Thyroid disease can occur when thyroid gland either doesn’t produce enough or produces too much of certain hormones. Hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroid, can cause many symptoms, from weight gain to fatigue linked to reduction in metabolism. On the other end, hyperthyroidism, an overactive thyroid, may cause anything from weight loss to nervousness. Both conditons may take time to develop and show symptoms, and it is important to take appropriate tests and consult with your GP if you suspect you suffer from these. Both conditions can cause dry, brittle hair or thinning hair – however the way it works differs. Read on to learn what you can do if your thyroid disease is affecting your hair.
Biology of thyroid hair loss
It all starts with the brain. Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) is produced by pituiary glad located at the base of our brain. TSH stimulates the thyroid gland to produce thyroxine (T4), and then triiodothyronine (T3). When it comes to hair growth, T4 stimulates hair matrix keratinocyte production and multiplication. Keratinocytes is a major cell type in the outer layer of the skin. In hair growth, keratinocytes play an especially important role, since they help forming hair follicles and help regulate stem cells of the follicle.
Both T3 and T4 also slow down apoptosis – the death of keratinocyte cells. This further upholds and supports correct functioning of the hair follicle and healthy hair growth.
Hypothyroidism is underactive thyroid that makes insufficient amounts of T3 and T4. The link to hair loss and thinning is straightforward: as the body doesn’t produce enough of these hormones to promote proliferation of keratinocytes, it reduces the function of the hair follicle to grow hair. Brittle, thin and dull hair is common amongst the sufferers. Hashimoto’s disease is an autoimmune disorder that can cause hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroid. With this disease, immune system attacks thyroid gland. The thyroid becomes damaged and can’t make enough thyroid hormones.
Hyperthyroidism occurs when thyroid gland produces too much of the hormone thyroxine. Hyperthyroidism can accelerate your body’s metabolism, causing unintentional weight loss and a rapid or irregular heartbeat. Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes hyperthyroidism, or an overactive thyroid. With this disease, the immune system attacks the thyroid and causes it to make more thyroid hormone than your body needs. Carbimazole and propylthiouracil are antithyroid drugs that may, in rare cases, lead to hair loss. They artificially reduce T3 and T4 hormones thus impacting hair growth.
However a clear link between hyperactive thyroid gland and hair loss is less clear. One study has shown that overdose of levothyroxine, a drug for treating hypothyroidism to compensate for production of TSH causes diffuse hair loss and hair. However the conclusion was unclear if the drug overdose is what caused it or further development of the hypothyroidism and resistance to treatment.
Treatment options for thyroid hair loss
Treating thyroid-related hair loss requires treating the thyroid problem. A doctor will usually prescribe a synthetic hormone containing levothyroxine to treat an underactive thyroid. Treatment for an overactive thyroid varies from person to person. Some of the most common methods include: antithyroid drugs, iodine intake, surgery. In this article we cover how to tackle the symptom of thyroid problems – however bear in mind that the root cause needs to be treated as a priority, since the symptoms can only be alleviated to a limited extent. The best approach would be to get your blood tested and understand what is the optimal level of T3 / T4 hormones – your hair will return to normal as a result of the treatment and over a course of time.
Meanwhile, home remedies and lifestyle changes available for sufferers of both conditions. Those can take a few weeks or months to work so it is important to approach it with a curious mind and willingness to learn about what works for your body, as opposed to expecting overnight results.
As a general rule, eating a balanced diet can help to promote growth and improve the condition of hair. A healthful and balanced diet is one that contains protein, fruits, vegetables, grains, and a moderate amount of fat.
Ferritin and hair loss
Studies suggest that people with low levels of ferritin may experience hair loss and thinning, especially those suffering from female pattern hair loss and male pattern hair loss. Ferritin is a protein that contains iron and is the primary form of iron stored inside of cells. When there isn’t enough iron in the diet, the body takes ferritin stored in non-essential tissue, like that in 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 small amount of ferritin that is released and circulates in the blood is a reflection of the total amount of iron stored in the body. A quick boost of ferritin is available through eating lean red meat or fish; or vegetarian and vegan options include iron-rich foods like kale, spinach and other dark leafy greens, also lentils, red kidney beans and pumpkin seeds that need to be combined with Vitamin C-rich foods to improve absorbency of iron into the bloodstream.
People with autoimmune thyroid disorders need to be careful around their iodine intake. The body uses iodine to make thyroid hormone, so too much or too little may lead to imbalances. Consider taking a test to understand the levels of iodine and consult with your doctor on the requirements. Mountainous areas, such as the Himalayas, Alps, and Andes regions, and river valleys prone to flooding, especially in South and Southeast Asia, are among the most iodine-deficient regions in the world. If you naturally live in the area with low iodine, fortified products can help to compensate.
Staying on top of the supplements is important, since a lot of the foods we consume don’t actually contain as much vitamins and nutrients as they are grown in artificial conditions and with addition of pesticides. Ensuring to get sufficient B vitamins, zinc, vitamins C becomes crucially important for those already suffering from thyroid conditions. The idea is to bring your body in balance as much as possible.
Hair styles and root support
Ensure to treat your hair gently. Avoid using harsh colouring products and shampoos, perms and heating tools. Refrain from wearing hairstyles that pull on the hair (such as a tight bun or pony tail) and embrace the braid. This causes less impact on the follicle, thus helping it recover quicker. The same logic applies if you wear hair extensions – you need to reduce the unnecessary pull on the hair root that comes from wearing extensions.
Blood flow and hair regrowth
Losing your hair can be distressing, but if it is caused by thyroid disease it is most likely reversible. To help you on the journey towards healthy hair, it is key to focus on blood flow to scalp as it directly impacts hair follicle. If one of the symptoms of thyroid gland you are experiencing is hair loss, scalp stimulation becomes even more important as your body naturally produces less hormones to stimulate your hair follicles, so don’t skip on additional support to your scalp.
The Hair Fuel mask supports healthy functioning of the scalp blood flow and can support you in your journey of hair regrowth.
Thyroid Hormones Directly Alter Human Hair Follicle Functions: Anagen Prolongation and Stimulation of Both Hair Matrix Keratinocyte Proliferation
and Hair Pigmentation, The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, (1)
Keratinocytes regulate the function of melanocytes, (2)
The effects of thyroxine on hair growth in the dog, (3)
Diffuse scalp hair loss due to levothyroxine overdose, (4)
Iron Plays a Certain Role in Patterned Hair Loss, (5)
Keratinocyte Growth Factor Increases Hair Follicle Survival Following Cytotoxic Insult, (6)