Hair disorder, especially when severe, often profoundly affects the lives of those afflicted. Severe hair loss evokes not only cosmetic concerns but may also evoke feelings of vulnerability (nakedness), loss of self-esteem and alterations in self-image.
Each hair follicle produces hair in phases. There is a growing (anagen) phase, which lasts from 2 to 6 years, a resting (catagen) phase which lasts for about 3 months, and finally the shedding of the hair (telogen) phase which allows the follicle to begin pushing a new hair to the surface.
By far the most common form of hair loss is determined by our genes and hormones: Also known as androgen-dependent, androgenic, or genetic hair loss. It is the largest single type of recognizable alopecia to affect both men and women. It is estimated that around 30% of Caucasian females are affected before menopause. Other commonly-used names for genetic hair loss include common baldness, diffuse hair loss, male or female pattern baldness.
Most modern medical research leans toward the position that a male hormone called dehydrotestosterone (DHT), which is converted from testosterone, binds to sites on hair follicles and is a primary instigator of hair loss. DHT appears to make the follicles go into their "resting" phase faster which in turn starts to cause the hairs produced by those follicles to become thinner and thinner with each growth cycle. Studies show that while balding men don't have higher than average circulating testosterone levels, they do possess above-average amounts of DHT in the scalp follicles.
Genetics and hormones have a part to play in this: each hair follicle appears to have a predetermined number of sites that DHT can bind to. In one study which compared the follicles between hairy and bald human male scalps, the bald scalps had twice as many binding sites for DHT as did their hairy counterparts.
Poor circulation and nutrition can also hamper hair growth. A study of young men diagnosed with male pattern baldness showed that the blood flow to their scalps was on average 2.6 times lower than in a control group. In many individuals the extremities, including the top of the head, are the most difficult places in the body for blood to reach. Follicles which are constantly deprived of blood, and therefore nutrients, cannot produce hair properly.
Male Pattern Baldness
Beginning as early as the late teens or early twenties, by age 35 to 40 two thirds of Caucasian men experience some hair loss. This type of baldness is largely hereditary. Hair becomes finer and does not grow as long as it once did. The hair on the crown of the head begins to thin out and over time there develops a horse-shoe pattern of hair around the sides of the head. Any remaining hair in the balding areas usually manifests some miniaturization - it is thinner and grows at a below-normal rate, changing from long, thick, coarse, pigmented hair into fine, unpigmented sprouts.
One plausible theory to explain some of the difference between men and women is based on the angle of follicles and resultant sebum build-up. The angle at which hairs come out of a female scalp allow the sebum (oil produced by the scalp) to "run off" whereas the angle of hairs on a male scalp (straight up) can lead to oil blockage.
Recently, a group of Japanese researcher reported a correlation between excessive sebum in the scalp and hair loss. Excessive sebum often accompanying thinning hair is attributed to an enlargement of the sebaceous gland. They believed excessive sebum causes a high level of 5-alpha reductase, the enzyme which converts testosterone into dihydrotestosterone (DHT), and pore clogging, thus malnutrition of the hair root and a shift into the resting phase.
Although this condition could be hereditary, they believe diet is a more likely cause. The researchers note that Japanese hair was thick and healthy, with a small gland and little scalp oil, until large amounts of animal fat crept into their diet after World War II. This change has led to a significant height increase in the Japanese population, but it has also resulted in more Japanese men losing hair. To some extent, their observation makes sense: problems with greasy hair have often been noted as much as six months to a year prior hair thinning becoming noticeable. However, this might just be one of the symptoms instead of an underlying cause, so more research is needed.
Most doctors agree that if you have a oily scalp with thinning hair, frequent shampooing is advised. shampooing can reduce surface sebum, which contains high levels of testosterone and DHT that may reenter the skin and affect the hair follicle.
Specific foods or vitamins don't regrow hair, although good nutrition is essential for healthy hair.
Acute: An illness or symptom of sudden onset, which generally has a short duration.
Alopecia: Loss of hair.
Calcium: The body's most abundant mineral. Its primary function is to help build and maintain bones and teeth. Calcium is also important to heart health, nerves, muscles and skin. Calcium helps control blood acid-alkaline balance, plays a role in cell division, muscle growth and iron utilization, activates certain enzymes, and helps transport nutrients through cell membranes. Calcium also forms a cellular cement called ground substance that helps hold cells and tissues together.
DHT: Dihydrotestosterone - a highly active form of testosterone, which influences many aspects of manly behavior, from sex drive to aggression. The conversion from testosterone to DHT is driven by an enzyme called 5-alpha reductase, which is produced in the prostate, various adrenal glands, and the scalp.
Enzymes: Specific protein catalysts produced by the cells that are crucial in chemical reactions and in building up or synthesizing most compounds in the body. Each enzyme performs a specific function without itself being consumed. For example, the digestive enzyme amylase acts on carbohydrates in foods to break them down.
Essential Fatty Acid: (EFA): A substance that the human body cannot manufacture and therefore must be supplied in the diet.
Hormones: Chemical substances secreted by a variety of body organs that are carried by the bloodstream and usually influence cells some distance from the source of production. Hormones signal certain enzymes to perform their functions and, in this way, regulate such body functions as blood sugar levels, insulin levels, the menstrual cycle, and growth. These can be prescription, over-the-counter, synthetic or natural agents. Examples include adrenal hormones such as corticosteroids and aldosterone; glucagon, growth hormone, insulin, testosterone, estrogens, progestins, progesterone, DHEA, melatonin, and thyroid hormones such as thyroxine and calcitonin.
Hypothyroidism: Diminished production of thyroid hormone, leading to low metabolic rate, tendency to gain weight, and sleepiness.
Manganese: An essential mineral found in trace amounts in tissues of the body. Adults normally contain an average of 10 to 20mg of manganese in their bodies, most of which is contained in bone, the liver and the kidneys. Manganese is essential to several critical enzymes necessary for energy production, bone and blood formation, nerve function and protein metabolism. It is involved in the metabolism of fats and glucose, the production of cholesterol and it allows the body to use thiamine and Vitamin E. It is also involved in the building and degrading of proteins and nucleic acid, biogenic amine metabolism, which involves the transmitting of nerve impulses.
Menopause: The cessation of menstruation (usually not official until 12 months have passed without periods), occurring at the average age of 52. As commonly used, the word denotes the time of a woman's life, usually between the ages of 45 and 54, when periods cease and any symptoms of low estrogen levels persist, including hot flashes, insomnia, anxiety, mood swings, loss of libido and vaginal dryness. When these early menopausal symptoms subside, a woman becomes postmenopausal.
Metabolism: The chemical processes of living cells in which energy is produced in order to replace and repair tissues and maintain a healthy body. Responsible for the production of energy, biosynthesis of important substances, and degradation of various compounds.
Mineral: Plays a vital role in regulating many body functions. They act as catalysts in nerve response, muscle contraction and the metabolism of nutrients in foods. They regulate electrolyte balance and hormonal production, and they strengthen skeletal structures.
Pituitary: The pituitary gland is small and bean-shaped, located below the brain in the skull base very near the hypothalamus. Weighing less than one gram, the pituitary gland is often called the "master gland" since it controls the secretion of hormones by other endocrine glands.
Sebum: The oily liquid covering the skin surface.
Testosterone: The principal male sex hormone that induces and maintains the changes that take place in males at puberty. In men, the testicles continue to produce testosterone throughout life, though there is some decline with age. A naturally occurring androgenic hormone.
Thyroid: Thyroid Gland: An organ with many veins. It is at the front of the neck. It is essential to normal body growth in infancy and childhood. It releases thyroid hormones - iodine-containing compounds that increase the rate of metabolism, affect body temperature, regulate protein, fat, and carbohydrate catabolism in all cells. They keep up growth hormone release, skeletal maturation, and heart rate, force, and output. They promote central nervous system growth, stimulate the making of many enzymes, and are necessary for muscle tone and vigor.
Vitamin A: A fat-soluble vitamin essential to one's health. Plays an important part in the growth and repair of body tissue, protects epithelial tissue, helps maintain the skin and is necessary for night vision. It is also necessary for normal growth and formation of bones and teeth. For Vitamin A only, 1mg translates to 833 IU.
Zinc: An essential trace mineral. The functions of zinc are enzymatic. There are over 70 metalloenzymes known to require zinc for their functions. The main biochemicals in which zinc has been found to be necessary include: enzymes and enzymatic function, protein synthesis and carbohydrate metabolism. Zinc is a constituent of insulin and male reproductive fluid. Zinc is necessary for the proper metabolism of alcohol, to get rid of the lactic acid that builds up in working muscles and to transfer it to the lungs. Zinc is involved in the health of the immune system, assists vitamin A utilization and is involved in the formation of bone and teeth.