While it is completely normal for people to shed a certain amount of hair per day, hair loss, or alopecia, is characterized as a medical condition when these hairs do not grow back or when hair growth is significantly reduced. An itchy scalp can often indicate an underlying scalp infection, which might also explain accompanying hair loss. For women, hair loss and itchy scalp can be distressing symptoms associated with menopause, and as a result, can cause stress, which often exacerbates these conditions. Keep reading below to learn more about these conditions and tips on how to manage them.
Hair does thin naturally over time as people age, and in cases of male and female pattern baldness, hair loss is up to a certain point hereditary. However, hair loss can often be linked to hormonal imbalances, particularly for women, as hormone levels decrease as they age and are significantly reduced during and after menopause.
Hormonal imbalances are also an underlying cause of thyroid issues, which can result in hair loss. With a thyroid hormone deficiency (hypothyroidism), hair, skin, and nails can all be affected, becoming dry and brittle, while an excessive production of thyroid hormones (hyperthyroidism) can lead to abrupt hair loss instead.
The conventional treatments for hormone imbalances involve either steroids or hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which carry significant side effects and potential risks. However, there are some natural alternatives, and black cohosh in particular has been shown to help alleviate menopause symptoms and regulate hormone balance. It can be taken in supplement form or as a tea infusion and has been a Native American herbal remedy for centuries. As a topical treatment for the scalp, lavender oil has also been shown to relieve hair loss.
A lack of protein can also cause hair loss, as protein is what stimulates growth and strengthens hair. Meat, dairy, and pulses - such as beans and lentils - all provide excellent sources of protein and should be included in daily dietary requirements. The official recommendation is either one serving of meat or a combination of dairy and beans amounting to four or five servings.
Women over the age of 19 should be ingesting about 46 grams of protein per day, which equates to one portion of meat or a combination of three to four portions of dairy and beans. In addition, foods with a high omega-3 content - such as nuts, seeds, eggs, and oily fish - can help combat symptoms and help support a healthy scalp.
In order to maintain optimum health for both the scalp and hair, a balanced diet should be followed, which includes several portions of fruit and vegetable as well as protein and a variety of grains. Vegetarians and vegans should pay particular attention to the amount of protein they consume every day, as pulses, beans, and vegetables tend to be less protein-dense than meat, fish, or dairy products.
Often, women use many products or devices on their hair that can contribute to or aggravate hair loss and an itchy scalp. Excessive brushing and heated straightening or curling irons can damage hair, making it brittle as well as causing it to thin out. In particular, chemical dyes and the use of harsh substances on the scalp can irritate the skin or cause an allergic reaction, leading to itchiness and dryness. However, any hair loss from these causes should be temporary and easily reversible if the practices are stopped.
- Harvard School of Public Health. (n.d). The Nutrition Source: Protein. Retrieved January 5, 2015, from http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/protein/
- National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. (2007). Lavender. Retrieved January 6, 2015, from http://nccam.nih.gov/health/lavender/ataglance.htm
- National Health Service UK. (2012). Hair Loss. Retrieved January 5, 2015, from http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Hair-loss/Pages/Introduction.aspx
- National Institute of Health. (2011). Hair Loss: Medline Plus Medical Encyclopedia. Retrieved January 5, 2015, from http://vsearch.nlm.nih.gov/vivisimo/cgi-bin/query-meta?v%3afile=viv_yu92qe&server=pvlbsrch10&v:state=root%7Croot-10-10%7C0&
- Shams, T. et al. (2010). Efficacy of black cohosh-containing preparations on menopausal symptoms: a meta-analysis. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, 16(1), 36-44. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20085176