Everyone loses hair routinely, shedding around 100 strands of hair daily for the average person. Normally these hairs regrow with time, but medical conditions like thyroid problems can stymy proper hair growth and lead to thinning, a receding hair line, a wider part, and eventually balding.
The good news: in many cases, hair loss resulting from thyroid disorders is treatable.
What Does The Thyroid Do?
The thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland located in the front of your neck just below the larynx. The gland forms part of your endocrine system, which produces hormones that help control vital body functions. Thyroxine (known as T4) and triiodothyronine (known as T3) are the two primary hormones that the thyroid gland produces.
T4 and T3 are responsible for cell metabolism. When your thyroid is in good condition, it maintains the appropriate balance of hormones to regulate energy use and to keep cells everywhere functioning properly. Your thyroid is constantly producing more hormones as necessary. This is managed by the pituitary gland, which is located in the brain and controls the amount of thyroid hormones circulating in your body.
When your thyroid isn't working correctly, it can affect your a host of systems. If your body produces too much thyroid hormone, it can result in a condition known as hyperthyroidism. When there are too few thyroid hormones, the condition is known as hypothyroidism.
Thyroid and Hair Loss Issues
Prolonged hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism can lead to hair loss. People lose some hair regularly, and it typically regrows in cycles such that most of the head on your head is growing at any given time.
However, when T4 and T3 are irregular, this normal regrowth cycle can be interrupted. Your hair starts thinning over time, without replacement.
To understand how these two conditions cause hair loss, it helps to understand the hair growth cycle.
New hairs start in the hair follicle under your scalp during the anagen phase of the growth cycle. During this 5-7 years-long phase, the blood vessels on your scalp nourish the roots, produce more cells, and actively add to the base of the hair, pushing the hair out as cells multiply and the hair “grows,” or gets longer. The hair pushes up through the skin, passing through oil glands that keep it shiny and soft.
The catagen phase comes next, when the root of the hair detaches and active cell additions stop. During this roughly week-long phase, the hair follicle quits actively making the hair, blood supply disconnects from the base, and the hair prepares to be shed.
Finally, during the telogen phase, the follicle pushes the now-finished hair up and out of the follicle, resulting in a shed hair. During this time, it can actually appear that the hair is still growing because it’s getting longer, but this is a result of the hair being pushed up and out of the follicle, not actually through new protein addition at the base of the hair. The hair follicle, now rid of its hair, goes into a resting period that can last a few months.
As mentioned above, disruption of T3 and T4 hormones affects various physiological processes, including the growth of hair at the root. As a result, the hair may fall out early and may not be replaced, leading to thinning across the scalp. This could affect body hair, eyelashes, and eyebrows as well.
When there is too much or insufficient thyroid hormone, this can lead to "telogen effluvium." Telogen effluvium is a disorder that causes the hair follicle to go into the resting phase early, causing the growth of hair to cease. As a result, scalp hair does not grow continuously.
Alopecia areata, lupus erythematosus, and polycystic ovary syndrome are some of the autoimmune illnesses often linked to thyroid problems as well, which may cause hair loss.
Apart from these, certain medications used for thyroid and hair loss conditions may also cause hair thinning. It can be hard to determine if your hair loss results from a thyroid condition or the medications, and you may need a specialists’ help to determine best steps for treatment.
Common Symptoms of Thyroid-Related Hair Loss
Hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism cause hair loss to develop slowly. Most likely, you won't notice bald spots or patches. Instead, your hair gets thinner all over. It's normal to lose between 50 and 100 strands every day as part of the hair growth cycle. However, when your hair is coming out in handfuls, it could be a sign of telogen effluvium. It is easily noticeable on the scalp, but it can affect hair on other parts of your body too.
It’s important to note that hair loss is not the only sign of underactive and overactive thyroid hormones. Other symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
• Tiredness • Feeling cold • Unusual weight loss • Constipation • Forgetfulness • Mood swings
Common hyperthyroidism symptoms are: • Fast heart rate • Sleeping disorders • Nervousness • Irritability • Muscle weakness • Increased sweating • Brittle hair • Hand tremors
Women with overactive and underactive thyroids may have abnormal menstrual patterns as well.
Note that hyperthyroid and hypothyroid symptoms, including hair loss, are nonspecific and might be a result of other conditions. It’s important to consult a doctor and have your thyroid levels checked before diagnosis.
Why Women Are More Prone to Thyroid Issues
According to the American Thyroid Association, women are five times more likely to develop thyroid problems than men. 1 in 8 women will develop thyroid issues in their lifetime. Scientists have yet to understand why women are more susceptible to thyroid problems than men.
Unfortunately, women suffer from autoimmune illnesses at a higher rate than men as well, many of which also impact the thyroid and thyroid hormones. Though the reasons for this are not yet known, they are linked to environmental, genetic, and lifestyle factors.
If your family has a history of thyroid and hair loss problems, you likely have a higher chance of developing the problem yourself. Environmental and lifestyle factors like regular exercise, iodine intake, adequate sleep, and avoiding harmful substances contribute to proper function of the thyroid gland.
Women may also experience hormonal imbalances after childbirth, leading to postpartum thyroiditis, a condition affecting 5 to 9% of women.
How to Fight Thyroid-Related Hair Loss
1. Medical treatment
Working with a doctor will help keep your condition under control with medication that may also help with hair regrowth. Possible medications for thyroid conditions include:
Apart from medication, surgery is another possible treatment that involves removing all or some of the thyroid. Doctors may also recommend radiation therapy where necessary, which again destroys some portion of the thyroid gland, reducing the amount of hormones the gland produces.
2. Home remedies and other natural treatments
Even without a thyroid condition, nutritional deficiencies can cause hair loss. The following are all necessary for proper hair growth:
• Zinc • Copper • Vitamin C, A, and E • Vitamin B7 and B complex • Coenzyme Q10
Multivitamin supplements may be helpful if you’re concerned about vitamin deficiencies, a variety of which are available specifically to support proper hair growth and support thyroid function.
Consider Your Diet
Eating well, especially whole foods, vegetables and fruits, is key to good health. Avoid eating processed foods, caffeine, smoking, and alcohol, all of which may cause inflammation and contribute to worse thyroid symptoms.
Eat More Anti-Inflammatory Foods
Anti-inflammatory foods like turmeric and ginger may improve and support the endocrine system, of which the thyroid is part. Supporting the endocrine system may help with thyroid disorders and hair loss symptoms.
Control Iodine Intake
The body uses iodine to produce thyroid hormones, so too much may cause hormonal imbalances. Depending on your situation and condition, a physician may recommend limiting iodine intake.
3. Hair Loss Treatments
Even if your issue is thyroid-specific, hair loss regrowth solutions may be able to help once the thyroid condition is under control.
Minoxidil is an over-the-counter topical medication with well-understood hair regrowth capabilities. For most people, it can help to maintain a thicker head of hair within 3-6 months of beginning treatment, and growth can continue to improve out to 12 months. After that, most men and women find that continued treatment is necessary to maintain a thicker head of hair.
For men, finasteride is another option. This medication is the only FDA-approved oral medication for hair loss, and it’s available only to men. With a once-daily pill, it can help to restore hair and maintain density. It works in over 80% of men who try it, and has been around for two decades.
There are also potent natural formulations, like those from Shapiro MD, that focus on fighting the effects of the hair loss hormone DHT. These include ingredients like saw palmetto berry extract, EGCG from green tea, caffeine, and ketoconazole.
Before trying any thyroid or hair loss treatment, it may be wise to talk with a medical professional. Thyroid conditions don't always cause hair loss, but it’s a common precursor, and many dermatologists will order a thyroid panel for new patients.
If you’re wondering about personalized hair loss treatments, Shapiro MD can help. Our trained providers help you find the right solution, personalized to your situation, and done from the comfort of your own home. Click here to get started with a free consultation.