a refreshing alternative and even delivers a splash of always-welcome vitamin C!
In general, just chill. Menopause is the ideal time to wrap your head around "slow beauty." Your body is always renewing itself, and with menopause comes a slowing of the metabolism. It is unrealistic to expect that your body will ever be 21 again. It won't. Skin cell turnover is slower. Ditto for digestion. Ditto for self-repair of your muscles after a workout. And ditto for your hair.
The good news is that with healthy destressing, your hair loss may normalize. It's unlikely that you will lose all your hair. Most often, women experience gradual, incremental thinning that plateaus after menopause.
Can HRT Help Me Keep My Hair?
The short answer is probably yes! Hair loss during perimenopause and menopause happens when estrogen and progesterone supplies drop. And in a perfect, ying-yang match, androgens — male hormones, specifically testosterone — spike sky-high. As a result, the anagen or growth phase of hair slows to a crawl, and hair follicles shrink, preventing them from extruding those long, strong strands that help define youth. Initiating medication, including bioidentical hormones, may be the most effective among hair loss treatments currently available.
As an alternative to other forms of HRT, bioidentical hormones, synthesized from soy and yam, are now available. In addition to the vegan aspect, bioidentical hormones are identical in molecular structure to the hormones made by your own ovaries. Bioidenticals are available in pills, patches, gels and lotions. However, women with a uterus who take bioidentical hormones must also take an FDA-approved progestin or micronized progesterone to prevent endometrial cancer, according to Harvard University.
Is There Any Medical Treatment That Will Help a Woman Grow Back Hair During Menopause?
"Not all women experience hair loss or thinning during menopause, but many do," said Dr. Culwell. "For women who are experiencing hair loss, I recommend that they have their thyroid levels checked as hypothyroidism can also cause hair loss and is more common in women in their 40s and 50s. Assuming the thyroid is normal, the only prescription treatment for hair loss is minoxidil (also known as Rogaine) which is applied topically to the scalp. This option has rare, but serious, side effects of elevated heart rate and can decrease blood pressure as it was originally developed as a medication for high blood pressure."
What About Those Progesterone Creams at the Health Store?
If you browse the aisles of your favorite health store, you'll likely see jars of progesterone cream, which are advertised as an alternative to HRT. If the cream is sold over the counter without a prescription, it contains too little of the hormone to be effective. And yam extracts don't help because your body cannot convert them into progesterone.
Take Menopause and Hair Loss One Step at a Time
Just like other stages of life, menopause is inevitable. The good news is that extra-gentle treatment and overall body- and hair-wellness habits can help ease its symptoms. Put a positive spin on menopause by using it as a time for reflection and taking stock. Also, do things to make you feel good about yourself, such as getting a shorter, breezier cut that can give your hair a fresh new lease on life.
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