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Keep your hair on!

Diet, stress and medication have a bigger impact on the quality and quantity of your crop than the hair products used, reports Sanchita Sharma.

delhi Updated: Sep 02, 2007 04:22 IST
Sanchita Sharma

Falling hair is a problem everyone faces at some point of their life, though the reasons for it may vary. Roughly one in two men over 35 years and one in three post-menopausal women lose hair faster than it can grow back because of hormonal reasons, but poor diet and physical and mental stressors also cause temporary hair loss that can force you to run for cover.

Falling facts

Poor diet and nutrient and mineral deficiencies, such as anaemia
Systemic/chronic illness (for example, autoimmune disorder, cancer)
Infection (systemic or local)
Medication exposure (especially chemotherapy) or serious illness within previous three to four months
Psychiatric disorder (for example, psychosis, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder)
Physical stress (for example, surgery, pregnancy, malnutrition) or life-threatening psychological stress
Tight braids or ‘pulled-back’ hairstyle
Signs and symptoms of hormonal abnormalities such as —
Hirsutism
Amenorrhoea
Infertility
Hypothyroidism, other endocrine disorders

Normally, everyone loses some hair each day, but these are replaced. You should start worrying if you get up in the morning and find hair on your pillow. “Hair fall is an indication of your health status and excess fall should be dealt with at once to avoid permanent damage. The most common causes are poor diets, stress, dandruff, hormonal changes, thyroid abnormalities, anaemia and repeated chemical treatment of hair that make it dry and brittle,” says dermatologist Dr Shehla Agarwal.

Unlike men who tend to lose a lot of hair in particular areas such as the temple and crown, women thin diffusely. The male hormone testosterone also spells trouble for women’s manes. All women have some amount of testosterone in their bodies, but some are genetically predisposed to be more sensitive to its derivative, the hormone dihydro-testosterone. This sensitivity causes androgenetic alopecia, a condition that makes hair fall out. “While stress or depression does not cause hair loss, it can trigger or intensify existing androgenetic alopecia,” says Dr Agarwal.

Hair loss can be caused by some medicines — cancer drugs, blood thinners, antidepressants and high blood pressure medications, as well as birth control pills and high doses of vitamin A — that poison the hair follicle. “Drug interactions, inadequate protein or iron in the diet, trauma caused by surgery, illness, anaemia, childbirth or work stress can also cause hair loss. In these cases, however, the lost hair grow back when the cause of the problem is treated,” says nutritionist Ishi Khosla.

Hair myths

Trimming makes hair grow faster
Hair grows half-an-inch per month and its growth rate depends on diet and hormones. Trimming doesn’t boost growth, it just eliminates split ends. Cosmetic products also don’t make hair grow thicker and faster.

Stress makes you bald
Everyone loses 100 to 120 strands per day. Losing more when you’re really stressed is normal, but the lost hair grow back.

If you take out one gray hair, two will sprout in its place
It doesn’t happen. All plucking does is damage the roots, causing infection or leaving a scar.

Split ends can be repaired with hair products
Once they’re split, the only thing you can do then is cut them off. A product containing silicone or beeswax can seal ends together, making the hair looks softer, but the effect is temporary.

Colouring makes hair fall
Frequent colouring can damage the texture of the hair, especially if the colours contain ammonia or peroxide. As far as possible, go for semi-permanent dyes and colours as infrequently as you can.

Apart from taking iron and multivitamin supplementation for anaemia, ensure your diet has adequate protein by eating fish, low-fat milk and pulses each day. Taking aminoacid supplements like Selltoc AC once a day for 15 days and repeating the dose every three months also helps restore hair health.

To get rid of dandruff, wash the scalp with a normal shampoo on alternate days and once a week with an anti-dandruff shampoo such as Arcolane. Don’t use medicated shampoo for regular cleaning. Also, don’t rub and comb wet hair. To dry hair, soak it with a towel.

When everything else fails, hair transplant — where hair follicles from the back of the head are moved to the bald patch — is an option, but it doesn’t work for generalised thinning.

The only medicine approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat female-pattern baldness is minoxidil, which is applied on the scalp. “Minoxidil has to be applied every day for life. The effect lasts as long as the drug is used as it is a vasodilator that increases blood supply to the follicle and stimulates hair growth,” says Dr Agarwal. It comes in strengths of 2 per cent (recommended for women) and 5 per cent for men. Another drug — finasteride — is taken orally to stimulate hair growth but it has FDA approval for use only in men.