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Originally published on 6th December 2016 Last updated on 3rd April 2020
Losing your hair can be very upsetting. It’s not just down to vanity, it also contributes to your identity and is yet another way that hypothyroidism can wreak its havoc.
I’m going to cover the many possible causes and treatments for hair loss in relation to thyroid health.
Before you spend a lot of time and money on shampoos and ‘magical’ hair loss products trying to treat the symptom (hair loss), you should instead explore all the possible causes for the hair loss in the first place. No shampoo is going to encourage hair growth or stop it thinning, it will just make it appear thicker. It won’t be a miracle product!
I Lost Most My Hair
I’ve experienced drastic hair loss myself, where I lost about 80% of my hair after a hospital stay in intensive care with pneumonia, prior to my diagnosis of hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s (although the Hashimoto’s was ramping up at the time).
I had a type of hair loss called telogen effluvium, which basically occurred because the severe illness I was going through at the time caused a drastic shock to the growing follicles. So much so that they went into a resting state, resulting in an increase in hair shedding and thinning of hair on the scalp. This type of hair loss often develops suddenly, although typically a month or two after the initial shock. In my case, it was a month after I left hospital.
As the trigger was short lived, the hair follicles returned to their usual growing state after about three months of shedding (by which point I had incredibly thin hair) and started producing new hair fibres fairly quickly.
After six months or so of the new hair starting to grow and come through, my hair was looking much healthier and thicker, although the new hair that came through was like baby hair!
Since then, my hair has been the thickest it has ever been, but I wouldn’t wish going through the trauma of hair loss on anyone.
I’ve also experienced thinning of eyebrow hair, which I haven’t found so bad, as makeup allows us to ‘fix’ this easier than head-hair. However, this can also knock your confidence and be another frustrating physical demonstration of how unwell you feel. Read my article on how I got my eyebrows to fully grow back here.
However, hair loss can occur for a myriad of other reasons, especially when you also have a hormonal imbalance such as hypothyroidism, so I’m going to explore these below.
If you are experiencing hair loss, please ensure you explore as many of these as possible.
Less Than Optimal Thyroid Hormone Levels
It’s a term I and so many other sources of thyroid information, use a lot; optimal thyroid levels.
Optimal thyroid levels are different to just being ‘normal’ or ‘in range’, which I’m sure are phrases you’ve heard your doctor say before. Optimal results are the places most thyroid patients say they feel best within the range.
If you’ve checked that all your main thyroid levels are optimal (and they are), then look in to Reverse T3 too, which is less often tested but reported to cause issues such as hair loss, anxiety and lingering hypothyroid symptoms if not optimal. Reverse T3 counteracts Free T3.
Low or Deficient Vitamin Levels
Probably the most common with its links to hair loss, is iron.
Ferritin is the stored form of iron and is usually the first thing doctors check when you experience hair loss. This is especially important when you suffer from Hashimoto’s or hypothyroidism, because having low ferritin levels is fairly common with these.
I was given iron tablets for my low ferritin levels at the same time as a diagnosis of hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s. However, you also want to ensure that your ferritin levels are optimal, before ticking this off your list as not the culprit for your hair loss.
Optimal ferritin levels are commonly cited to be 70-90 ng/ml and I did indeed feel much better in terms of fatigue and body aches once my ferritin went above 70. However, your personal optimal level may be higher or lower than this, so you ought to work with your doctor to figure this out.
I wouldn’t recommend supplementing iron unless you know for sure that you’re low in it, as taking it when you don’t need it can be harmful.
With supplementing, iron bisglycinate is often preferred over other types of iron as it is gentler on the stomach and doesn’t cause constipation. The one I currently take for my low iron levels is by Solgar and can be found here.
As Well as Ferritin, It’s Also Worth Checking Other Vitamin Levels Such as Vitamin D, Zinc, Magnesium, B12 and Folate
The vitamin D receptor is expressed in numerous cells and tissues of the body, including the skin. Studies of mice and humans lacking these functional receptors have demonstrated that absence of the VDR leads to the development of alopecia, another word for hair loss. (More on alopecia below).
A Vitamin D supplement that is hugely popular, is that by Solgar, but you should always look in to taking K2 along with D3. K2 regulates calcium in the blood, so combining Vitamin K2 with Vitamin D3 is highly recommended because of the synergy between the two vitamins. Research shows a slower progression of calcification in those taking both vitamin K2 and vitamin D compared to those taking vitamin D alone.
Zinc plays a role in cell reproduction as well as hormonal balance, and these functions can affect your hair growth. Zinc even manages the glands that attach to your hair follicles, which is very interesting to know. When your zinc levels are low, these follicles can become weak, causing strands to break off or fall out. Zinc is easy to find online.
Read more about how so many of us with thyroid conditions are deficient in zinc, here.
Magnesium facilitates the release of energy from foods. It helps the body absorb nutrients, including those needed for hair health and hair growth. Therefore, low levels of magnesium in the body could be affecting your hair, too. Magnesium Malate and Chelate is the most popular among thyroid patients, so I’ve provided a link to it here: Doctor’s Best High Absorption 100% Chelated Magnesium (120 Tablets).
B12 and folate can also affect your hair. Healthy hair growth is dependent on synthesis of DNA and adequate B12 levels, so a potential sign of Vitamin B12 deficiency can be hair loss. Solgar 500 mcg Vitamin B12 Vegetable Capsules – 50 Capsules
As with all supplements, it’s not wise to take them unless you know you need them via testing first. You should always let your doctor know about starting new supplements too.
You’ve probably heard the name of this form of hair loss before.
Alopecia Areata tends to cause bald spots on the scalp as oppose to overall thinning and is an autoimmune disease, as the immune system attacks the hair follicles. This is particularly interesting, as those of us with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, the autoimmune cause of hypothyroidism (about 90% of us with hypothyroidism have this ), are by default at a high risk of developing other autoimmune diseases, such as Alopecia Areata.
Adrenal fatigue (note: it is more accurately referred to as hypothalamic-pituitary axis dysfunction) is a condition you ought to familiarise yourself with if you haven’t already. Adrenal fatigue seems extremely common among thyroid patients.
Symptoms can include: hair loss, insomnia, headaches, depression, weight gain (especially around the stomach), joint inflammation, gastrointestinal issues (e.g. diarrhoea), low libido, fibromyalgia, irritability, over emotional tendencies, anger, blood pressure problems, low blood sugar moments, light-headedness and dizziness. A full list can be seen here.
This amino acid is responsible for skin and hair pigment as well as strong, healthy hair. Supplementing may therefore help. However, it’s worth knowing that it can increase Free T3 and Free T4 levels.
Sex Hormone Imbalances
Blood Sugar Imbalances
Low blood sugar is something I’ve covered before, here, and it’s something that places extra stress on our adrenals.
When your blood sugar levels drop below normal, your adrenal glands respond by secreting cortisol. This cortisol then tells the liver to produce more glucose, which brings blood sugar levels back to normal. Doing this repeatedly can cause abnormal cortisol output, and, as I’ve already covered above, abnormal cortisol (such as adrenal fatigue) levels can be detrimental to your hair.
Blood sugar swings can encourage the conversion of thyroid hormones T4 to Reverse T3, which we spoke about further up, too.
I’ve also heard from thyroid patients who found sensitivities to food such as gluten, dairy, eggs etc. caused them hair loss, but eliminating them from their diet helped hair to regrow but also become stronger and better in quality.
Low Stomach Acid
Low levels of stomach acid, commonly experienced among thyroid patients and especially those on T4-only medications, can contribute to hair loss. This is due to stomach acid aiding your ability to digest crucial nutrients and protein used in hair growth.
I take two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar in a glass of warm water (with a straw to protect teeth) and a digestive enzyme with each meal to aid digestion and stomach acid, helping me to absorb more of those important nutrients from food.
Some people also find that adding a daily probiotic helps, as it can help to balance out the good and bad bacteria in the gut and exploring your gut health and addressing any underlying candida (an online UK test for Candida can be found here and a US test here), infections or leaky gut may help to improve not only hair growth but your overall health; including energy levels and skin complaints.
There are some medications that can cause hair loss, including thyroid medications when too much is taken (causing hyperthyroidism).
Others that you may be taking include: hormonal contraceptives, antibiotics, antidepressants, anti-convulsants, beta-blockers, NSAIDs, steroids and many more.
Make sure you check the listed side effects of any medications you are using and consult your doctor if you believe any could be causing you hair loss. Never stop any medication suddenly – always use the guidance of a medical professional.
Find Out What’s Causing Your Hair Loss
It is worth knowing that UK laboratory service Medichecks offer a Hair Loss blood test which checks many of the common causes for hair loss listed in this article.
You can click on the hyperlinks in the above post to learn more and see references to information given.
Have you experienced hair loss with your thyroid condition? What has helped? Feel free to share in the comments below.
Written by Rachel, The Invisible Hypothyroidism
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Rachel Hill is the highly ranked and award-winning thyroid patient advocate, writer, blogger, speaker and author behind The Invisible Hypothyroidism. She has two books: ‘Be Your Own Thyroid Advocate‘ and ‘You, Me and Hypothyroidism‘. Her thyroid advocacy work includes writing, speaking on podcasts and co-creating Thoughtful Thyroid courses. Rachel has worked with The National Academy of Hypothyroidism, BBC, The Mighty, Yahoo, MSN, ThyroidChange and more. She is well-recognised as a useful contributor to the thyroid community and has received eight 2019 WEGO Health Award Nominations.