By Dr. Will Cole
No one wants to lose their hair, especially women. When you think about hair loss many people’s first thoughts go to older men beginning to go bald. But sadly, for many women across the world thinning hair and hair loss is a reality that can diminish self-esteem and confidence.
As a leading functional medicine practitioner, I see this very often at my telehealth clinic consulting people around the world. What some may attribute to just getting older is anything but. Often it’s a sign of an underlying health problem that has yet to be addressed. But thankfully, getting to the root cause can help us focus our efforts on ways to stimulate hair regrowth for shining, healthier looking hair.
Underlying Reasons For Hair Loss
During times of stress your body is literally in “fight-or-flight” mode, giving all of it’s precious energy and resources to just keep you going. This can take a toll on every other area of your body, including hair growth. Elevated levels of your stress hormone cortisol can also stunt hair growth. I often see stressful life events be the catalyst for many autoimmune related hair health problems including alopecia.
2. Hormone imbalance
Your hormones are the chemical messengers of the body. When proper hormone levels are thrown out of balance, it can result in decreased hair regrowth and ultimately, less hair on your head. Your thyroid hormone is responsible for helping signal the regrowth of new hair to replenish the hair we lose every day. We naturally shed hair each day, and your thyroid hormones play a role in signaling new hair to replace what we’ve shed.
2. Poor gut health
I have been saying it for years (along with ancient philosopher Hippocrates), all disease begins in the gut. And beauty is no exception. The gut microbiome is responsible for absorption of nutrients essential for optimal hair health and growth including zinc, biotin, and collagen. Gut problems like leaky gut syndrome or SIBO can impact just how much of these essential nutrients you are absorbing.
Functional Medicine Tools For Hair Growth
1. Regular scalp massages
Promoting circulation and blood flow to the scalp can boost hair growth by stimulating hair follicles that can be inhibited due to inflammation. You can massage your scalp with your fingers each night and every time you wash your hair, or purchase a scalp massager.
2. Add in supplements
Vitamin B7, also known as biotin, is responsible for the health of your hair, skin, and nails. Biotin even has the nickname “vitamin H” derived from the German words Haut and Haar which mean skin and hair. In fact, biotin deficiency is linked to thinning hair and hair loss. While you can supplement with a stand-alone biotin supplement, since B vitamins work synergistically to support brain function, methylation, and more, including biotin alongside the rest of the B vitamins in a B-complex vitamin can be the best way to capitalize on its benefits.
This protein helps form our connective tissue, including our skin and cartilage along with healthy nails and hair. It also helps regulate metabolism and our body’s own collagen production. Made up of three amino acids (glycine, proline, and hyroxyproline), each is produced in our body but not at sufficient levels. We require around 15 grams of glycine per day, but most of us only get 3 grams per day from our modern diet, so supplementation can be extremely beneficial for longer, healthier hair.
3. Consider Adaptogens
This herb has been shown to do wonders for thyroid health with one study showing that after just eight weeks of supplementing with ashwagandha had more normal thyroid function. Ashwagandha can also help regulate cortisol, which can make you feel more calm and potentially regulate HPA axis dysfunction (brain-adrenal communication). Research shows significant reduction in cortisol levels and significant reduction in self-reported stress and anxiety symptoms in those taking ashwagandha.
Holy Basil (Tulsi):
One of my favorite adaptogens, and one of most well researched is holy basil or tulsi. One particular study showed how holy basil can be a useful treatment for hair loss problems like alopecia. In the study tulsi promoted more hair growth naturally, compared to the control group which used a medication with many potential negative side effects.
This adaptogen of the sea is a great source of amino acids to help nourish hair, skin, and nails. Ever wonder what gives pearls their strikingly beautiful luminescence? You can thank conchiolin for that. This protein is what promotes healthy collagen production which gives your skin that glowing appearance. In fact, it has similar effects to keratin – a protein found in your skin and hair – to improve cell metabolism, increase circulation, and repair damaged cells. Pearl powder has at least 30 trace minerals, along with silica which is great for supporting hair health and selenium which is very important for healthy thyroid hormones.
This is one of the reasons I developed Holi(youth): The Calming Oceanic Adaptogen with clean beauty line Agent Nateur. We formulated this powder with marine collagen, holy basil and pearl along with nutrient-dense spirulina to promote healthy hair and skin as well as calming stress which, as we've seen, can negatively impact your hair.
4. Restore gut health
I always suggest lab work first to really get a baseline understanding of your individual level of gut dysfunction. Gut permeability tests will give you an idea of whether or not leaky gut syndrome is a factor in your health case or if it is something else like SIBO or bacterial imbalances are to blame. Also, it's important to remember that our gastrointestinal system is around 80% of our immune system, and many hair loss problems are inflammatory (inflammation is a product of the immune system) or autoimmune-inflammatory in nature.
Once you run labs, you can begin to heal your gut through finding out what foods work best for you through an elimination diet like the one I developed in my book, The Inflammation Spectrum along with other gut healing tools such as bone broth, L-glutamine, and slippery elm.
5. A Cyclical Ketotarian Food Plan
Supplements or natural medicines are wonderful tools to target problems like hair loss but you can't supplement your way out of a poor diet. Food comes first. One food medicine tool we use at my functional medicine telehealth clinic is a Cyclical Ketotarian approach. Ketotarian is my made up word (and the name of my first book) for a clean, mostly, plant-based ketogenic diet. For people with hair loss problems I advocate for cycling in and out of ketosis which promote hormone, gut and immune balance, which are all needed for healthy hair.
During a typical week, you would go clean keto, less than 55 grams of net carbs for 3-5 days, experimenting with intermittent fasting (check out my fasting guide if you are interested) as well on these days. Then increase your carbs (with some of the healthy carb-rich foods like fruits, rice, sweet potatoes) to 75 to 155 grams for the remaining days of the week. This Cyclical Ketotarian approach is a great tool to promote metabolic flexibility which in turn promotes healthy, strong hair.