Menopause is one of the women’s most feared enemies that often wreak havoc on the volume, strength, and condition of the hair. Because the menstrual cycle ceases due to the decrease in some particular ovarian hormones like estrogen and progesterone, postmenopausal women often face the so-called “midlife hair crisis.” Sadly, thinning hair is a typical result of menopause since one of estrogen and progesterone’s roles is to support hair growth. But the good news is that there’s an array of treatments and products you can use to mitigate the effects of menopausal hair loss and maintain thicker and healthy strands.
How menopause affects your hair
Your body has different hormones that support various body activities. Of these, estrogen and progesterone are the ones that contribute to hair growth. During menopause, these hormone levels start declining, and as a result, hair becomes thin and fragile. It’s believed that among postmenopausal women, about two-thirds suffer from female pattern hair loss, as Harvard Health Publishing suggests. Dr. Aarti Narayan Denning, an aesthetic doctor for Hormonal Health, points out the same: “hair loss during menopause is the result of lowered production of estrogen and progesterone. These hormones help hair grow faster and stay on the head for longer periods. When the levels of estrogen and progesterone drop, hair grows slower and becomes much thinner.”
Besides hormonal disturbance, other factors can contribute to hair loss during menopause — for example, genetics, stress, high body index, aging, and other health conditions like thyroid issues. Among all, nutritional deficiencies seem to have the biggest impact on hair quality, weakening the strands and slowing the growth process.
Is hair loss during menopause treatable?
Yes, by taking care of your diet, applying targeted treatments, increasing your physical activity, and taking supplements for hormonal changes, you can reverse menopausal hair loss and restore hair thickness.
Minoxidil is the only treatment approved by the FDA for androgenetic alopecia (aka pattern hair loss), and to this day, it remains one of the best options to reduce menopausal hair loss. It’s available for topical application in 2% and 5% preparations and can also be taken orally in doses of 0.25 and 2 mg. As a vasodilator, minoxidil opens the blood vessels on the applied area, stimulating blood flow and increasing nourishment delivery in the scalp. It also encourages hair follicles to enter the anagen stage, which is the phase where hair is actively growing.
Healthy diet and supplements
According to a 2016 study published in the Journal of Menopause Review, the following will help reduce thinning hair during menopause:
- Proteins: Proteins are essential for healthy hair growth since the amino acids in proteins nourish follicles and stimulate hair production. During menopause, you should eat more proteins, about 0.45–0.55 grams of protein per pound of your body weight. Foods like cheese, yogurt, fish, meat, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, sesame, and peanuts are the best to increase your intake of proteins. Additionally, 2 or 3 eggs per week are recommended as a source of amino acids.
- Fats: Healthy fats like omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are also required for normal hair growth, and their deficiencies are known to cause a decrease in hair hydration. For this reason, fish oil, flax seeds, walnuts, eggs, olive oil, and avocado should be a part of your daily diet.
- Carbohydrates: You need a reasonable amount of carbohydrates to reduce thinning hair. It’s noteworthy that your diet must be complex-carb-rich but with a low glycemic index. The best sources of carbohydrates are full grain bread, grits, rice, whole meal pasta, vegetables, and fruit with a low glycemic load.
- Vitamin C: The presence of vitamin C ensures that your body absorbs iron and other nutrients needed for hair growth. Since it’s an antioxidant, vitamin C also helps offset cellular damage to the hair follicles. Vegetables (green parsley leaves, kale, horseradish, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, and savoy) and fruits (lemon, black currants, strawberries, wild strawberries, kiwi, red currants, and citrus fruit) are some of the richest sources of vitamin C.
- Folates: Folate, or folic acid, is a type of vitamin B naturally found in leafy vegetables and fruits. Its role is to increase the number of red blood cells in the body to facilitate the transport of oxygen to hair follicles. It also plays a crucial role in transforming carbohydrates into energy and supporting the rebuilding mechanism of the hair cells. According to studies, the source of folate in women’s diet should be kale, brussels sprouts, green peas, dry peas, white beans, asparagus, beets, and eggs.
- Vitamin B5: This vitamin not only prevents premature greying of hair but also has a major role in moisturizing and protecting hair strands. Researchers suggest that women in their 50s should eat a diet rich in vitamin B5, like cauliflower, mushrooms, soya beans, eggs, whole grains, milk, beans, and green leafy vegetables to reduce the impact of menopause on hair quality.
- Vitamin B7: The most famous vitamin, also known as biotin, is one of the best supplements for hair growth because it supports fat metabolism. A deficiency of biotin is also often linked to thinning hair. You can find biotin in foods such as eggs, nuts, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, whole grains, and cereals.
- Niacin: Niacin is a huge contributing factor in maintaining hair in its peak condition since it enhances blood circulation and facilitates oxygen and nutrient delivery to the follicles. The main sources of niacin include meat, whole wheat grains, vegetables, seeds, milk, green leafy vegetables, fish, peanuts, and yeast.
- Vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin that supports the formation of red blood cells in the body, being responsible for thicker and stronger hair shafts. Since menopause can lead to vitamin B12 deficiency, it’s important to supply its levels by consuming foods such as meats, seafood, and eggs.
- Vitamin A: Vitamin A targets cell regeneration, protects hair from breakage, and is responsible for moisturizing the scalp. Cheese, eggs, milk, and yogurt are all good sources of vitamin A. Also, you can get this vitamin by including beta-carotene-rich sources in your diet (the body will convert it to retinol) — spinach, carrots, sweet potatoes, red peppers, mango, papaya, and apricots.
- Minerals: The levels of minerals like zinc, iron, copper, selenium, silicon, magnesium, and calcium are often depleted with menopause, leading to thinning and fragile hair. Although minerals can’t directly stimulate hair growth, a deficiency of these may weaken the hair and make it more prone to breakage.
Low-level laser treatment
Aside from topical products and supplements, low-level laser therapy (LLLT) is one of the best treatments to manage hair loss during menopause. The treatment uses the heat and energy produced by low-level lasers to penetrate the scalp and trigger biochemical changes within body cells to encourage hair growth. Precisely, it nourishes the scalp, boosts blood flow, and reactivates the dormant follicles by shifting them from the resting phase to the growing stage. You can follow low-level laser treatment in the comfort of your own home, without medical attention, by using a laser hair growth device for home use. Most devices are cleared by the FDA for being safe and effective, and the results are usually seen within 4-6 weeks.
Microneedling is also often recommended as a treatment for postmenopausal hair loss because it boosts collagen and stem cell production. There’s plenty of evidence that supports its benefits in addressing all major forms of alopecia, including androgenetic alopecia and alopecia areata. During a recent study from 2022, microneedling increased the total hair count more than 5% minoxidil.
A decrease in estrogen and progesterone can also trigger an increase in the production of androgens (male hormones) in menopausal women. Most forms of hair loss are caused by high levels of androgens, specifically dihydrotestosterone (DHT). Dihydrotestosterone, which is converted from testosterone by a particular enzyme called 5-alpha reductase, is known to interfere with and block the hair growth cycle by shrinking follicles and shortening the growing phase.
If abnormal levels of androgens cause your condition, it’s best to address it with DHT blockers. These are basically compounds that block the conversion of testosterone to DHT by inhibiting the activity of 5-alpha reductase. Common DHT-blocking treatments include finasteride, saw palmetto, vitamin C, zinc, pumpkin seed oil, green tea, and red clover extract.
Hormone replacement treatments
If your condition is caused by hormone imbalance, your doctor might suggest you a hormone replacement treatment. It’s basically medication that contains female hormones to replace and mimic the estrogen that is lost during the menopausal transition. This treatment usually includes birth control pills and other forms of medicines that treat low estrogen and progesterone levels (usually in the form of vaginal creams, rings, skin patches, gels, and sprays.)
- Manage stress level. It’s known that elevated stress hormones negatively affect hair follicle stem cells and lead to hair shedding over time.
- The appearance of menopausal hair loss is often improved by cosmetic practices, like reducing the use of straighteners, hair dryers, and other heating tools. You can also add hair-thickening shampoos and hair growth serums to your routine.
- Resort to hair transplant only as a last measure.
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