As upsetting as it can be, hair loss is a pretty common occurrence in both women and men. In fact, it's believed that almost 50% of women will struggle with hair loss at some point in their lives. You might experience hair loss if you're pregnant, going through menopause or dealing with any life-altering change. And while you might also blame a year of COVID stress, an iron deficiency or perhaps your family history for any sudden hair loss issues, one possible cause could be a thyroid condition.
According to the American Thyroid Association, more than 12% of Americans will develop a thyroid condition during their lifetime. And 60% of those living with thyroid disease are unaware of their situation. Plus, women are up to eight times more likely to experience a negative effect.
Though a thyroid issue can be tricky to spot, there are a few telltale signs to watch out for, and hair loss is one of them. If you're pulling more strands than usual from your shower drain and you just can't work out why, it could be time to check in with a health care professional or doctor.
To help you understand more about thyroid conditions and the symptoms that come along with them, VEGAMOUR spoke to the professionals to untangle facts from fiction.
What Exactly Is a Thyroid?
Your thyroid gland is the small organ found in the front of your neck below your Adam's apple. It has a butterfly shape with two wide wings extending around each side of your windpipe.
The thyroid is one of the many glands that can be found in the human body. Glands release and create substances that help your body reach its potential. Your thyroid gland generates hormones that help control many vital functions, including metabolism.
Metabolism is the process that helps turn the food you eat into energy. The thyroid controls this with specific hormones called T4 and T3, which let the body know how much energy to use. If you have healthy thyroid levels, your thyroid will keep your metabolism at the rate your body needs.
Overlooking this critical process is something called the pituitary gland, which is found below the brain at the center of the scalp. This clever gland monitors the number of thyroid hormones in your bloodstream. When the pituitary gland detects a lack of thyroid hormones, it dispatches its own hormone, called the thyroid-stimulating hormone or TSH, to the thyroid gland to tell it what needs to be done to get the body back on track.
What Is a Thyroid Disorder?
A thyroid disease generally refers to a medical condition that stops your thyroid from producing the necessary amount of hormones your body needs. If the thyroid function goes awry, you could start experiencing an unusual symptom or two — including hair loss, weight gain, brain fog and in some cases, excess body hair. Of course, symptoms can vary, and some people experience different things, depending on the type of thyroid issues they're experiencing.
If you have been diagnosed with a thyroid concern, then you're certainly not alone. Thyroid problems are pretty common, and you might be at a higher risk if there's a family history of the condition. Those who live with type 1 diabetes, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, excessive iodine and primary adrenal insufficiency (amongst other things) might also experience symptoms.
Australian-based surgeon Dr. Robert Goldman explained, "Having an overactive or underactive thyroid gland may cause baldness in certain individuals. Immune system conditions are the most well-known reasons for strange thyroid chemical levels. For instance, Hashimoto's thyroiditis regularly causes hypothyroidism, while Graves' illness is usually liable for hyperthyroidism."
What Are the Different Thyroid Disorders Someone Can Suffer From?
Now that you understand a bit more about thyroid function and why things go wrong, let's dig into the different types of thyroid disorders that can crop up. For the most part, thyroid disease is generally split into two different groups.
Hyperthyroidism signals an overactive thyroid gland. When the thyroid works overtime, someone might experience one or more of these symptoms:
- Trouble sleeping
- Weight loss
- A physically enlarged thyroid
- Increase anxiousness or irritability
- Weak muscles
- Eye irritation or vision impairment
- Irregular periods
- Heat sensitivity
Find Out: 9 Biotin-Rich Foods for Healthy Hair
Hypothyroidism is the medical name given for an underactive thyroid. When someone's thyroid is underactive, thyroid hormone production is below average, which can create problems. If you have hypothyroidism, you might experience the following symptoms:
- Weight gain
- Coarse or dry hair
- Heavy or more frequent periods
- Sensitivity to cold weather
- Hair loss
What Does a Thyroid Disorder Have To Do With Hair Loss?
It's pretty clear that there's a connection between the thyroid and hair loss, especially if someone is experiencing hypothyroidism. Here's more on why thyroid-related hair loss occurs and what you may experience.
Why Hair Loss Occurs in Hypothyroidism
Dr. Beverly Goode-Kanawati, D.O., the director and founder of the Beverly Medical Center in Raleigh, North Carolina, explained, "Hair loss occurs in hypothyroidism because of the overall slowing of cell turnover throughout the body, which means that cells die at a slow to normal rate but grow back very slowly. This means that the hair is lost but does not grow back like it should because the growth of everything is slowed down." Note that there is a possibility that when your hair does grow back after hypothyroidism, it could be a different texture or color.
What Types of Hair Loss Can a Thyroid Disorder Cause?
The thyroid hormone is essential in the development of a healthy hair life cycle. It helps maintain the hair follicles from which your hair grows. And when the body has an excessive amount of the thyroid hormone or not enough of it, it can shock the body into a telogen phase. Telogen effluvium is a condition that occurs when the hair follicle enters the resting stage of the hair regrowth cycle too early. When this happens, you could experience more hair loss and alopecia patterns in a short space of time.
Alopecia areata differs from the shedding effect of telogen effluvium because it's more patchy. It can be triggered by a thyroid disorder. This is because many people who have a thyroid disorder also have autoimmune thyroid disease. And when you have one autoimmune disease, you are more likely to develop another one, like alopecia areata.
Does a Thyroid Disorder Only Cause Hair Loss on Your Head?
"The type of hair loss associated with hypothyroidism can go unnoticed because it can occur very slowly over time," said Goode-Kanawati. The hair loss in hypothyroidism is not just scalp hair loss, but it can also be total body hair loss. One of the first places it can be seen, besides the scalp, is the outside portion of the eyebrows."
Goode-Kanawati continued, "In severe hypothyroidism, there can be total loss of hair throughout the body. I've seen cases where all body hair has disappeared, arms, legs, eyebrows [and] scalp due to undertreated hypothyroidism."
How Thyroid Medication Can Affect Hair Loss
Thyroid hair loss can be particularly frustrating because some thyroid medications can actually increase hair loss. If you have an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism), you could be prescribed antithyroid drugs to treat the issue. Unfortunately, antithyroid medication such as propylthiouracil, carbimazole and methimazole can further interrupt a healthy hair cycle. Of course, once you start taking the drugs, it can be hard to work out whether it's the original thyroid issue or the medication that's slowing the hair growth cycle.
If you're concerned about taking medication that may exacerbate hair loss, always consult your health care professional and endocrinologist.
What Can You Do If You're Experiencing Hair Loss?
It's not just a thyroid condition that can trigger serious hair loss. If you've noticed your hair's growth cycle stunting and your doctor or endocrinologist has cleared you of any thyroid disease or other medical concerns, you could try a nourishing diet and some targeted hair products, such as GRO+ Advanced Hair Serum, to promote healthy hair. The CBD terpenes in the formula penetrate the upper layer on the dermis and reach the hair follicles right at the root, giving your locks a glossy boost.
Additionally, consider taking hair supplements, such as GRO+ Advanced Hair Care Gummies. The 100% vegan formula, which is made without artificial flavors, harnesses broad-spectrum hemp's therapeutic power to help support thicker and fuller-looking hair. Folic acid, biotin, zinc and various other vitamins can help hair maintain a luscious, shiny look and feel.
Thyroid Hair Loss Takeaways
While thyroid hair loss can be distressing, with proper treatment, your hair should experience regrowth.
"In order for the hair to return from the hair loss of hypothyroidism, thyroid levels of both T4 and T3 must be returned to normal, preferably with a TSH of 2.5 or less," said Goode-Kanawati. "It's also important to eat a diet high in minerals and protein, which are the building blocks for hair production. We often recommend a mineral supplement as it is difficult to get enough minerals from one's diet."
Whether you're dealing with thyroid hair loss or another form of temporary hair loss, it's essential to make your overall wellness a priority to help encourage hair regrowth. A 360° approach to hair wellness, a well-thought-out diet, keeping stress levels low and good sleep hygiene can help you get your body back to where you need it to be. And always (always) talk to your doctor if you have any specific concerns.
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