What Are the Causes of Female Hair Loss?

There are so many possible factors involved in hair thinning and loss that it can make your head spin!

In most cases, a combination of multiple hormonal imbalances and other factors are responsible for hair loss in women.  So let's review some of the causes of this disorder.


There Are Lots of Reasons for Women's Hair Loss

Here's a short list of possible causes for you to think about:

  • Chemotherapy or radiation
  • Childbirth
  • Chronic degenerative disorders
  • Compulsive hair pulling
  • Depression, negativity and fear
  • Eating disorders or crash diets
  • Hair style
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Immune system disorder such as autoimmune disease
  • Inflammation or infection
  • IUDs
  • Major surgery
  • Marijuana use
  • Medications (some)
  • Mineral deficiencies
  • Organ or gland dysfunction (especially thyroid gland)
  • Poor diet & induced vitamin and mineral deficiencies
  • Radiation
  • Stress
  • Tight scalp.

All of these factors are discussed in the Natural Solutions for Female Hair loss e-book.

When you consider all these factors in addition to the usual hormone imbalances, is it any wonder that your doctor isn't sure what to do?

Hormonal Causes of Female Hair Loss in PCOS Women

The possible reasons for the inability to grow new hair are numerous and not fully understood.

However, multiple hormone disorders common in PCOS are at least partially responsible.

Your hair follicles and adjoining skin are active every second of every day. They receive and respond to hormonal messages from other areas of the body or from nearby cells. They also create their own hormones that act locally or in concert with other parts of the body.

What you have is an unbelievably complex web of interacting hormones and other signaling molecules that either cause hair loss or prevent hair loss. Here are a few hormones that affect your hair:

  • Androgens (male hormones)
  • Cortisol (stress hormone)
  • Estrogen
  • Growth hormone
  • Melatonin
  • Prolactin
  • Thyroid hormones.

Androgenic Alopecia

Most commonly, the biggest concern of women with polycystic ovary syndrome is the high levels of their androgens.

Women with PCOS frequently have a condition called "androgenetic alopecia", which appears to be caused primarily by excessively high levels of androgens. Androgens are male hormones such as testosterone.

The primary culprit is thought to be a male hormone called dihydrotestosterone (DHT). DHT is converted from testosterone and binds to hair follicles.

DHT (dihydrotestosterone) causes hair follicles on the scalp to contract and miniaturize, which in turn causes the hair growing from that particular follicle to become thinner and more fragile.

These hairs become progressively shorter and thinner with each successive hair cycle. Over time, only fine, miniaturized hairs remain. Eventually the hairs die out, leading to a scalp with decreased hair coverage.

Meanwhile, the DHT is making your facial hair coarser.

So you end up losing hair where you want it, and growing hair where you don't want it.

Another common hormone issue with women who have PCOS is an underactive thyroid, known as hypothyroidism.

Besides causing you to gain weight and become infertile, hypothyroidism contributes to hair thinning.

It's fairly common for women with PCOS to simultaneously have hypothyroidism and too much testosterone. This imbalance presents a real challenge for maintaining hair health.

Abnormal Thyroid Function Could Be a Factor

Did you know that the health of your thyroid gland can affect your hair?  Low thyroid function can cause hair thinning and brittleness, most notably above the forehead.

There is an association between thyroid disorders and hair loss, according to a University of Pittsburgh study.  The researchers examined 367 patients who had hair loss. A manual examination of the thyroid showed 20% had abnormal thyroids.

Most of the patients also had an ultrasound exam of the thyroid.  The ultrasound showed 79% had abnormal thyroid glands.  In other words, about 4 of every 5 people who had hair loss also had a thyroid abnormality.

Interestingly, of those who had an ultrasound with abnormal results, their thyroid blood tests were "normal".

This means that you cannot rely entirely on a simple blood test from your doctor to find out whether your thyroid is malfunctioning and contributing to your hair loss.  You need to dig a little deeper. The e-book tells you what needs to be done.

Could Inflammation and Oxidant Stress Be a Culprit?

Oxidant stress is a form of chronic inflammation that is extremely common in PCOS -- it's a metabolic imbalance linked to inflammation.

One school of thought suggests that high testosterone is a contributing factor to oxidant stress.  Major causes of oxidant stress also include a poor quality diet and exposure to environmental toxins and chemicals, to name just two.

The increased oxidant stress triggers the production of certain hormones and signaling proteins called cytokines that lead to thinner scalp hair.  For example, oxidant stress increases a cytokine called TGF-B1, which is one cause of androgenic alopecia (AGA).  AGA is the type of hair thinning that most PCOS women have. 

Are Bad Diet and Inflammation a Problerm?

When you eat too much, or eat the wrong kinds of foods, your immune system is stimulated.

For example, there are immune system cells called "mast cells". Some mast cells reside in the lining of your GI tract. It appears that saturated fat may stimulate these cells to produce a substance called "prostaglandin D2" or PD2.

The University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine recently published a report indicating a causal link between elevated levels of PD2 and hair loss.

It appears that unhealthy fats in your diet have a great deal to do with the state of your hair.

Alopecia Areata Could Be Responsible

Perhaps the most common is an autoimmune disease that causes a condition called "alopecia areata", which is patchy hair loss in various places on the scalp. This condition can wax and wane. An autoimmune disease is a situation where you immune system is confused and starts attacking your own cells, such as the cells in your hair follicle.

Stress Management - New Way to Reduce Hair Loss in Women?

Hair loss or the inability to re-grow hair is one of the most distressing aspects of PCOS.

Could stress be part of the problem?  Some people think so. Others don't. New evidence is now showing that stress does indeed inhibit hair growth.

We discovered a very interesting study of mice conducted by the University Medicine Berlin in Germany. The mice were subjected to noise stress.

The researchers were able to identify several biochemical signals that were produced by the brain's response to stress. These signals disturbed the function of the hair follicles, including inflammation, cell death, and hair follicle regression.

This study demonstrates a direct relationship between stress-created biochemicals and hair growth problems. In other words, there is a connection between your brain and your skin (where your hair follicles are).

Also, stress can do a bunch of undesirable things, including the creation of "Substance P", which is a protein fragment that disrupts your normal hair growth cycle.  In women under stress, Substance P has also been associated with anxiety, depression, confusion, and fatigue.

So it's super-important that you find creative ways to reduce the stress you're exposed to.

Every part of your body in connected to and influenced every other part of your body in some way. In this case, your response to stress is more than just a negative feeling. It might also contribute to hair loss to some extent.

And we've spoken in the PCOS diet book about the destructive role chronic stress plays in the continuance or worsening of symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome, such as increased belly fat and increased infertility.  You can learn some stress management methods in Chapter 14.2 of the PCOS diet book.

We think that management and reduction of chronic stress is a vital piece of successful long-term management of PCOS and some of its symptoms.

Iron Deficiency?

Iron deficiency is another possible cause to consider.  If you're a vegan, this is something to be concerned about, since your diet may low in iron.  On the other hand, women with polycystic ovary syndrome may have a condition called "iron overload", meaning that they have too much iron. Insulin resistance and excessive testosterone may contribute to this condition.  The problem is that if you have PCOS, your internal signaling system is pretty screwed up, including signals about your internal iron status.

Do NOT blindly take an iron supplement if you have hair loss. Have your doctor check your iron levels.

Related Articles

Lo Sicco K et al, A retrospective study of thyroid structural abnormalities in alopecia patients. Dermatoendocrinol. 2011 Oct;3(4):251-4.
Peters EM et al, Hair growth inhibition by psychoemotional stress: a mouse model for neural mechanisms in hair growth control, Exp Dermatol. 2006 Jan;15(1):1-13

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