Women's Wellness Blog November 14, 2018

Healthy hair – why blood work is essential.

Why those gummy bear hair supplements may not be the answer for hair loss, thinning, and dryness.

Assessing the health of our hair, skin, and nails can tell us much about what is going on inside.  In my previous post, I mentioned the connection with skin health and digestion.  Similar to this, the health of our hair can be linking also to digestion and our ability to absorb and maintain adqeuate nutrient levels, such as iron.  In addition, it is essential that we ensure adequate functioning of hormones including thyroid, cortisol, and male and female hormonal balances, especially with androgens, such as testosterone and DHT, in females.

If you are experiencing changes with hair, whether it is hair loss, dryness, easily breaking, or if it has become thinner than what was previously, further investigation should be done.

Here are my top recommendations for lab testing to consider with your healthcare practitioner;

  • Iron levels.  This is tested through blood work listed under ‘ferritin’.  Low iron levels can be extremely common in young women, being a top contributor to fatigue and even poor hair growth.  This is because iron plays a role in bring oxygen to tissues in the body, and if our hair follicles are unable to receive adequate oxygen, we can see a stunt in growth.  My ideal range is between 60-100 ng/mL.  If your ferritin is low – however techniqually still within range, around the 10-30 ng/mL mark, consider appropriate iron supplementation.  Check with your healthcare provider or Naturopathic Doctor regarding the form of iron and dosage, to avoid some of the common side effects with iron supplementation, such as nausea, or constipation.
  • Thyroid levels.  This hormone is usually linked with metabolism and weight gain/loss, and changes with hair, skin, nails, among others.  Hypothyroidism (low thyroid hormone) is one of the more common reasons for hair loss and dryness.  Even if you have your TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) levels are at the upper-end of range but still within range, it can be useful to do further work up into the actual thyroid hormones (free T3 and T4) and possibly thyroid antibodies.  You can still experience symptoms of hypothyroidism, while still clinically being within ‘normal’ range.
  • High androgens (the ‘male’ hormones).  This is commonly seen within PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), where we can see an increase in the androgen hormones such as testosterone.  Since testosterone is easily converted into DHT (dihydrotestosterone), this hormone is what interacts directly with the hair follicles – with high follicle exposure to DHT leading to thinning hair over time.  If you are presenting with additonal PCOS symptoms, a further work-up should be done to see whats going on inside hormonally, aside from hair changes.
  • Cortisol (the stress hormone).  If you’re someone who is going through periods of stress – whether you think you are coping well or not – cortisol levels may not be ideal.  We know high cortisol levels with time can reak havac on the body, with hair changes being no exception.  And if you’ve been chronically stressed over time, we can even see the burn-out phase of stress, with low cortisol levels.  The best way to test for cortisol is though saliva, as with doing a blood draw, the stress of getting blood taken for some can falsely spike cortisol at the time of taking the blood sample.

If any of those tests came up less than ideal, appropriate treatment should be implemented, which may include supplementation or changes with lifestyle.  Here is what you should consider for rebuilding healthy hair.

  • Again, Get to the root cause of what is going on, and address appropriately.  Discuss your concerns with your Naturopathic Doctor or healthcare practitioner, and get properly assessed.  For example, if your ferritin levels are low, further iron supplementation will likely be required.
  • B Vitamins and biotin.  Biotin (B6) supplementation is one of the more popular supplements to take, to support hair growth.  Avoid the ‘gummy hair bear’ supplements, and use a quality B complex or biotin supplement without the added sugar.  As the sugar – we know – is linked with increased inflammation, which does not support overall health, nor hair growth.
  • Collagen powder.  Our bodies naturally produce collegen within connective tissues like joints, bones, skin, nails and of course – hair.  This supplement may take time for complete benefit, as our bodies break down the collegen supplement into amino acids, which are then used within the body as needed – like creating its own collegen.  In other words, taking a collegen supplement won’t directly increase collegen amounts in our hair, rather our bodies like to create their own collegen from the amino acid buildin blocks.  This powder can be put into shakes, coffee or smoothies, acting as a building block for hair, skin and nails.
  • Healthy fat consumption.  We know that all hormones require quality fats, for their production to be possible.  My favourite healthy fats are MCT and coconut oil into my coffee or smoothie, olive oil on my salads, baking with avocado oil, and supplementing with omega-3 fish oil in liquid form.
  • Green vegetables and the rainbow.  As always, veggies are one of the best ways to reduce inflammation within the body.

Finding the root cause of your hair concerns is not only important ascetically, but can tell us more about what is going on inside with our hormones and digestive absorption process.

Yours in health,

Dr. Alison Gottschalk, ND

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