It’s not uncommon to find some strands of hair in your brush, or on your pillow, or even clogging up the shower drain over time. Generally, these incidents are not cause for alarm, but rather are simply part of a normal cycle of hair growth, loss and replenishment.
On average, a healthy scalp boasts around 100,000 hair follicles housing a similar number of hairs, and if you’re losing between 50 – 100 hairs a day, that’s just normal hair shedding, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).
However, there is a medical term—telogen effluvium—that is used for excessive hair shedding. If you wake up in the morning and your pillowcase looks like there was a party the night before where way too many of your hairs didn’t make it home afterwards, combined with your not being able to see your brush’s bristles through the hair strands, you might be experiencing undesirable hair shedding. In other words, if you’re consistently noticing more and more hairs in places other than on your head, you may have excessive hair shedding.
But it may or may not mean that you have anagen effluvium. The AAD says there’s a difference between hair shedding and hair loss. And we’re going to get to that difference.
But whether it’s hair loss or hair shedding, finding clumps of your mane migrating to your shower drain or looking in the mirror and seeing more scalp where there used to be more hair is not only a confidence deflator, but it could be a signal that you might actually have an autoimmune disease, a hair pulling disorder, or another reason (in case you needed one) to be angry with your relatives.
Are Some More Susceptible Than Others?
Yes, there are some people who are more likely to experience either hair shedding or hair loss. And here’s why.
Hair shedding is different than hair loss in this way: the former is generally brought on by stressors, defined as something that creates strain or tension on your body or your emotional state. For example, pregnant women often experience excessive hair shedding after giving birth. A stressful situation like losing your job, going through a divorce, or caring for a seriously ill loved one may cause excessive hair shedding. And recovering from your own illness or an operation are also considered stressors that may lead to excessive hair shedding.
The good news is that after you recover from whatever was creating the excessive stress, your hair situation will likely follow suit. While it may take many months, the excessive hair shedding should stop. Unfortunately, many people find themselves in a continuous loop of stressful situations, and in those cases, long-term excessive hair shedding may be one result.
Hair loss, on the other hand, is the result of something causing your hair to stop growing. Sometimes it can be as simple as not using a shampoo that is too harsh on your hair or not styling your hair in a way that pulls on it. In these situations, correcting hair loss may be an easy fix: switch to a different hair care product or another hair style. Tight ponytails, tight braids, cornrows or hair extensions may look great but may also be the source of your hair loss.
Or the reasons for hair loss can be more complicated, such as undergoing chemotherapy, having an aversion to a specific drug or medical treatment or suffering from the autoimmune condition known as alopecia or from the obsessive-compulsive hair-pulling disorder known as trichotillomania.
Cancer survivors may find after the chemo is completed, that their hair grows back, sometimes with a different color or texture, and a good psychotherapist or psychiatrist may be able to help solve the problem of trichotillomania. Most of us are likely familiar with the common hair loss problem cause by hereditary influences leading to male-pattern baldness, but you should be aware that women, too, can be subject to hereditary hair loss.
At the end of the day, your dermatologist can determine whether the hair fall-out comes from hair loss or hair shedding. And the reason it matters that you find that out is so that your dermatologist can work with you to find the right treatment or solution.
And, yes, in many cases there are medical treatments, nutritional solutions, behavioral therapies, and other options that can help solve the problem of hair loss and even encourage hair growth.
What Role Does Nutrition Play in Healthy Hair?
It’s no secret that what you eat impacts not only how you look and feel but also the state of your health. We talk extensively here at OmegaQuant about the importance of good nutrition and the necessity of obtaining not only adequate but optimal amounts of certain nutrients, such as omega-3 EPA and DHA, vitamin D, vitamin B12 and other vitamins and minerals.
Therefore, you shouldn’t be surprised that when we’re talking about hair loss, we’re reminding you that vitamin and mineral deficiencies may be to blame, at least in part.
This article from WebMD references findings from a study that identifies several vitamin and mineral deficiencies that can lead to hair loss. For example, if you’re not getting enough iron, be prepared for thinning hair without new hair growth to replace what you’ve lost. That’s because iron aids in producing hemoglobin, and hemoglobin helps ensure that nutrients and oxygen make their way to hair follicles, which house your hair.
Zinc is another mineral, like iron, that can cause hair damage and hair loss—if you’re deficient. And although selenium deficiency is rare, if you are deficient in selenium, your thyroid won’t function properly. If your thyroid isn’t working, hair loss is just one of many problems you may be saddled with.
And what about vitamins? Not getting enough omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids—although not technically vitamins—can cause hair loss (on the head and eyebrows) and even changes in hair color. A published literature review suggested that a vitamin D deficiency may also be linked to severe hair loss from alopecia areata, said this article which referenced some studies associating low vitamin D levels with female pattern hair loss.
Some research has shown that B vitamin deficiencies—specifically biotin, folate, niacin, riboflavin and B12 may lead to hair loss.
Can B12 Deficiency Cause Hair Loss?
Let’s talk a little about B12 and hair loss, because there may be connections between the two that you weren’t aware of. One thing we know is that a B12 deficiency impacts—and not in a good way—your red blood cell count. Now here’s another thing, but this one you may not know. Remember earlier when we talked about how iron carries oxygen to your hair follicles? Well, it’s not just iron that does that work. Vitamin B12 also manufactures red blood cells that are oxygen carriers, throughout your body, including to your scalp.
If your scalp is not rich in oxygen, not only will you likely experience hair loss, but your hair follicles may not be able to sustain hair regrowth.
Think about this: vitamin B12 deficiency can result in a host of health issues, including anemia. Among the potential side effects seen with some types of anemia are hair thinning and hair loss. Other conditions with potential connections to a B12 deficiency are nerve damage, depression and dementia—all of which will likely cause you stress. And as we’ve already discussed, stress can be a contributing factor in hair loss.
Now if this whole hair loss situation is making you so worried that you’re ready to pull your hair out, don’t. There is a silver lining here. While not all hair loss is reversible, some of it may be, depending on the cause. If your hair loss is a result of nutrient deficiency, it’s reasonable to expect that by reversing the deficiency, you may reverse the hair loss, or at the very least stop it in its tracks.
B12 Benefits for Hair
There’s another silver lining. If you’re paying attention to your diet (including incorporating supplements as needed), you can generally avoid the nutritional deficiencies that can lead to hair loss—and actually focus on those vitamins, minerals and nutrients that can help with healthy hair growth.
Vitamin B12 is one of those vitamins because it nourishes your hair follicles through production of oxygen-rich red blood cells, which promote healthy hair growth. In turn, satiated hair follicles not only provide fertile ground for growing hair, but vitamin B12 is also believed to strengthen and condition your hair.
But don’t try to self-diagnose a B12 deficiency. There are better ways to determine if you are low or deficient. For example, your doctor can order a blood test to determine your B12 status. Or you can take an at-home vitamin B12 test from OmegaQuant that measures a substance in the urine called methylmalonic acid (MMA), which is a specific indicator of low B12. The more MMA in your urine, the more likely you are to be low in vitamin B12.
If your results determine that your body is lacking in vitamin B12, there are things you can do to increase your B12 intake to reach adequate or optimal B12 levels. And, if the test shows that your vitamin B12 status is sufficient, at least one possible reason for hair loss will have been eliminated. In that case, talk with your doctor about other options to track down the cause of—and find the solution to—hair loss.
Other Nutrients for Hair Growth
Vitamin B12 is not the only vitamin that can contribute to healthy hair. Not surprisingly, some of the suggested vitamins and minerals are those that cause hair fall-out when you’re not getting enough.
This article in Forbes Health touts biotin for, among other functions, its role in keratin production, keratin being a key component of hair. Vitamin D is also mentioned, as are vitamins C and A, and keratin, itself. Iron gets a shout out for its important role in hair growth, given its ability to boost circulation and efficiently move oxygen to cells. Zinc, too, plays a role in cell growth and DNA, both of which are important for healthy hair.
In addition, there are several companies promoting nutrient-based supplements, sometimes with proprietary formulations, for hair growth and the article in Forbes provides a few suggestions to consider.
On the other hand, there is some research that shows that getting too much selenium or vitamins A and E can actually contribute to hair loss. Remember, it’s a balancing act and just one more reason that when you can test your nutrient levels, it’s a good idea to know where you stand.