Woman checking her scalp in mirror

What Your Hair Says About Your Health

Did you know that the health and appearance of your hair could actually be telling you something important about your health? 

If you have experienced any changes in your hair, whether this may be in terms of texture, thickness, color, or anything else, this could be down to an underlying health condition. 

Here is everything you need to know…

Hair Shedding and Loss

It is absolutely normal to lose some hair each day. 

In fact, according to the American Academy of Dermatologists, the average person could lose anywhere between 50 to 100 strands of hair a day, with this tending to be more noticeable for those who have longer hair.

Woman examining hair from her comb

However, if your hair has been dropping more than this, you could be suffering from an iron deficiency. 

How are the two connected? 

Well, your body requires iron in order to produce hemoglobin, which is the protein in your red blood cells that is responsible for carrying oxygen through your body. 

Without enough hemoglobin, the cells in your body will not be able to function properly, and this includes the cells in your hair that are responsible for growth. 

Don’t worry, your hair is not all going to fall out at once. Instead, you will likely notice gradual hair loss over time, which is why some people only realize what is happening after it has been going on for some time. 

If you think that you may be suffering from anaemia…

Your doctor will be able to perform a blood test to determine whether or not you have enough iron in your bloodstream. If not, iron supplements are usually the answer, and it will not be long before your hair grows back. 

You can also try including more iron-rich foods in your diet, such as beans, lentils, cashew nuts, dark leafy greens and tofu. 

Of course, anaemia isn’t the only cause of hair loss…

Other reasons behind this could be: 

  • Hormonal changesthis could be due to pregnancy, menopause or childbirth. Stopping birth control, or even changing brands, can also lead to these hormonal changes 
  • Certain medications and supplementsmany drugs can cause hair loss as a side effect, so check the small print on any drugs you may be taking
  • Geneticsa genetic condition known as androgenetic alopecia can lead to hair loss 
  • Vitamin B12 deficiencythis is common in vegans, since vitamin B12 can only be obtained through animal products. A supplement is essential in these cases 
  • Stressemotional or physical stress can sometimes lead to thinning of the hair. This can be controlled with stress reduction techniques, which are discussed in more detail further down

Dry and Brittle Hair

Dry and brittle hair may be quite common, but this is only because it is linked to such a wide variety of different health conditions. 

One of the most worrying is Cushing’s Syndrome, which is caused when the body produces too much cortisol.

However, there are many other symptoms accompanying Cushing’s Syndrome that you are likely to have already noticed, such as: 

  • Fatigue 
  • Back pain
  • High blood pressure 

If you suspect that you may be suffering from this, a visit to your doctor is imperative in order to decide on the best treatment plan. 

Cushing’s Syndrome is quite a rare condition, but one of the more common reasons behind dry and brittle hair is UV damage. 

Yes, many people may rave about the way that the sun naturally lightens their hair, but exposing your hair to UV rays can end up drying it out, resulting in it becoming brittle and easily breaking. 

Another cause of dry hair is over-using heated styling tools, as well as over-washing your hair. Both of these strip the hair of its natural moisture, resulting in your strands drying out. 

So, what can you do about dry and brittle hair? 

To begin with, you need to identify what’s causing it, whether this may be sun exposure or over-washing, and then tackle this cause directly. 

You may need to cut back on how often you wash your hair, opting for a dry shampoo in between washes. Try not to wash your hair more than two to three times a week, and, when you do, make sure that the water temperature is lukewarm rather than scorching hot, as the heat will only dry your hair out even more. 

When it comes to heat styling, look into new hairstyles that do not require the use of heat. Spend some time on this, and you will likely be pleasantly surprised at all of the help available on the internet. 

Heat protectant products are important for those times when you do need to use heated styling tools. These form a physical barrier between your hair and the heat source, protecting your hair follicles from direct damage. 

UV protection is also essential, because even if the sun may not have caused your brittle strands, it definitely won’t be doing your hair any favors. 

How should you be protecting your hair from the sun? 

You have a few different options, such as: 

  • Sun protecting productsthese are usually in the form of sprays and creams designed for use on the hair, and will contain ingredients that filter away UV rays 
  • Keep it coveredkeeping your hair physically covered when outdoors, whether this may be with a hat, a scarf, an umbrella, or anything else, can help to block the sun’s UV rays from damaging your hair 
  • Stay in the shadeavoiding direct sunlight by staying in the shade is the best way to protect your hair, as well as your skin, from the sun 

Giving your hair some extra moisture to help it along would also be a good idea. 

How should you do this? 

Try using a deep conditioning treatment on your hair, at least once a week. These treatments will contain rich, nourishing oils that will hydrate and feed your hair, giving it back the moisture, suppleness and elasticity that it used to have. 

Never used a deep conditioner before? 

You apply it to your hair like a normal conditioner, but then cover your hair with a shower cap and a warm towel for 20 minutes or so afterwards. 

Why? 

Because the gentle heat will open up your hair follicles, enabling the conditioner to penetrate deeper and bring about better results. 

For hair that needs some serious help, overnight deep conditioning treatments may be a better option. 

Flaky Scalp

A flaky scalp is a sign of dandruff. Unlike psoriasis, dandruff flakes are much smaller and lighter, and are not actually a serious health problem. 

Infographic on the formation of dandruff

Dandruff can be caused by a number of different factors, such as: 

  • An overgrowth of fungus 
  • Stress 
  • Cold temperatures 
  • Dry weather 
  • Eczema 
  • Oily skin 
  • Obesity 

How can dandruff be treated? 

An anti-dandruff shampoo is what you need, and these are widely available. Make sure that you follow the instructions on the bottle when it comes to how often you need to use the shampoo, and make sure that you allow it to sit on your hair for the advised period of time before rinsing.

Is your dandruff yellow or greasy? 

You may need to visit your doctor for a medicated cream or shampoo for this. 

Patchy Scalp

Have you noticed crusty or scaly patches on your scalp?

If so, the most common cause of this is psoriasis.

What is psoriasis?

It’s a common skin condition that occurs when your skin wrongly sends out signals that trigger an increased production of skin cells, meaning an increase in cell turnover.

While psoriasis on the scalp can lead to flaking, meaning that many people mistake it for dandruff, there are a few other specific symptoms that you should look out for too:

  • Dryness
  • Itching
  • Raised red patches
  • Silvery scales
  • Bleeding

How can you treat this?

You will need to visit a dermatologist to have the condition professionally diagnosed, after which you will then likely be prescribed a topical medication.

Prematurely Gray Hair

Just about everybody’s hair turns gray at some point in their lives, and this is absolutely normal. 

The age at which you will begin going gray tends to be down to your genes, but for women this tends to be around the age of 35, while men start going gray a few years earlier. 

What actually causes this graying?

There is a pigment called melanin in your hair follicles, and this is the pigment that gives your hair its color. As you get older, these pigment cells begin to die, making those strands of hair more transparent. To the human eye, this makes them look gray or white. 

So, how does stress come into the picture? 

Well, several studies have been carried out, but more are needed in order to come to a conclusive result. However, it is believed to be down tot he way in which the hormones produced by stress can reduce the number of pigment cells in hair follicles, resulting in them turning gray.

Don’t worry, stress isn’t going to turn your hair gray overnight. However, stress does lead to a number of other health problems, so it is definitely worth trying to keep your stress levels under control. 

How can you do this? 

There are a number of ways to minimize stress, such as: 

  • Make use of relaxation and breathing techniques 
  • Spend more time doing a physical activity 
  • Make sure that you are getting enough sleep 
  • Learn how to take better control of your life 
  • Keep a diary to record your stressors, so that you can better avoid them in the future 
  • Learn how to better manage your time 
  • Speak to someone about your worries 
  • Find a new hobby 

Keep in mind that different methods work for different people, and you may need to try out multiple methods before you find one that truly does lower your stress levels. 

Thinning Hair

Thinning hair can be caused by a few different factors, so it is important to give this issue your full attention. 

Young woman examining her scalp

One of the most common causes of thinning hair is a protein deficiency. 

You need to be eating between 46 and 56 grams of protein each day. Even if you may think that you are eating plenty of protein, this all gets sent to other parts of your body first, with your hair only receiving what remains. 

Since the average modern diet usually contains more than enough protein, protein deficiencies are not too common, although they can be prevalent among vegans. 

Nevertheless, if you are suffering from a protein deficiency, it is relatively easy to incorporate more protein-rich foods into your diet. 

Try eating more of the following: 

  • Seafood
  • Poultry 
  • Dairy products 
  • Eggs
  • Beans 
  • Soy 
  • Nuts 
  • Seeds 

Another cause of thinning hair is a condition known as hypothyroidism. This basically means that the thyroid gland isn’t working, but the thinning hair is a symptom that only appears several months after the condition first appears. 

What are the other symptoms of hypothyroidism? 

If you think that you may be suffering from this, you will likely also be experiencing fatigue, weakness, and dry skin. You may also notice some weight gain, or difficulty when it comes to losing weight. 

What should you do if you think this may be you? 

Contact your doctor, as you will need to undergo some tests in order for the condition to be professionally diagnosed. 

Many people do not realize that so much about their internal health can be reflected through their hair. From hair loss to premature graying, each of these changes could be a sign that your general health needs looking at. 

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