Despite it being a natural part of life, the changes that occur during menopause can be confronting and uncomfortable – especially when those changes affect aspects of your physical appearance such as your hair.
Why is our hair so important to us?
Even if they’re not consciously aware of it, many women’s sense of identity is closely woven around their appearance, and the hair plays a large part in that, contributing to your self-image, self-confidence and sense of femininity.
What happens to your hair during menopause?
Many women experience changes to the hair on the scalp, face and body during and after menopause.
The results of a British study of post-menopausal women ranging in age from 45-94 years old suggest that more than 40% of women in this age group experience some degree of hair loss.
For the majority (around a quarter of the study participants) the hair became sparser in a generalised fashion affecting all parts of the scalp. A smaller proportion (around 9%) experienced hair loss predominantly at the front and/or top of the scalp.
Other changes that tend to occur after menopause include:
- The hair on your scalp losing its pigment and becoming grey
- The transformation of scalp hairs from the relatively thick strands known as terminal hairs into thinner, finer hairs, called vellus hairs
- On the other hand, some of the fine vellus hairs on other parts of your body may be converted into terminal hairs, leading some of the previously fine and unnoticeable hairs on your chin and upper lip to become coarser and more noticeable.
What causes hair loss in menopause?
Prior to menopause, women have high levels of female hormones such as oestrogen and progesterone, and relatively low levels of male hormones (which are naturally present in the female body, and are collectively referred to as androgens).
Amongst their other functions in the body, androgens play a role in the functioning of the hair follicle and the normal hair growth cycle in which individual strands of hair move through phases of growth (anagen phase), transition (catagen) and being shed (telogen).
During menopause, levels of female hormones rapidly decline, allowing the effects of the androgens to become more dominant, resulting in the characteristic changes to the hairs on the scalp, upper lip and chin area described above.
Is menopausal hair loss genetic?
In women who are genetically susceptible, the hair follicles may become particularly sensitive to a form of testosterone called dihydrotestosterone (DHT), and levels of an enzyme called 5-alpha-reductase (which acts on regular testosterone to convert it to DHT) may rise.
As a result, pattern hair loss may also occur (or worsen if it is already present), causing the scalp hair to become progressively thinner, usually over a period of years.
Pattern hair loss in women
In women, pattern hair loss typically presents as a generalised thinning of the hair across the top and central parts of the scalp, but with little or no change to the hair near the hairline at the front, rear and sides.
In the majority of cases, these issues can be attributed to an individual’s genetic susceptibility to the effects of the androgens on the hair follicles, rather than to an excess of male hormones.
However, when changes to the hair more closely resemble those typically seen in men (for example a receding hairline or the appearance of excessive amounts of facial hair), investigations are required to rule out the presence of serious hormonal imbalance.
The traditional Chinese view of hair loss in menopause
In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), changes to the volume, colour and condition of the hair are never considered in isolation, but always within the context of any other symptoms that may be occurring at the same time.
During menopause, those symptoms often include issues such as:
- Irregular menstrual periods
- Hot flushes, night sweats and other forms of spontaneous sweating
- Fatigue and exhaustion
- Difficulty concentrating and remembering things
- Lowered libido and sexual vitality
- Irritability and mood changes
- Declining eyesight
- Light-headedness and dizziness
Taken together, these types of symptoms - all of which are common in menopause - may be indicative of low Kidney energy.
What do the kidneys have to do with the hair?
From a medical perspective, the main functions of the kidneys are to filter the blood and maintain the body’s fluid balance.
However, in TCM, the Kidney organ-meridian system (which is always written with an upper-case K to distinguish it from the Western understanding of the kidneys) is regarded as having a broad range of additional functions, including governing all aspects of reproductive health (including menopause) and acting as a reservoir for a special form of energy (Qi) called Jing (also known as essence or Kidney energy).
Jing is required for a wide range of physiological activities in the body, including governing the growth of the hair.
However, the body’s reserves of Jing decline with age, and from mid-life onwards, we become increasingly vulnerable to depletion – especially if we’ve led high-stress lifestyles (e.g. burning the candle at both ends or looking after the demands of children or ageing parents), had multiple pregnancies, or haven’t maintained an adequate fluid consumption.
According to this philosophy, changes to the thickness, volume, condition and colour of the hair are just a few of the consequences that may arise when the Kidney organ-meridian system isn’t functioning optimally, and/or Jing becomes depleted.
Learn more about the traditional Chinese approach to hair loss on this page.
Herbs to support hair loss in menopause
Fallopia promotes healthy hair
The Chinese herb Fallopia is regarded as an anti-ageing remedy that strengthens and replenishes Kidney energy, and among other uses, has traditionally been taken to promote the healthy growth and colour of the hair.
It is believed to work by reactivating hair follicles that are in the resting (telogen) phase of the hair growth cycle and promoting their transition into the growth (anagen) phase.
Additionally, it may help increase hair follicle pigment (melanin) to promote normal hair colour and help inhibit premature greying, and may act on 5-alpha-reductase to reduce the effects of DHT on the hair follicles.
As a result, Fallopia may aid the management of many types of hair issues, including menopausal hair thinning, female pattern hair loss and hair loss from unknown causes.
We recommend taking Fallopia as our exclusive extract Phytofol® (which has been carefully developed to optimise the herb’s therapeutic benefits), usually in combination with other Chinese herbs that strengthen the Kidney organ-meridian, replenish the Jing and invigorate the Blood supply to the scalp and hair follicles.
Chinese herbs to support hormonal balance in menopause
Herbs that have traditionally been used to restore and replenish the Jing during menopause by balancing the opposing forces of Yin and Yang include Anamarrhena, Horny Goat Weed, Phellodendron and Morinda.
They're often taken alongside other herbs that aid the management of menopause, such as Kudzu (a natural source of phytoestrogens) and Dong Quai, which may help to relieve hot flushes, fatigue, mild anxiety and irritability and menstrual irregularity.
Zinc and other minerals that help maintain hair health
Many nutrients are required for the health of the hair. For example, silica, zinc, manganese, copper, selenium and iodine are all involved in helping to maintain the hair’s general condition, including its thickness, strength, lustre and colour.
Zinc may be particularly important for women affected by pattern hair loss as it helps inhibit the enzyme 5-alpha-reductase, with knock-on benefits for reducing the effects of DHT on the hair follicles.
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