Most of you at one time or another have connected the behavior of your hair with the way you feel: the state of your health, the degree of stress or worry, sleep patterns, pregnancies (in both sexes it may surprise you to know), menstrual cycle, short- or long-term illnesses, fevers and, very importantly, the drugs, vitamins and minerals you take to counteract them all. Every one of them can affect your hair. There is always a reason for hair falling or thinning (not necessarily the same) – and when the reason is found, more often than not you can do something about it. Hair is an incredibly sensitive barometer of your body; it is also a curious dichotomy. The rapidity with which hair cells are produced is second only to that of the fastest cell reproducer in your body, bone marrow.
But unlike bone marrow, hair is non-essential tissue; you can easily live without it, however much you need it psychologically. Your body metabolism aims to keep the essential tissues functioning first and foremost, and although hair-cell reproduction is only just behind that of bone marrow, the hair doesn’t stand a chance of competing with this or other body-essential tissues for the necessary elements needed to maintain health.
However, the combination of hair-cell proliferation and your body’s inclination to ignore its needs mean that hair is usually the first to suffer from any bodily upset and the last to benefit from an improvement. Indeed, your hair can forewarn you even when there are no other symptoms of illness.
At some stage we have all experienced what seem to be inexplicable variations in the way our hair looks and feels. Some of these are due to the products that have been used on it, the way in which they have been used, humidity levels or how we have styled it. But women also nodce fluctuadons at different stages of their monthly cycles, hair often being at its most lifeless just before menstruation.
None of these examples are as important as the hair’s reaction to illness and, consequently, its invaluable use as a diagnostic tool. A sudden hair fall or hair not as thick as it was often indicates an underlying metabolic dysfunction or an illness. The most typical examples of conditions that affect hair are anaemia, thyroid dysfunction, hormonal disturbances and nutritional inadequacies. But in each case unless other symptoms are present, the sufferer is unlikely to be aware that his or her hair problems are due to any of them.
Other overlooked reasons for hair trouble are the effects of fever, accidents, operations or even pregnancy. Hair symptoms do not necessarily coincide with poor health – it can sometimes be as much as several months later that the effects on the hair become noticeable, by which time you may not connect the two events. A classic example of this is when the hair falls out two to three months after having a baby. Similarly, the trauma of an operation may not affect the hair for two to three months. It is interesting to note that although postoperative hair loss is still common, it occurs less frequently than it used to. The modern practice of getting the patient out of bed the next day leads to faster recovery and less hospital ‘blues’.
Illness, operations, stress, shock, fever and metabolic trauma are all likely to affect the hair. It is important to realize this, as so often a hair-loss problem is dismissed by doctors as ‘genetic’ when this may not be the case at all.
Stress can be a considerable factor – and a question I am often asked is whether stress can affect hair loss. It can and often does. Stress can lead to the production of more adrenaline, which can be converted into cholesterol, which in turn could result in testosterone increases. Testosterone is a male hormone that when converted into di-hydrotestosterone can cause hair to thin. The complexity of your hair’s reactions to internal conditions cannot be underestimated.