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Menopause and hair loss – a wholesome overview

By June 1, 2019 June 13th, 2019 Biology, Hair health, Hair loss, Science of hair growth

Female body is a complex, beautiful organism with its rhythms, flows and changes it undergoes as we live. It fills us with uttermost fascination that we, women, can create a life and have an inherent capacity and instincts to care and nurture for this life. Whether you follow a scientific line of thinking and understand that your hormones are changing and your body rhythms becomes less focused on offspring-rearing abilities during menopause, or whether you prefer more of a primordial and tribal approach that looks back at the evolution and the wisdom that elder women passed on to younger generation – menopause can be an exciting, liberating and beautiful period of life.

In many ways, you left the worries of the youth behind you: you know who you are, what you want, what is you life, what works for you and what doesn’t. While still accommodating room for changes that might and will take place as a result of you entering the menopause – you are sure of yourself, as a human being. You probably have a somewhat established career or have a flourishing business that you invested your time in – you are standing with both feet on the ground while having so much more to look forward ahead of you.

Evolutionary view on fertility

There are adjustments that your body goes through to accommodate results of millennia of evolution. Contrary to popular belief that cave people lived only until 30, the archaeological evidence of that cannot support that – in fact, so much so, it is hypothesised that women were able to rear offspring in later ages – well into their 70s and 80s – but male preference towards younger mates – made this ability obsolete and that’s where menopause mutated from. Like with any scientific models to describe the past, however, most models are wrong, but some are useful.

A modern age woman’s fertility peaks in the early and mid-20s, after which it starts to decline slowly. While many sources suggest a more dramatic drop at around 35, this is unclear since studies are still cited from the nineteenth century and earlier. In this article we work with what we’ve got and hope that in the years to come, science will uncover more explanations and control over our fertility and hormonal cycles.

Hormonal imbalance

The main focus on this article is, of course, hair loss. Having said that, hair loss is a result of changes in hormones – so all treatments for peri-menopausal hair loss needs to be considered in conjunction with overall body health.

Hormonal imbalance relating to menopause generally implies a reduced production of oestrogen and progesterone, and increased production of androgens. This is a combination of factors that all contribute to hair thinning, stunted hair growth and subsequent hair loss.

Role of oestrogen

Higher oestrogen levels increases blood flow, which helps hair growth, so when the levels of it dips around menopause, hair loss becomes an indirect, as well as a direct result. Without the need to support shiny and lustrous hair to signal fertility to a potential mate, female body slows down the processes relating to such signalling.

Androgens

In addition, increase in androgens is reportedly related to thinning hair and hair loss. Androgenic alopecia in men is known as “male pattern baldness” – instances of androgenic alopecia have also been reported in women, too. This does not always occur during menopause, but it is likely to occur during that time, since this is one of the most common instances of prevalence of androgenic hormones in females, other than medical conditions and illnesses.

Androgenic alopecia leads to reduction of the hair follicle size, and in some instances has been linked to follicle death. However in recent studies, thinning hair follicles during androgenic alopecia still produce hair, known as “vellus hair” – a very thin, often transparent hair that is prevalent in prepuberty and which develops into fully fledged hair upon reaching puberty in men and women. As long as hair follicles grow some hair – it isn’t dead and therefore hair growth can be improved and hair loss reversed.

Fundamental importance of blood flow

What united most common treatments of androgenic alopecia, be it minoxidil, derma rolling or botulinum toxin – they all impact blood flow. So much so, minoxidil has first been discovered as an antihypertensive – blood-pressure lowering – agent, since it causes vasodilation – a widening of blood vessels. This, in turn, improves blood flow to scalp and helps hair growth.

When thinking about treatments to menopausal changes to your hair health it is helpful to consider treatments that, amongst other things, stimulate blood flow to scalp. All these need to be looked at as a whole, so having your hormone levels check is a good start. Ensuring that you feed your body with nutrient-rich wholesome foods with adequate amounts of protein and healthy fats is the second step. Thirdly – exercise, which not only impacts blood flow in the rest of your body, but also making you a happier person. Finally – take a closer look at your cortisol levels – high level of stress on its own can lead to hair loss – but also during menopause it is important to listen to your body even more carefully as it adjusts to evolutionary shifts transitioning you into a new, and exciting part of your life.

Sources:

A Pilot Study to Evaluate Effectiveness of Botulinum Toxin in Treatment of Androgenetic Alopecia in Males, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5782443/#ref3

Hormonal changes in menopause: do they contribute to a ‘midlife hair crisis’ in women? https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1365-2133.2011.10629.x

Estrogen acutely increases peripheral blood flow in postmenopausal women: https://europepmc.org/abstract/med/7625415

Why women lose fertility, https://www.the-scientist.com/thought-experiment/why-women-lose-fertility-38776

Study speeds up biological clocks / Fertility rates dip after women hit 27, https://www.sfgate.com/health/article/Study-speeds-up-biological-clocks-Fertility-2843352.php

Androgens and hair growth, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1529-8019.2008.00214.x 

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