Hair disorders is a broad category that includes the following conditions:
- Alopecia. The loss or thinning of hair. There are two types of alopecia: scarring, in which hair follicles are destroyed, and nonscarring, which can be reversed.
- Male pattern baldness (androgenic alopecia). This is the most prominent type of hair disorder affecting, to varying degrees, half of all men over 50 years of age.
- Hirsutism. Excessive male pattern hair growth affecting 8% of adult women.
- Hair shaft disorders. Usually hereditary abnormalities.
Signs and Symptoms
Hair disorders are accompanied by the following signs and symptoms, depending on the type:
- Alopecia (nonscarring) involves hair loss all over or in circular areas, a receding hair line, broken hairs, a smooth scalp, inflammation, and possibly loss of lashes, eyebrows, or pubic hair.
- Alopecia (scarring) is limited to particular areas. Symptoms are inflammation at the edge and follicle loss toward the center of lesions, violet-colored skin abnormalities, and scaling.
- Hirsutism is male pattern hair growth in women, irregular menstruation, lack of ovulation, acne, deepening voice, balding, and genital abnormalities.
- Symptoms of hair shaft disorders are split ends and hair that is dry, brittle, and coarse, as well as skin and other abnormalities.
What Causes It?
Hair disorders can be caused by any of the following:
- Alopecia (nonscarring). Skin disorders, certain drugs, certain diseases, autoimmunity, iron deficiency, severe stress, scalp radiation, pregnancy, or pulling at your own hair.
- Alopecia (scarring). Skin disorders, diseases, or bacterial infections.
- Hirsutism. Excess of androgen (a steroid hormone that stimulates development of male sex organs and secondary sexual characteristics). This overproduction of androgen could result from certain drugs or conditions.
- Hair shaft disorders. Overprocessed hair (such as coloring, permanent waves, or excessive heating) or certain diseases.
Who's Most At Risk?
People with the following conditions or characteristics are at risk for developing hair disorders:
- Alopecia. Male gender, genetic predisposition, pregnancy, physical or emotional stress, poor diet.
- Hirsutism. Genetic predisposition, lack of ovulation, endocrine disorders, polycystic ovaries.
- Hair shaft disorders. Genetic predisposition, damaging grooming practices.
What to Expect at Your Provider's Office
If you have symptoms associated with a hair disorder, you should see your health care provider. A physical exam can help identify the type of hair disorder, and laboratory tests can reveal any underlying diseases. In the case of hirsutism, imaging may help diagnose the cause.
Eating a well-balanced diet and avoiding potentially damaging hair treatments can help prevent some types of hair loss.
The primary goals of treatment are to treat the underlying cause, regrow the hair when possible, and correct damaging grooming practices.
Your health care provider may prescribe the following medications:
- Minoxidil (Rogaine). For hair regrowth and possibly to prevent further loss.
- Tretinoin (Retin-A). To decrease thick scalp layer and increase minoxidil penetration.
- Topical or injectable steroids
- Oral contraceptives
Hair shaft disorders:
- Drugs for underlying diseases
Surgical and Other Procedures
- Cosmetic therapies, such as surgical placement of follicle supporting plugs or folds
- For hirsutism, possibly removal of ovarian or adrenal tumor
Complementary and Alternative Therapies
A comprehensive treatment plan for hair disorders may include a range of complementary and alternative therapies.
Nutrition and Supplements
Following these nutritional tips may help reduce symptoms:
- Eliminate potential food allergens, including dairy, wheat (gluten), corn, soy, preservatives, and food additives. Your provider may want to test you for food sensitivities.
- Eat foods high in B-vitamins and iron, such as whole grains (if no allergy), dark leafy greens, and sea vegetables.
- Eat antioxidant-rich foods, including fruits (such as blueberries, cherries, and tomatoes), and vegetables (such as squashes and peppers).
- Avoid refined foods, such as white breads, pastas, and sugar.
- Eat fewer red meats and more lean meats, cold-water fish, tofu (soy, if no allergy) or beans for protein.
- Use healthy oils in foods, such as olive oil or coconut oil.
- Reduce or eliminate trans fatty acids, found in commercially-baked goods, such as cookies, crackers, cakes, French fries, onion rings, donuts, processed foods, and margarine.
- Avoid coffee and other stimulants, alcohol, and tobacco.
- Drink 6 to 8 glasses of filtered water daily.
- Exercise at least 30 minutes daily, 5 days a week.
You may be able to address nutritional deficiencies with the following supplements:
- A multivitamin daily. Containing the antioxidant vitamins A, C, E, the B-complex vitamins, and trace minerals, such as magnesium, calcium, zinc, and selenium.
- Omega-3 fatty acids. Such as fish oil, to help reduce inflammation. Fish oils may increase bleeding in sensitive individuals, such as those taking blood-thinning medications (including aspirin).
- Vitamin C. As an antioxidant.
- L-lysine. For hair loss. Avoid taking L-lysine with large amounts of calcium.
- B-complex vitamins. For symptoms of stress.
Herbs may help strengthen and tone the body's systems. As with any therapy, you should work with your provider before starting treatment.
You may use herbs as dried extracts (capsules, powders, or teas), glycerites (glycerine extracts), or tinctures (alcohol extracts). Unless otherwise indicated, make teas with 1 tsp. (5 g) herb per cup of hot water. Steep covered 5 to 10 minutes for leaf or flowers, and 10 to 20 minutes for roots. Drink 2 to 4 cups per day. You may use tinctures alone or in combination as noted.
For alopecia and hair shaft disorders:
- Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba). Standardized extract, for antioxidant support and blood flow. Ginkgo may increase bleeding in sensitive individuals, such as those taking blood-thinning medications, including aspirin. Ginkgo may not be appropriate for people who have diabetes, infertility, seizure history, or bleeding disorders. Speak with your physician.
Topical applications of essential oils may benefit skin infections and stimulate new hair growth. Use 3 to 4 drops each of peppermint (Mentha piperita), rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), and sage (Salvia officinalis) in 1 tablespoon (15 mL) of coconut oil or olive oil. Massage gently into affected area 1 to 2 times daily. If using topical medications such as Minoxidil consult your provider regarding possible interactions between topical natural products.
- Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens). Standardized extract, for hormonal support. Saw palmetto may interact with some hormone therapies, including birth control, and may increase the blood-thinning effects of certain medications, such as aspirin and warfarin (Coumadin).
Although few studies have examined the effectiveness of specific homeopathic therapies, professional homeopaths may consider the following remedies for the treatment of gastritis symptoms (such as nausea and vomiting) based on their knowledge and experience. Before prescribing a remedy, homeopaths take into account your constitutional type, includes your physical, emotional, and psychological makeup. An experienced homeopath assesses all of these factors when determining the most appropriate treatment.
Some of the most common remedies include:
Acupuncture and Massage
Acupuncture may help alleviate symptoms of hair loss. Acupuncture may help enhance immune function, normalize digestion, and address disease conditions.
Mind and Body Therapies
Although not all abnormal hair loss is associated with stress, psychological stress can alter thyroid and sex hormone levels in the body, potentially leading to hair loss. Yoga, prayer, guided imagery, meditation, and a variety of other methods may help retrain your body's response to stress. Group support can also be a vital component of any stress reduction plan and can have measurable physiological impact.
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- Last reviewed on 11/19/2016
- Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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