Starting in their 30s, a woman’s body undergoes significant hormonal changes that can affect overall health, including hair – as one of the most visible effects. Estrogen, a key hormone, is crucial for maintaining your hair’s lifecycle, promoting growth, and preventing excessive shedding. This article explores the interplay between estrogen, androgens, and hair health, providing insights into natural and medical strategies to manage these changes effectively.
The Role of Estrogen in Women’s Health
Estrogen supports various bodily functions, from reproductive health to maintaining skin elasticity and hair vitality. Specifically to the focus on this article, estrogen prolongs the hair growth phase. As estrogen levels decline, many women experience thinning hair or hair loss, a condition closely linked to the shifts in your hormones.
Beyond its well-known contributions to reproductive health, estrogen is crucial for maintaining the skin’s elasticity and the vitality of hair. Skin’s health is closely linked to hair health – since your scalp is made of… skin! The same way estrogen supports collagen function on the skin of your face, it supports production of collagen in your scalp. This is with the only difference since collagen also lines up the hair follicle sack during anagen stage of your hair – which further emphasises the role of estrogen and collagen in your hair healthy.
In addition, estrogen also helps keep your hair moisturised and hydrated, since estrogen is responsible for regulating water balance in your body. It regulates production of sebum – natural hair oil produced by the tiny glands around your hair follicles. Through sebum your hair maintains its natural lustre and shine, but without or too little sebum your hair may be dry and brittle. The latter often occurs as estrogen levels decline and hair becomes drier.
Low estrogen and hair loss
Low estrogen and hair loss are intrinsically connected, a manifestation of the broader hormonal imbalances that accompany the end of the reproductive years. As estrogen levels decrease, many women find themselves grappling with thinning hair—a stark contrast to the hair’s former vitality. This thinning can range from a slight decrease in volume to more pronounced hair loss, significantly affecting self-perception and confidence.
This condition, often termed as hormone-related hair loss in women or female pattern hair loss, underscores the delicate balance of female hormones and hair health. The reduction in estrogen not only shortens the growth phase of the hair but also leads to a relative increase in androgens (male hormones), which can further exacerbate hair thinning and loss. As a result, a shift in the hair’s growth cycle occurs: a shorter anagen phase and an extended period of rest, culminating in less dense hair coverage.
Supporting Estrogen Levels and Hair Health Naturally
Whether as a result of a health condition with lower estrogen, such as PCOS, or naturally declining levels of estrogen due to ageing, your hair might suffer. But in addition, this is not just a “vanity project” estrogen plays a number of important roles in regulating your body:
- Sleep Disturbances: Estrogen helps regulate the sleep cycle and promotes restful sleep. With the decline in estrogen levels during perimenopause and menopause, many women experience sleep disturbances, such as insomnia or disrupted sleep patterns. Poor sleep quality directly affects daytime energy levels, leading to fatigue and reduced alertness.
- Mood Changes: Estrogen influences neurotransmitter systems in the brain, including serotonin and norepinephrine, which play roles in mood regulation. Fluctuating estrogen levels can lead to mood swings, anxiety, and depression during menopause, which can deplete energy levels.
- Metabolic Impact: Estrogen has a role in regulating metabolism. It affects how the body uses energy and stores fat. With lower estrogen levels, women may experience changes in weight and metabolism, potentially leading to increased fatigue.
- Thermoregulatory Changes: Hot flashes and night sweats are common symptoms of menopause, attributed to the effects of declining estrogen on the body’s thermoregulation. These symptoms can disrupt sleep and increase discomfort, further impacting energy levels during the day.
- Muscle Mass and Strength: Estrogen plays a role in maintaining muscle mass and strength. As estrogen levels drop, you may experience a decrease in muscle efficiency and an increase in muscle fatigue, making physical activities more tiring.
As you can see estrogen plays a role not just in hair health but in your overall health. Question becomes – what can you do?
Dietary Adjustments for Hormonal Balance
Incorporating phytoestrogens and a nutrient-rich diet is essential for mitigating the impact of low estrogen levels. This won’t just support your hormonal balance but also enhance hair health, promote hair growth and strength.
Phytoestrogens are naturally occurring plant compounds that structurally and functionally mimic the action of the estrogen hormone found in the human body. They belong to a broader category of plant compounds known as polyphenols and are found in various foods, including soy products, flaxseeds, sesame seeds, and certain fruits and vegetables. The resemblance of phytoestrogens to human estrogen allows them to bind to estrogen receptors in the body, either by mimicking estrogen or on the contrary blocking estrogen, depending on the body’s estrogen levels and the specific type of phytoestrogen.
- Soy Products: Foods like tofu, tempeh, and soy milk are high in isoflavones, a type of phytoestrogen that mimics estrogen in the body. Consuming soy products can help compensate for lower estrogen levels, indirectly supporting hair health by maintaining the anagen (growth) phase of hair follicles.
- Flaxseeds: Rich in lignans, another form of phytoestrogens, flaxseeds can influence estrogen metabolism, potentially helping to preserve hair thickness and reduce hair loss associated with hormonal imbalances. Just 30g (2 tablespoons) of flaxseeds due to its high amount of lignans has helped hormonal balance in women with PCOS (condition linked to high androgens and low estrogen in women) – in two research studies.
- Sesame Seeds: These seeds not only contain phytoestrogens but are also a good source of essential fatty acids and vitamins that are vital for hair health, contributing to the strength and luster of hair.
Vitamins & Minerals
In addition to managing your estrogen levels directly, there are other vitamins and minerals important to hair health that can support your journey to healthier hair and scalp:
- Vitamin C: Found in citrus fruits, bell peppers, and strawberries, vitamin C is crucial for collagen production, which supports hair structure and strength. It also aids in iron absorption, a mineral necessary for hair growth.
- Vitamin E: Avocados, nuts, and seeds are rich in vitamin E, an antioxidant that protects the hair from oxidative stress, promoting scalp health and hair growth.
- Iron: Leafy greens, legumes, and red meat provide iron, which is essential for hair growth. Iron is necessary for production of haemoglobin – red blood cells responsible to carry oxygen throughout your body – including your hair follicles. Iron deficiency has been linked to hair loss, making its intake vital.
- Zinc: Foods like oysters, beef, and pumpkin seeds are high in zinc. Zinc acts as a co-factor for enzymes essential for synthesizing proteins like keratin, vital for hair strength and structure. It also maintains scalp health by supporting oil-secreting glands around hair follicles, fostering optimal hair growth conditions.
- Berries, nuts, and green vegetables: These foods are loaded with antioxidants that protect hair follicles from damage caused by free radicals. Antioxidants also support a healthy scalp, creating an ideal environment for hair growth.
Incorporating these foods into your diet can help address estrogen decline and its effects on hair health, promoting hair growth, thickness, and resilience.
Low Estrogen Role in Regulating Blood Flow in Scalp
Estrogen significantly impacts blood flow through its vasodilatory effects, which involve the widening of blood vessels. This hormone increases the production of nitric oxide, a key molecule that relaxes the smooth muscles in the arterial walls, allowing blood vessels to expand and thereby improving circulation.
By enhancing blood flow, estrogen contributes to the efficient delivery of oxygen and nutrients to tissues throughout the body, including vital organs, the skin and the scalp.
With lower estrogen levels – your scalp may not receive adequate levels of blood supply and it therefore becomes essential to naturally support your blood flow to scalp to support your hair growth. There are three ways you can easily improve blood flow to scalp:
- Regular scalp massages, possibly with essential oils such as rosemary or peppermint oils, can improve circulation, stimulating hair growth. When massaging your scalp it is important to go deep into the tissues of your scalp and not just stay at the “stroke” level of your hair. You gradually build the pressure around your scalp: starting from the back of your head, working your way to the sides of your head and finishing on the crown. It should ideally take you 7-10 minutes a day.
- You can also introduce micro needling into your hair growth routine. Derma roller or derma stamp both can benefit the blood circulation in your scalp as well as help production of collagen.
- Certain scalp treatments naturally improve blood flow to scalp. Read more here >
Lifestyle Changes to Manage Impact of Low Estrogen
Managing stress, engaging in regular physical activity, and ensuring quality sleep are fundamental in maintaining hormonal balance. These lifestyle choices can indirectly influence hair health, helping to mitigate hair loss associated with hormonal changes.
- Stress triggers the release of cortisol, a hormone that can disrupt the balance of other hormones, including estrogen and androgens, exacerbating hair loss. In addition, there is a separate type of hair loss, called “telogen effluvium” – which occurs 3-6 months after an onset of a stressful episode (divorce, loss of a loved one, break up, change / loss of a job)
- Techniques like mindfulness, meditation, and yoga reduce stress levels, minimizing the impact of stress on hormonal balance and hair health.
Regular Physical Activity
- Exercise boosts overall circulation, including to the scalp, enhancing the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to hair follicles, which is crucial for hair growth and health. This counteracts negative effects of lower estrogen in your body.
- Physical activity helps regulate hormone levels, reducing the risk of hormonal imbalances that can lead to hair thinning or loss. This includes mitigation of the effects of androgenic alopecia by reducing scalp inflammation and resulting lower levels of dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a derivative of testosterone linked to hair loss.
High Quality Sleep
- Sleep is essential for the regulation of hormones, including growth hormone and cortisol, which have direct and indirect impacts on hair health.
- Quality sleep supports the body’s natural repair processes, including those related to hair follicle health and regeneration.
- Poor sleep patterns can exacerbate hormonal imbalances, potentially leading to increased hair shedding or thinning.
- There is an indirect impact of lack of sleep on your body: when tired you are more likely to resort to caffeine, tobacco and high sugar foods to maintain your energy levels. And, then due to dysregulated nervous system, you’re more likely to rely on alcohol and recreational drugs to relax and calm down.
Herbal Supplements and Alternative Therapies
Herbs like black cohosh and red clover may offer natural support for hormonal health and, by extension, hair vitality. While the effectiveness of these supplements can vary, they represent a natural approach to managing menopausal symptoms, including hair thinning.
Black Cohosh in Regulating Estrogen
Black cohosh interacts with estrogen receptors, mimicking estrogen’s effects in specific tissues to ease menopausal symptoms. The advantage is that it doesn’t broadly increase estrogen, acting similarly to selective estrogen receptor modulators. It may subtly modulate estrogen synthesis and breakdown, contributing to hormonal balance, and also affects other hormones like LH and FSH, reducing symptoms like hot flashes and mood swings.
Additionally, black cohosh’s benefits may extend beyond hormonal pathways, potentially influencing neurotransmitters related to temperature and mood regulation, offering relief with minimal risks associated with direct estrogen supplementation.
Red Clover as a Phytoestrogen
- Phytoestrogens Content: Red clover is rich in isoflavones, a type of phytoestrogen that mimics estrogen in the body. These compounds can bind to estrogen receptors, potentially compensating for lower estrogen levels during menopause and providing relief from associated symptoms.
- Benefits for Hormonal Symptoms: By acting as a natural estrogen replacement, red clover isoflavones can help manage symptoms of estrogen deficiency, including hot flashes, bone density loss, and cardiovascular risks. Its phytoestrogenic action supports a more balanced hormonal environment.
Clinical trials have explored the effects of red clover on menopausal symptoms, with some studies suggesting improvements in hot flashes and cardiovascular health markers. However, like black cohosh, responses to red clover can vary, and further research is needed to fully understand its benefits and mechanisms.
Before incorporating these or any herbal supplements it’s important to consult with your healthcare professional. This ensures they are appropriate for their specific health situation and to avoid potential interactions with other medications you may be taking.
Hormone Replacement Therapy and Hair Growth
HRT can be a direct approach to counteracting the hair loss associated with low estrogen levels. By replenishing estrogen, HRT can potentially halt or reverse thinning hair, offering a viable option for those significantly impacted by menopausal symptoms. However, the decision to pursue HRT should be made in consultation with a healthcare provider, considering the individual benefits and risks.
Oral tablets are a widely used option for HRT, offering systemic relief from menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and mood swings. Transdermal patches and topical gels or creams provide alternatives for those seeking direct absorption into the bloodstream or have specific concerns about oral intake. For targeted relief from vaginal dryness and discomfort, vaginal rings, tablets, and creams offer localized estrogen therapy with minimal systemic effects.
These various forms of HRT cater to different preferences and medical needs, ensuring that treatment can be personalized. It is important to note that if hair health is your main concern around declining estrogen – you should consider more targeted ways to help your hair growth. Taking artificial synthetic hormones involves carries own risks and dangers. For example, HRT can lead to an increased chance of blood clots, stroke, and certain cancers with prolonged use. Each woman’s treatment must be customized, considering her health history, symptoms, and risk factors.
Choosing between natural strategies and HRT involves a personal assessment of the severity of hair loss as a result of low estrogen, individual health history, and personal preferences. While natural methods offer a holistic approach to managing hormonal balance and hair health, HRT may provide a more immediate solution to hair thinning associated with hormonal imbalances.
However HRT risks can reverberate through other aspects of your health, not just your hair. Therefore deploying more targeted and sustainable natural solutions such as: getting enough good quality sleep, balanced diet, regular exercise and specifically scalp treatments like scalp massages, scalp micro needling and other natural scalp treatments can be a preferred option for you.
Phytoestrogens for menopausal symptoms: A review (1)
Black Cohosh, (2)
Effects of sex steroid deprivation/administration on hair growth and skin sebum production in transsexual males and females (3)
Phytoestrogens derived from red clover: An alternative to estrogen replacement therapy? (4)
Activation of nitric oxide synthesis in human endothelial cells by red clover extracts (5)
The Effect of Androgens and Estrogens on Human Sebaceous Glands (6)