Menopause is a natural event in every woman's life. This usually occurs at ages 45 to 48 and is signified by a stop in menses for at least a year. The hormonal changes that happen with menopause bring about a variety of symptoms, the most troubling for some being hair loss.
What Happens During Menopause?
The woman’s ovaries make estrogen and progesterone, hormones that control menstruation and ovulation (release of eggs necessary for pregnancy.) When the production of hormones cease, the said processes stop. Because of these, menstruation signifies the end of the woman’s reproductive years.
Menopause does not occur right away. It is a gradual process that involves the following stages:
This happens 1 to 2 years before the actual menopause. The ovaries make lesser amounts of estrogen until they completely stop releasing eggs.
This is the stage wherein you haven’t had your period for approximately a year. Little, if no estrogen, is produced by the ovaries. During this time, you may experience the following symptoms:
As the name suggests, this happens in the years after your period has stopped for good. The symptoms finally ease, however, the lack of estrogen paves the way for more complications. As such, postmenopausal women are at a higher risk of developing heart disease, stroke, and osteoporosis.
Menopause and Hair Loss
As has been mentioned, the ovaries stop producing hormones such as estrogen and progesterone during menopause. The lack of said hormones brings about the symptoms mentioned above, including hair loss.
According to an article published in the PLOS One Journal, changes in estrogen levels can affect the hair shaft in a way that it is unable to grow longer.
Additionally, the lack of estrogen can lengthen the telogen phase – the ‘resting’ phase of the hair. This can progress to telogen effluvium, where the hair stops growing and eventually falls out. From an average hair loss of 100 strands per day, those with telogen effluvium can lose as much as 300 locks daily.
Progesterone, another hormone that the ovaries produce, can help prevent the conversion of androgens to dihydrotestosterone or DHT. Without progesterone, DHT can proliferate inside the body. This hormone affects the hair in such a way that it can pave the way for a shortened anagen or hair growth phase. DHT can also lead to the shrinkage of hair follicles, which leads to the production of thinner, more brittle hair.
In simpler terms, without progesterone to control DHT, a menopausal woman is at the mercy of reduced hair growth and eventual hair loss.
Female Pattern Hair Loss
Because of these hormonal changes, 2/3 of post-menopausal women are at risk of developing female androgenetic alopecia – also known as female pattern hair loss. It starts with gradual thinning, leading to hair loss that begins at the top of the head.
A great thing about female pattern hair loss is that it never leads to a receding hairline, as is with men. It barely leads to complete baldness as well.
Hormonal Treatments for Menopause
Since hormonal changes bring about hair loss and the other symptoms associated with menopause, the first recommendation of most doctors is hormonal treatment.
Estrogen therapy is given at the lowest dose to relieve menopause symptoms without causing any other untoward effects. This may help stop hot flashes, brittle bones, and hair loss, however, it comes with the risk of heart disease and breast cancer.
Spironolactone, a water pill commonly used in high blood pressure and heart failure, may be prescribed as well. This medication is anti-androgenic, meaning it can block male hormones from affecting different parts of the body. This is especially important in androgenic alopecia, where DHT leads to thinning and eventual hair loss.
While useful in controlling hair loss in menopausal women, Spironolactone comes with unpleasant side effects such as fatigue, depression, weight gain, and loss of libido.
Natural Treatments for Menopausal Hair Loss
Hormonal treatments are truly effective in restoring estrogen and progesterone to their normal levels. However, they are disliked by many since they come with a variety of side effects. For some, these may be worse than the symptoms of menopause itself.
With that being said, you can opt for natural treatments that can help boost the hormones. These may help reduce the symptoms of menopause such as hair loss.
Here are some good examples of natural treatments:
Some food products and beverages contain high amounts of phytoestrogen, a plant-based compound. They work like estrogen, ergo they can help spike the levels of the same hormone in the body. This is necessary to curb hormone-related symptoms such as hair loss and hot flashes.
Phytoestrogen-rich fares include:
Vitamins and minerals play a big role in hair health. Deficiencies in these nutrients can aggravate the hair loss that is already experienced in menopause. As such, you need to take these hair-boosting nutrients, which are commonly found in most multivitamin preparations:
Apart from low hormone levels, other factors can aggravate hair loss during menopause. For instance, changes in gut flora can lead to a decreased production of Biotin, a vitamin that is essential for hair growth.
A lot of things can disturb the gut microbiome: antibiotic use, lack of exercise, lack of sleep, and vices such as cigarette smoking and alcohol drinking. These factors – coupled with menopause – can lessen the number of bacteria that produce Biotin. Without enough amounts of Biotin, hair loss can happen sooner than later.
To prevent these aggravating factors from taking a toll on your hair, it is recommended that you consume food or supplements rich in probiotics, microorganisms that help restore the gut flora balance. Remember, the more 'good' gut bacteria, the more biotin is produced in the body.
Good sources of probiotics include fermented foods such as yogurt, tempeh, miso, sauerkraut, and kombucha, to name a few.
Menopause is a life-changing event that happens in every woman. While it may lead to hair loss and a bevy of other unpleasant symptoms, they can be reduced with the right diet, supplements – and a positive mindset.