I wish this was my hair but I have never been blessed with a bountiful head of luscious locks – I have my dad to thank for that, who still insists on combing the 3 remaining hairs on the left side of his head, over to the right side of his head :-0
And, having suffered from chronic telogen effluvium (TE) or diffuse hair loss for the past 11 years or so, which I can attribute to some fairly major medical and non medical events in my life, I’m well aware that the sudden loss of hair or even a slow progressive thinning of the hair can be a distressing and often quite frightening time in anyone’s life.

Hair growth cycle and possible causes of hair loss…

The hair growth cycle consists of three distinct stages – anagen, catagen and telogen.
Your hair grows around half an inch a month, and faster in the summer than in winter. The growth phase, or anagen phase, lasts an average of 3-5 years, so a full-length hair averages 18 to 30 inches. The anagen phase is generally longer in Asians, and can last as much as 7 years with hair being able to grow to 1 metre.
At the end of the anagen phase, your hair enters the catagen phase. A short transitional phase that lasts approximately 10 days.
Lastly, your hair enters the telogen phase, a resting phase when your hair is released and falls out. The follicle then remains inactive for 3 months and the whole process is repeated. Each hair follicle is independent and goes through the growth cycle at different times, otherwise all your hair would fall out at once. Instead, you only shed a certain number of hairs a day – up to 80 hairs on a healthy head of hair.

TE is a problem that mostly affects women, but can also appear in men, and should not be confused with other types of hair loss such as androgenic alopecia (AGA) or female pattern hair loss, alopecia areata, or traction alopecia.
As well as hereditary factors, hormonal changes, and the ageing process, other factors that can result in hair loss include poor circulation, acute illness, surgery, radiation exposure, skin disease, sudden weight loss, iron deficiency, diabetes, thyroid disease, certain medications, poor diet and other nutrient deficiencies.
Another common trigger of persistent hair loss is stress.
Whatever the trigger, it’s imperative that you seek a professional diagnosis in order to ascertain and treat the underlying cause of your TE prior to commencing any treatment program.

So what can you do?
I have sought the assistance of various professionals over the years with varying degrees of success – there’s a limit to what you can do if you’re a stress monkey and stressful situations seem to follow me around like a bad smell!
However, all is not lost, because as well as trying to limit the amount of stress you expose yourself to, there are a number of ways of addressing this all too common problem.
From a nutritional perspective there are some essential minerals and amino acids that have a natural affinity to the hair and can promote growth of strong, healthy hair.
As a general rule the B vitamins combined with extra biotin support healthy skin, hair and nails. Zinc deficiency should also be ruled out as zinc stimulates hair growth by enhancing immune function. The essential fatty acids, omega 3 and omega 6 are also nearly always required for improving hair texture and preventing dry brittle hair. These are usually taken in supplement form as evening primrose oil or in the diet through oily fish and flaxseed oil.
Eating foods rich in sulphur and biotin is also beneficial. Sulphur rich foods include broccoli, bok choy, cabbage, eggs, soybeans and wheat germ, but they may not make you very popular, if you know what I mean… Biotin rich foods include brown rice, green peas, lentils, oats, brewers yeast, sunflower seeds and walnuts. Foods containing raw eggs should be avoided, as not only are they a salmonella risk, but they are high in avidin, a protein that binds biotin and prevents it being absorbed.
If you have a low ferritin level (that’s your body’s store of iron), then iron supplementation may be advised – according to the experts, ferritin levels should be above 80ug/L for optimum hair growth.
Finally, silica and calcium fluoride are often required, and whilst not a great deal of research has been conducted into the efficacy of silica, it has been credited with promoting growth, and improving the strength and shine of hair, as well as being beneficial for nail and skin health too. Horsetail tea (it’s a herb and not made from a real horse’s tail) is a very good source of silica, as well as leafy green veg, wholegrains, onions and cherries.

My treatment…
The choice of treatments obviously depends on the cause of the initial loss of hair, but having determined that some digestive issues were preventing me from absorbing essential nutrients such as iron and zinc (which I discovered through asking for some blood tests through my GP), I sought the advice of a nutritional therapist. Pauline initially focused on addressing my gut issues – a healthy gut is key to a healthy body, and prescribed some probiotics (both over the counter and homemade), aloe vera juice, more protein, and an avoidance of FODMAPS (high fermenting foods). At the same time as seeing Pauline, I also sought the advice of a trichologist. Fortunately, they were both synergistic in their approach to treatment and consulted with one another on the best course of action in terms of the supplements that were prescribed.

I commenced a course of Lamberts Florisene and Lamberts Maxi Hair, as well as vitamin D3 drops, high strength fish oil, Vitamin C and Zinc.
I have also kept regular appointments with the trichologist, who provides scalp stimulating treatments, and tea tree shampoo and conditioner, and a hair tonic for me to use at home, which act as stimulants to maintain a healthy scalp and promote hair growth. Unfortunately, my hair seems to have gone into longer and more frequent periods of the telogen or shedding stage, and it may never fully recover. These treatments are the best of what’s available to me at present, but a road which I could possibly venture down in the future is the use of Minoxodil; a synthetic drug which is used as a vasodilator in the treatment of hypertension, and is also used in lotions to promote hair growth (known as Regaine).

Finally, scalp massage and tapping are also helpful, as is lying with your head over the end of the bed for 15 minutes a day to allow blood to reach the scalp. Massage increases circulation to the scalp and some oils are known to help hair growth and improve texture and volume. Sesame oil, coconut oil and amla oil are allegedly fantastic for this purpose. You may find that leaving one, or a combination of these oils, on the scalp overnight is extremely valuable.

I’ll be writing more about digestive issues, FODMAPS and, home made probiotics in future posts; and will also be reviewing some hair care products that are available for the management of thin and wispy hair…