You will NOT take my hair.
I always had very thick, long, curly hair. Around the age of 30 I started noticing my hair clogging the shower drain from time to time. However since I still had so much hair, it wasn’t high on my personal list of worst hypothyroidism symptoms.
Then all of a sudden one close look in the mirror when I turned 42 years old changed all that.
As I was brushing my hair something caught my eye in the mirror.
Wait…is that my scalp showing through?
A closer look.
My hair was noticeably thinner on both sides of my head above my ears, front, and at the temples.
My gut reaction was a scream, then tears.
What happened to my hair?
Hey Thyroid, Do NOT mess with me.
I cut off all my long hair, literally into a short pixie cut. I couldn’t stand to watch the mounds of hair falling off my head.
I went into deep research mode, searching for every article and published study that I could find. I turned myself into a human guinea pig trying every supplement that I found connected to hair loss discovering a few that worked and too many that didn’t.
I saved my hair. And you can too.
Please note that I am not a doctor. I’m just sharing the ten things that worked for me in the hopes that you will discover what works for you too. I’ve included links to brands of supplements that I personally take in orange font. I didn’t just start taking all these supplements all at once. I always start with one supplement and try that for a few weeks and note any improvements in my symptoms or adverse reactions before introducing another supplement, and so on. As with all things in particular supplements mentioned at Hypothyroid Mom, consult with your doctor to be sure they are right for you and that you are taking the right dosage for your body. Our physiology is unique so what works for each of us will be unique too. Always consult with your doctor before taking supplements if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
1. Optimal Thyroid Treatment
Every part of the body requires thyroid hormone for proper functioning, and that includes the hair follicles. In 2008, the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism presented the first evidence that human hair follicles are direct targets of thyroid hormones. This research demonstrated that the thyroid hormones T4 and T3 modulate multiple hair biology parameters from cycling to pigmentation.
You’ll notice that I bolded the words thyroid hormones T4 and T3. Why is this so important for those of us with hair loss?
In mainstream medicine, Levothyroxine drugs are the gold standard for the treatment of hypothyroidism. While these drugs work for some people, they fail for others. Levothyroxine drugs contain T4 thyroid hormone only. Our bodies are supposed to convert that T4 thyroid hormone to the active T3 hormone our cells need. For some of us our bodies don’t convert T4 to T3 properly, leaving us symptomatic. This is why many of us do better on a combination of T4 and T3 thyroid hormone replacement treatment.
The noticeable hair loss was a red flag for me that I needed to get to my doctor for thyroid testing. I’m on the natural desiccated thyroid Nature-throid plus a compounded time-release T3. My doctor did comprehensive testing including the essential thyroid tests TSH, Free T4, Free T3, Reverse T3, and thyroid antibodies. Turned out my Free T3 was middle of the range. I personally feel terrible when my Free T3 is low or even middle of the range. Optimal Free T3 for my body is when it reaches top quarter of the normal range, so adjusting my thyroid medication dosage was an essential piece to my thyroid hair loss. There are many different thyroid medication options. Finding a doctor open the treatment options to find what is right for you is key.
While optimal thyroid treatment was an essential piece of the puzzle, there were additional pieces critical to my hair loss solution.
2. Low Ferritin
Low ferritin (the stored form of iron) is one of the most common causes of hair loss in women. Given low ferritin is also a common problem for hypothyroid people, it is important to have iron testing including ferritin especially if you are experiencing hair loss. It is not enough to be told by your doctor that your iron levels are ‘normal’. Ferritin levels are not always tested. Get a copy of your lab results and be sure ferritin has been specifically tested. Even if ferritin is within the ‘normal’ range that doesn’t make it ‘optimal’.
Dr. Philip Kingsley is called the ‘Hair Guru’ by the New York Times. Why Is Ferritin Important? appears on his website:
Correct ferritin levels maximize your hair’s “anagen” or “growing” phase and encourage your hairs to grow to their full length. When you aren’t getting enough iron through your diet, your body takes ferritin stored in non-essential tissue, like your hair bulb, and gives it to essential tissue, such as your heart. Because your hair bulb is where all your hair cells are produced, this leeching of ferritin can cause your hair to shed before it reaches its maximum length.
The average reference ranges for ferritin are 14-170 micrograms per litre, but our research shows that ferritin should be at least 80 ug/L (micrograms per litre) in women for hair follicles to function at their best.
Treating low ferritin was another major piece of my hair loss solution. It’s not surprising to me at all that I had low ferritin given the decades I spent with irregular heavy menstrual cycles (which is another symptom of hypothyroidism, by the way) and my doctors all those years never tested to see if I was low.
I tried various iron supplements and many of them gave me digestive issues including gas, stomach cramps, and constipation. With a life-long history of constipation, that was the last thing I needed. I have personally found this brand Perfect Desiccated Liver Capsules from grass-fed cattle works well for my body. My doctor regularly checks my iron levels including ferritin to be sure I am taking the right dosage of iron supplements for my body and that I’m not taking too much because over-dosing on iron can be dangerous.
I’m careful to take iron supplements including multivitamins with iron at least 3 hours apart from my thyroid medication to ensure the iron doesn’t interfere with the absorption of my thyroid medication.
3. Low Stomach Acid
I read a fascinating interview with Dr. Jonathan Wright by Suzanne Somers Honey, I Shrunk My Ponytail! Turns out this article would change the fate of my hair.
DR. WRIGHT: If stomach acid is low, protein isn’t efficiently digested – and hair and nails are made up of… protein! If we are deficient in protein, our bodies know that we can live without hair or nail proteins, but we can’t survive without heart muscle proteins or other important body proteins. So if we are short in supply of protein, the hair or nails are the first to go.
Turns out low stomach acid results in malabsorption of iron (which as you know is necessary for maintaining our hair) and many other essential nutrients. Thanks to this article I discovered my own issues with low stomach acid and drinking warm water with lemon every morning and before meals has definitely helped. I drink it through a straw (I purchased an inexpensive set of stainless steel straws) to prevent damage to the enamel of my teeth. You can also try adding one or two tablespoons of Bragg Organic Unfiltered Apple Cider Vinegar with the ‘Mother’ mixed in water before meals. This has also helped me with heartburn, gas, acid reflux, and bloating. I know what you are thinking, all of you with heartburn and acid reflux are taking antacids to do the opposite – reduce, neutralize acid. Hmmm. Maybe the real source of your discomfort is too little acid and the real solution is increasing acid instead!
4. Nutrient Deficiencies
Nutrient deficiencies are a common issue for those of us with hypothyroidism. Not only are nutrients essential for thyroid function, but they also play an important role in keeping the hair on our heads from falling. A good quality multi-vitamin is important and of course a healthy diet is essential, but still nutrient testing is important because many like me will require additional supplementation to bring us to optimal. Testing should include iodine, zinc, selenium, vitamin D, B12, and magnesium.
Nutrient deficiencies are an issue for me personally. I supplement every day to maintain my nutrients at optimum. When I noticed a worsening of my hair loss last year, nutrient testing revealed that I was deficient in all those nutrients necessary for hair health. This high quality multivitamin Pure Encapsulations PureLean Pure Pack (it helped me lose a few pounds too) which includes the healthy fat omega-3 has made a world of difference. I also like Pure Encapsulations Energize Plus Pure Pack.
5. Drug-Induced Hair Loss
There are many different types of drugs that can cause hair loss. Here is a list of What Types of Drugs Cause Hair Loss by WebMD:
- Acne medications containing vitamin A (retinoids)
- Antibiotics and antifungal drugs
- Birth control pills
- Anticlotting drugs
- Cholesterol-lowering drugs
- Drugs that suppress the immune system
- Drugs that treat breast cancer
- Epilepsy drugs (anticonvulsants)
- High blood pressure medications (anti-hypertensives), such as beta-blockers, ACE inhibitors, and diuretics
- Hormone replacement therapy
- Mood stabilizers
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Parkinson’s disease drugs
- Thyroid medications
- Weight loss drugs
Did you notice that I highlighted thyroid medications on that list?
I’ve heard from many readers who had sudden worsening of their hair loss when they started one or another thyroid drug brand. Think back to the start of your hair loss, did it happen at the same time you started a specific thyroid medication?
6. Alopecia Areata
Alopecia Areata is a hair-loss condition that typically causes patchy bald spots on the scalp. It is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the hair follicles.
What does this have to do with hypothyroidism? A lot.
It is estimated that 90% of people with hypothyroidism have the thyroid autoimmune condition known as Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune condition in which the body attacks its own thyroid gland. Despite the prevalence of Hashimoto’s, thyroid antibodies are often NOT tested. You may have Hashimoto’s and not even know it. There are two thyroid antibodies to test for Hashimoto’s: Thyroid Peroxidase Antibodies (TPOAb) and Thyroglobulin Antibodies (TgAb).
When you have one autoimmune disease, you are at high risk of developing other autoimmune diseases. In her guest post for Hypothyroid Mom Autoimmune Diseases Brew In Your Body FOR YEARS Before Diagnosis Functional Medicine nutritionist Tracy Konoske wrote:
Dr. Gerald Mullin from Johns Hopkins says statistically somebody with an autoimmune disease is at risk of a total of 7 autoimmune diseases in his or her lifetime.
I hear from readers all the time with multiple autoimmune diseases including Hashimoto’s and Alopecia. If this turns out to be the cause for your hair loss, it is important to address the underlying autoimmune issue.
7. Sex Hormone Imbalances
Perimenopause…are you freakin’ kidding me?!
The signs were there. My menstrual cycles changed very suddenly and became much shorter in length. At that exact same time my hair loss accelerated. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
I went to my doctor and had my sex hormones tested.
For me it turned out I was in perimenopause. What is perimenopause? It’s that rocky road of hormonal shifts leading to menopause. When perimenopause starts varies for each woman, but it can start 10 years before menopause.
Sex hormone testing revealed that my estrogen levels were declining and that was making a mess of my hair. Another common sex hormone imbalance is estrogen dominance, too much estrogen relative to progesterone. Don’t forget testosterone testing too…yes high testosterone can cause hair loss but so can low testosterone. Harvard-trained MD Dr. Sara Gottfried had this to say about testosterone in her article The Horrors of Hair Loss for The Huffington Post:
Another possible reason for hair loss? Too much testosterone. That’s right: Women also produce the hormone testosterone. In fact, testosterone is what gets us in the mood, gives us self-confidence, and keeps us vital and sassy.
But if testosterone levels are too high in women — whether because of menopause, excess weight, or other causes — we see symptoms of male-pattern baldness and rogue hair growth on the face. The hairs on your head are falling out, but you’re finding new ones on your chin? Totally unfair!
Sex hormone testing, especially for women and men with hair loss, should include DHT (DiHydroxy Testosterone). DHT is a derivative of the male hormone testosterone. In women, perimenopause and menopause marks a drop in estrogen which leaves hair particularly vulnerable to DHT. Women with PCOS struggling with hirsutism (excessive body hair in women in areas where men typically grown hair including the fat, check, and back ) and male-pattern hair loss should be sure testosterone and DHT are part of their lab testing too. The American Hair Loss Association describes DHT as “the enemy of hair follicles on your head”:
The hormonal process of testosterone converting to DHT, which then harms hair follicles, happens in both men and women. Under normal conditions, women have a minute fraction of the level of testosterone that men have, but even a lower level can cause DHT- triggered hair loss in women. And certainly when those levels rise, DHT is even more of a problem. Those levels can rise and still be within what doctors consider “normal” on a blood test, even though they are high enough to cause a problem. The levels may not rise at all and still be a problem if you have the kind of body chemistry that is overly sensitive to even its regular levels of chemicals, including hormones.
Testosterone is converted to DHT by the enzyme Type II 5-alpha reductase. Research is focused on the role of 5AR inhibitors in the form of prescription medications and topical lotions. Saw palmetto derived from the berry of the American dwarf tree has received particular attention as a botanical 5AR inhibitor.
Dr. Apple Bodemer an assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health told The Today Show:
When inflammation is constantly driven by high glycemic and high sugar diets, [it] messes with the immune system and that is where the high sugar diets are coming more into play with hair health.
Juice cleansing is the classic example of not getting enough protein. They are literally just getting sugar. You can tell a difference in the hair.
I stumbled upon this recent study with the title Hair Follicle Characteristics As Early Marker of Type 2 Diabetes. Now that’s a warning bell, if I’ve ever heard one, to get focused on lowering daily sugar consumption and eliminating those blood sugar swings. You know those highs you get when you eat high carb, high sugar and then come crashing down? Yes, those.
Has your doctor told you that your blood sugar levels are too high? Low thyroid is one potential cause of diabetes, and it may be your red flag to have your thyroid re-evaluated. When my doctor once mentioned that my blood sugar was at the high pre-diabetic level and suggested starting diabetes medication, I asked for 6 months to try replacing my regular multivitamin with this one Designs for Health Metabolic Synergy (created by a nationally prominent doctor specializing in blood sugar) and by my follow-up appointment my blood sugar was completely normal and diabetes medication was not needed (what a relief).
9. Hair Loss Supplements
Here are supplements that have made an obvious difference in my hair.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Are you on a really, really low fat diet? Is your hair breaking and falling out? Essential fatty acids are important for hair health.
Dr. Andrew Weil is a world-renowned leader and pioneer in the field of integrative medicine. In his article Two Supplements for Thinning Hair, he wrote:
Make sure you’re getting enough omega-3 fatty acids. Eat wild Alaskan salmon, sardines, herring or mackerel two or three times a week, or sprinkle two tablespoons of freshly ground flaxseeds per day on cereal or salads. You can also supplement with a high-quality fish oil.
Supplement your diet with GLA (gamma-linolenic acid) in the form of black currant oil or evening primrose oil. Take 500 mg of either twice a day for six to eight weeks to see if it helps.
I love Carlson Cod Liver Oil which is free of detectable levels of mercury every day and I take evening primrose oil as I’ll describe next.
Evening Primrose Oil
Mary Shomon wrote this in her article at Very Well Health Hair Loss Solutions For Thyroid Patients:
According to endocrinologist Dr. Kenneth Blanchard:
“For hair loss, I routinely recommend multiple vitamins, and especially evening primrose oil. If there’s any sex pattern to it — if a woman is losing hair in partly a male pattern – -then, the problem is there is excessive conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone (DHT) at the level of the hair follicle. Evening primrose oil is an inhibitor of that conversion. So almost anybody with hair loss probably will benefit from evening primrose oil.”
I use this brand of Evening Primrose Oil.
I read this study on the benefits of a bioavailable form of silicon called choline-stabilized orthosilicic acid (ch-OSA) on skin, nails, and hair. Sure enough this silicon (ch-OSA) supplement called BIOSIL has made a difference not only in my hair but also my skin and nails.
Collagen is the most abundant protein in your body found in your skin, hair, bones, and tendons. Our body produces less and less of it as we age. I’ve long read about the benefits, including improved skin and nails and even pain reduction, of replenishing our depleting collagen stores with a form easily assimilated by the human body including hydrolyzed collagen and gelatin. I became particularly interested in collagen for hair loss when I read about a study published in Science in 2016. It all started with investigating the hair follicle stem cells of mice where researchers discovered that age-related DNA damage triggers the destruction of a protein called Collagen 17A1. The hair follicles of older people then convert themselves into skin cells, and over time baldness ensues. Think of the image of each hair follicle on your head disappearing leaving behind bare skin one at a time and on and on. My favorite brand is Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides grass-fed and pasture-raised.
Biotin is a very popular supplement recommended by many doctors, pharmacists, health food stores, TV shopping channels, health websites and more when it comes to hair loss. To find some of the best supplement brands for me to try in my quest for thyroid wellness, combing the internet for customer reviews of various brands has been an important part of my process. I’ve read mixed reviews about biotin. Some users love biotin and others find no improvement or they complain about adverse reactions like acne breakout. Biotin didn’t make a significant difference for me but it might work for you and some brands get incredible reviews like this one.
Please note that in January 2016 the Endocrine News published this article January 2016: Thyroid Month: Beware of Biotin which stated that taking biotin supplements could cause falsely high and falsely low results in a variety of laboratory tests, including thyroid lab tests because biotin interferes with the test platform used for particular laboratory tests. If you are taking biotin and your thyroid lab results begin to change and not make sense in terms of your clinical symptoms speak with your doctor about doing a retest of your thyroid labs after several days of discontinuing your biotin supplement to be sure there is no interference.
The body relies on the adrenal glands located on top of each kidney to manage stressful situations. Given our busy stressful lives it’s not surprising that many of us suffer from issues of adrenal dysfunction.
How would you know if you have adrenal fatigue?
Check out these symptoms…
fatigue, insomnia, chronic pain, headaches, migraines, anxiety, depression, weight gain, joint inflammation, gastrointestinal issues (constipation or diarrhea), tendonitis, bursitis, low libido, fibromyalgia, irritability, anger, fidgety, nervous, addictions, obsessive, frequent urination, heart disease, blood pressure problems, light-headedness, and dizziness upon rising from a bed or chair
Don’t many of these symptoms sound a lot like the symptoms of hypothyroidism? Hmmm…
I’ve read that many hypothyroid people also have adrenal fatigue (whether they realize it or not). From this very list of symptom that’s not surprising really.
At that time when my hair loss noticeably worsened, I was going through an extremely stressful time in my life. At that very same time my menstrual cycles dramatically changed and my progesterone levels plummeted. The thyroid, adrenals, and sex hormones are all so intricately connected, and my experience showed that loud and clear.
The problem is that the adrenals are often NOT tested. In fact adrenal fatigue is not even a recognized diagnosis in mainstream medicine yet the problem is a serious issue for thyroid patients.
An essential part of my hair loss solution was the testing and treatment of my adrenal fatigue. I’m fortunate to have an open-minded doctor who understands the importance of the adrenals in thyroid health.
I took a saliva test (where I took samples of my saliva at 4 different times over the course of one day) that tested my cortisol. Cortisol production varies throughout the day with levels normally highest in the morning and lowest in the evening before bed (did you know that too high cortisol at night can be a cause of insomnia!). The advantage of saliva testing is that it takes cortisol levels at different times of the day and lets you know how your cortisol levels vary during the day. My results showed that my cortisol levels were below normal throughout the day. I was obviously struggling with adrenal fatigue and I’m so fortunate to have discovered this.
There are different ways to treat adrenal issues and what’s right for a person is individual too. I personally do well on adaptogenic herbs including Ashwaghanda, Rhodiola, Holy Basil, and Schisandra. I take adaptogenic herbs every day, especially in times of real stress. With this combination of herbs Pure Encapsulations Phyto-ADR my energy is also up, my anxiety is down, and I sleep like a baby.
That year when I was losing so much hair I was under too much stress.
I’m not always good at being good to myself.
I put other people’s needs before my own and let myself fall to the bottom way too often.
I take on far more than I should because I feel guilty to say NO.
I’m not sure why that word is so hard for me to say.
I try to be everything to everyone, but me.
The particularly stressful events in my life at that time along with an unhealthy way of putting myself last wreaked havoc on my hair. I knew at that moment that I had to take better care of myself otherwise I would lose all my hair.
While all the testing, treatments, and supplements mentioned in this article were essential in stopping my hair loss, there was an even bigger thing that saved my hair above all else