Have you ever noticed that, after shampooing, a large number of hairs fall out of your head, and begin to worry that baldness is to follow? You are not alone – hundreds of both men and women experience this every day. The good news is that in the majority of instances, this is not the case. Human beings, on average, loose between fifty and one hundred hairs a day, which often become tangled in our intact hair until we wash it. What may seem like an abnormally large amount of hair loss is usually due to this.
There are three stages in the cycle of hair growth. The growing of a hair can last up to several years and is named the Anagen phase. After a long period of time, the hair follicle will stop producing hair and the hair growth will stop to rest for a period of two to four weeks, known aptly as the ‘resting’ or the Catagen phase. When a hair naturally falls out of our scalp, a new one replaces it in the same hair follicle. This final stage is known as the Telogen phase. The cycle repeats on a yearly basis and hair grows at a rate of approximately one half-inch per month.
As the age cycle matures, about fifty per cent of the population experience a more apparent hair loss by the time they reach the age of fifty and is a completely normal occurrence. Formally known as androgenic alopecia, baldness in men often runs through families and usually begins with hair thinning at the front of the scalp before moving toward the crown of the head. Women experience a thinning of the hair but rarely does the hairline recede or become bald like male sufferers of typical hair loss. However, others experience hair loss at an increased pace with more extreme effects, resulting in atypical hair loss unwelcomed by its host.
Bald patches are an understandable sign of a more significant hair thinning problem, but if this is not the case, how can one diagnose irregular hair loss? An easy experiment is to take between ten to fifteen hairs and slowly and securely pull. If more than six hairs become loose there may be a problem.
There are many causes for abnormal hair loss in men and women. Diet is an obvious first port of call when attempting to investigate the reasons behind hair loss. Hair is made of a type of protein similar to our nails. Therefore an adequate quantity of protein in the diet is essential for healthy hair and continuing re-growth of shed hair. Vegetarianism, extreme diets and starvation can lead to malnutrition. When malnutrition occurs, your body stops the growth of hair and a few months later mass shedding takes place. Thankfully, hair growth can be stimulated again with the correct intake of protein. Protein can be found in meat, fish, cheese, nuts, beans and eggs and should be eaten by everyone in order to avoid unhealthy hair growth. Similarly an iron deficiency in the diet can lead to hair loss but can be solved through iron supplements.
Other lifestyle choices and/or illness can lead to early hair loss. Leading a stressful lifestyle or becoming stressed through infection such as ringworm, surgery or fever can promote immobilization of hair growth and sufferers may notice hair falling out. Usually over time this form of hair loss remedies itself, however some cases may require treatment.
Medication or drug treatments affect hair growth in differing ways in different people. A small proportion experience hair shedding when prescribed drugs for such ailments as gout or arthritis. The majority of medication used in chemotherapy for cancer patients will cause hair shafts to thin, break and shed. However usually the hair will grow back when therapy finishes.
Childbirth affects the hair growth of women due to its interruption of the hair growth cycle. When pregnant, a woman’s hair continues to growth without the last shedding phase of the cycle. After delivery of her baby, a high amount of hairs enter the ‘resting’ or Catagen phase, before all falling out a few months later. Many new mothers experience a large amount of hair shed during this period, and is considered a normal part of pregnancy and childbirth.
Some sufferers of abnormal hair loss, however, are diagnosed with alopecia areata. The name of a specific type of hair loss, alopecia areata results in smooth circular patches of lost hair, usually on the scalp but also affecting all areas, and can affect anyone regardless of age and sex. The condition is assumed to be an autoimmune disorder where the body damages its own hair follicles and impedes hair growth. It is thought to be hereditary by nature although exploration into the specific cause is still ongoing.
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