Excessive hair fall leads to hair thinning; at some point in life, many people experience this problem. Before starting the discussion on hair thinning I would like to mention some basic terms related to hair growth and hair fall.
Except for palms of our hands and soles of our feet, hair grows on every external surface of our body. But perhaps hair on the scalp is most liked and most noticeable irrespective of gender.
What is hair?
In the outer layer of skin, there are small anatomical sacs known as follicles. These follicles produce a type of protein known as keratin. Our hairs are made of these keratins. Newly produced keratins push older dead keratins outwards and hence our hairs are strings of dead keratin cells. Our hair bulb is located at the bottom of the follicle. You can note another point that our hair grows about six inches a year.
How many hairs we have?
It’s not easy to answer; average adults have 100,000 to 150,000 hairs on their scalp.
How much hair loss is normal and will not cause hair thinning?
Loosing around 100 hairs is normal, so losing hair doesn’t necessarily a concern for us.
What is alopecia?
You will find the word “alopecia” in hair thinning related resources a lot. Alopecia is simply a general medical term for hair loss. So when someone is talking about alopecia s/he is talking about hair loss.
The life cycle of follicles and hairs
As I mentioned above loosing around 100 hairs a day is normal (mostly from washing and brushing), so the question is, how it’s managed. Our scalp follicles have a life cycle. At any time, 90% of our hairs are at the growing stage. If it was 100% we would see a bald period when we would be waiting for newly grown hairs. Luckily, that’s not the case.
The follicle life cycle has three different stages:
- Anagen: Its active growth stage of hair, which lasts two to six years.
- Catagen: Its transitional growth stage and lasts two to three weeks.
- Telogen: At this stage hair growth stops and follicles retract from the surface of the scalp. It is also known as the resting phase and hair lasts for two to three months.
After the telogen phase, hair starts to fall and a new anagen phase began. I want to remind you of the fact I mentioned above, at any time 90% of our hairs are at the growth stage and 10% is at the expelling stage. This is why we never notice the process, except normal hair fall. Our hair follicles go through 25-30 cycles during our lifetime.
Hopefully from the discussions above, it’s clear what is hair thinning. It’s only excessive hair loss or alopecia.
Common causes and prevention of hair thinning
Protein deficiency: I mentioned above that our hair is made of a type of protein called keratin. If we don’t get enough protein our body starts rationing and shuts down hair growth. So you need to make sure that you are taking enough protein from your diet. Fish, egg, milk, and meat are good sources of protein; vegetarians have to go for alternative sources.
Excessive vitamin A: You will always hear that vitamins and minerals are important for hair growth. But be careful, excessive vitamin A can cause hair loss.
Physical stress: Physical trauma like accident, illness or surgery can cause hair thinning. Physical trauma may affect the follicle cycle and push more hair to the shedding phase. Sometimes it is more noticeable after the trauma. Usually, hair starts growing normally when the body recovers.
Pregnancy: Usually this type of hair loss is seen after birth of baby because giving birth of a baby is itself a physical trauma. If you are experiencing pregnancy-related hair thinning I can assure you that there is nothing to worry. Your hair will start to grow normally after one or two months.
Emotional stress: Like physical stress, emotional stresses such as the death of a loved one, divorce, or any other mental stress can cause hair thinning.
Male pattern baldness: Because of the genetic and male sex hormonal effects by the age of 60 more than 30% of men experience hair loss. Some medications are available and hair transplant is another option.
Female pattern baldness: If you are a woman form a family where women lose hair at a certain age then there are possibilities that you will also suffer from it. Some medications are available to treat this.
Anemia: Anemia because of iron deficiency is common among women and it may be one of the causes of hair thinning. Only iron supplements can stop hair loss in this case.
Underactive thyroid gland: The thyroid gland is a gland in our neck. It produces a hormone necessary for metabolism. So, the underactive thyroid gland may cause many problems including hair thinning. It is determined by the doctor after performing clinical tests and synthetic medication may be given which may stop hair loss.
Autoimmune related hair thinning: Our immune system is designed to fight against foreign bodies. But sometimes it starts to attack ourselves. In autoimmune-related hair thinning our immune system sees hair as foreign body and attacks. Doctors use some drugs including steroid injections to treat the problem.