Exactly What To Eat To Prevent Hormone-Related Hair Loss
Hair loss in women is a woefully under-discussed issue, especially given how common it is—according to the American Academy of Dermatology, up to 40% of women experience visible hair loss by age 40.
"Hormonal hair loss is caused by hormone shifts that can frequently occur at menopause, perimenopause, pregnancy, or just high stress or trauma," says Taz Bhatia, M.D., mbg Collective member and author of Super Woman Rx. The good news? While it's a complicated issue, it's definitely a solvable one—if you know what to do.
What causes hair loss in women?
"There tend to be four main causes of hair loss in women: hormonal, micronutrient deficiencies, autoimmunity, and environmental," explains Magdalena Wszelaki, endocrine expert and author of Cooking for Hormone Balance. "The hormonal causes include thyroid imbalance, high testosterone, DHT, PCOS, insulin resistance, estrogen dominance, high cortisol. Micronutrient deficiencies include vitamin B12, biotin (also known as vitamin B7), iron, zinc, silica, and EFAs (essential fatty acids)."
Sara Gottfried, M.D. and author of The Brain Body Diet, finds that in her patients, "hair loss is sometimes associated with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS, with high androgens), but more commonly, the root cause is low iron, thyroid hormone imbalance, or insulin resistance."
Aviva Romm, M.D., mbg Collective member and author of The Adrenal Thyroid Revolution, says that "while women also normally have testosterone, high levels as are common with PCOS are a major reason for what's called a 'male pattern' hair loss in women."
Beyond testosterone, other hormones can come into play in a major way. "Low thyroid hormone is a major reason for hair thinning and breaking," she says. "Stress can cause high cortisol, which can cause us to lose hair. Something called telogen effluvium, another form of hair loss due to stress, commonly occurs in women three to five months after a baby is born."
Sheer aging can also be the culprit. "As estrogen declines with menopause, it's also common to experience thinning hair," says Romm.
All of the experts stress that finding out your particular root cause is crucial for treating your individual hair loss. "Will vitamin B12 and/or eating livers (or supplementing) help? If B12 is the cause, then yes," explains Wszelaki. "If thyroid is the issue, then addressing the thyroid issue will bring back hair growth."
Gottfried recommends a full blood panel that includes fasting glucose, insulin, hemoglobin A1C, iron studies, especially ferritin, which she says, "needs to be greater than 40 to stabilize hair loss and greater than 70 for new hair growth."
Once you get your blood panels back, you can begin problem-solving individual solutions to help diminish further losses and encourage new growth.
Foods that help with hair loss and new hair growth.
If you're unable to do a blood panel or simply want to get started now, don't worry—there are a number of dietary changes that can make a big difference, with little in the way of negative side effects. Bhatia recommends making sure your diet is rich in food that falls into three categories: healthy fats, healthy proteins, and foods that balance what's called chi in traditional Chinese medicine. For fats, she recommends ghee, coconut oil, nut butters, and avocado—add them to your daily smoothie, cook with them, or make an avocado chocolate mousse for dessert.
In the healthy protein category, Bhatia recommends lean meats, beans, and lentils. To balance chi, Bhatia (who utilizes both Eastern and Western medicine in her functional practice) suggests bone broth, yams or sweet potatoes, and liver or organ meats.
Romm also recommends trying out a gluten-free diet. "Gluten can be a hidden cause of hormone imbalances and Hashimoto's," she explains, "so try going gluten-free for three months and see if this helps." Beyond that, Romm suggests ensuring that you're getting ample omega-3s ("ideally from fish or fish oils, or an algae supplement if you're a vegan") and taking a multivitamin and mineral supplement with biotin, iron, and other nutrients you might be missing. If stress is an issue, she also advises considering a B-complex, magnesium, and adaptogen blend.
The bottom line?
"Any hair loss is super stressful for women; finding the root causes can point you in the right direction for halting hair loss," says Romm. "With each of these causes, there are strategies you can use to promote hormone balance and have healthy hair!"
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Liz Moody is an author, blogger and recipe developer living in Brooklyn, New York. She graduated with a creative writing and psychology degree from The University of California, Berkeley. Moody has written two cookbooks: Healthier Together: Recipes for Two—Nourish Your Body, Nourish Your Relationships and Glow Pops: Super-Easy Superfood Recipes to Help You Look and Feel Your Best. She also hosts the Healthier Together Podcast, where she chats with notable chefs, nutritionists, and best-selling authors about their paths to success. Her work has been featured in Vogue, Glamour, Food & Wine & Women’s Health.