We briefly explored what alopecia is in a previous blog post, What Is Alopecia?, and talked about some common hair myths in another, Top 10 Hair Loss Myths. Today, we wanted to address some of the causes of hairloss and clarify what it is and where it comes from.
First, it’s not entirely accurate to simply call it “hair loss”. For most instances of alopecia, the hair doesn’t simply fall out in chunks. Instead, alopecia is caused by a problem in the hair’s natural growth cycle. In a healthy head of hair, the hair passes through four main stages: growth, transition, rest, and then falling out. An average person loses about 100 hairs per day through the natural falling out part of the hair cycle, but the hairs that fall out are regrown from the same follicles later, maintaining a full, thick head of hair.
For someone suffering from alopecia, however, once a hair falls out, the follicle shrinks, producing a finer, more delicate hair during the next cycle. This continues until the hair simply ceases to grow back. This is why alopecia sufferers tend to have light, wispy hair around their bald spots. So what causes this cycle?
Genes: As with most traits, common alopecia is strongly linked to the genes passed down from your parents. These genes can be passed down from father or mother, unlike the common myth that only the mother’s side is passed down. Since science is still a long way from having genetics-based treatments for hair loss, the main takeaway point for genes is that while having the “baldness gene” is required to have standard alopecia, having it doesn’t mean that you will necessarily lose your hair. Other factors are much more important.
Hormones: Hormones are responsible for almost every change we see as we grow up and grow old, so it’s not surprising that they play such a prominent role in hair loss. Specifically, the hormone most closely linked to hair loss is a variation of testosterone called dihydrotestosterone, or DHT. This specific hormone, created when regular testosterone is broken down by another chemical, an enzyme called 5-a reductase, is responsible for the gradual thinning of hair.
The hormonal component of hair loss explains why women present symptoms of alopecia far less often than men do, as they produce a significantly lower amount of DHT than do men. It is also one avenue of potential treatment: several compounds have been developed to reduce the presence of DHT, including Propecia.
Diet/Nutrition: Hair growth is largely dependant on having the right nutrition. Without the correct balance of vitamins and minerals, hair follicles cannot produce new hair, and instead shut down. The main dietary component responsible for hair growth is Iron, although certain B vitamins are also very important. The good news is that hair lost through nutrition deficiencies can often be recovered with supplements or simply by switching to a healthier diet.
There are many more specific causes of hair loss and alopecia, which we will highlight on a more individual level because they are far more specific and rare. Stay tuned for future blog posts about the causes of alopecia and what can be done about it.