In preparation for the Big Change she knew was coming, my friend Isabella did a lot of reading. She learned that all in all, despite its reputation, menopause can be an exciting time of life ― a time of growth and self-exploration (not to mention freedom from inconvenient and sometimes painful periods).
Having always been a ’think-positive’ person, Isabella took it all to heart and bravely faced the onset of menopause with the attitude of setting forth on an exciting new venture.
Until she realised she was losing her hair.
Isabella’s hair had always been her glory, but after every wash and blow-dry, more of it ended up on the bathroom floor. Week after week, her hair became thinner and thinner. Finally, her nearly-bare scalp was on plain view for all the world to see, and as her ponytail became ever smaller and wispier, the always-optimistic Isabella grew increasingly depressed.
Isabella wasn’t the first woman to experience dramatic hair loss as she embarked on this life transition. It also happens at other times of hormonal upheaval. For example, after pregnancy.
When a woman is pregnant, her oestrogen levels soar, and her hair may become dramatically longer, thicker, fuller and shinier. However, after giving birth, her oestrogen levels plunge. The shedding and resting periods of her hair’s growth cycle lengthen, and she experiences hair loss, which, thankfully, is usually temporary.
Although it often catches women by surprise, menopause, too, brings hormonal changes that disrupt the hair growth cycle. Nearly half of all women experience menopausal hair thinning.
What Do Your Ovaries Have to Do With Your Hair?
Your ovaries produce oestrogen and progesterone. When you’re premenopausal, their levels, as a general rule, are at their peak and (oestrogen more directly than progesterone) help keep testosterone at its correct level and within safe ratios. But with the onset of menopause, your ovaries begin to shut down, and your oestrogen and progesterone levels drop, setting in motion a process that can lead to thinning hair.
You don’t normally have a large amount of testosterone. But as oestrogen and progesterone diminish at a greater and faster rate relative to testosterone, your testosterone gains in comparative strength. When that happens, more testosterone is converted into a potent androgenic hormone, DHT, via an enzyme known as 5-alpha reductase.
We now have an increase of DHT. The increased DHT production wants to kill your hair, literally.
DHT attaches to receptor cells in scalp follicles and causes them to shrink. That’s a near-death sentence for healthy hair. Hair will thin, although in women it rarely results in completely bald patches.
Stressed Tresses Are Unhappy Tresses
High levels of stress, along with anxiety and depression, are a common manifestation of the mood swings frequently experienced by women during menopause. It’s also among the most common symptoms associated with menopausal hair thinning.
The growth cycle of hair has four phases:
- Anagen: Growth phase, lasting 2–6 years
- Catagen: Short phase (approximately 2–3 weeks) when the follicle shrinks a bit
- Telogen: Inactive phase
- Exogen: Hair falls out
The average woman has 90,000 to 150,000 hairs on her head at any one time, in all different phases, and she loses around 50–100 a day. Dermatologist Kurt Stenn, author of Hair: A Human History, believes that very high stress levels disrupt the growth cycle, prematurely halting the growth (anagen) phase. The hairs all go into the resting (telogen) phase and then, after a three-month delay, fall out (the exogen phase) at around 10 times the usual rate.
This hair-loss pattern has been shown with mice after being stressed by loud noises. It has also been demonstrated with rhesus macaque monkeys who were found to have cortisol (the stress hormone) dominance.
Interestingly, declining hormone levels are one of the primary causes of continuous physiological stress. This in itself puts both the body and the brain under an incredible and continuous stress load. If you’re highly stressed and menopausal, it’s a very bad mix. Your overall stress will then be exacerbated, both physically and mentally.
Stress mutes hormones, which will sequentially affect your female hormones, testosterone production, and DHT production. The amount of DHT production in the body from day to day depends on the amount and balance of testosterone.
Unfortunately, losing your hair is upsetting and kicks many women’s stress level into overdrive, which compounds the problem.
How To Restore Hormones For Beautiful Healthy Hair?
Because menopausal hair loss is so linked to hormonal disruption ― hormone imbalances associated with the end of fertility ― it’s a signal that you need to see a restorative medicine doctor who is fully trained in bioidentical hormones restorative therapy (BHRT).
Your restorative medical doctor will test your hormones to assess their status and prescribe naturally derived hormones that have exactly the same molecular structure as the hormones made in your own body.
You can read all about Hormonal Health in Jill’s book, ‘The Menopause Cure‘.
The right hormones in the right doses will retune your hormones ― bring them into the optimal ratios needed to restore their hormonal balance… as well as a full head of beautiful, healthy hair!
Beck, J. Why Stress Makes Your Hair Fall Out. The Atlantic. Mar. 2, 2016.
Causes of Hair Loss. American Hair Loss Association.
Gottfried, S. Hair Loss, Hormones and How to Regain Your Luscious Locks. Dr. Sara Gottfried MD.
Hormonal Changes ― Female Hair Loss. Medic8.
Menopause ― Female Hair Loss Guide. Medic8.