1. The thyroid is a small gland located in the front of the neck just below the voice box. It plays an important role in regulating the body’s metabolism through the release of various hormones. Hypothyroidism is an underproduction of certain hormones and is the most common cause of patchy hair loss known as alopecia areata (which can affect the whole body and not just the head). Hypothyroidism itself is caused by birth abnormalities, autoimmune diseases or surgery involving the removal of the thyroid.
2. If you have diabetes or have to deal with arthritis, you’ve already been dealing with autoimmune diseases that arise when the body’s own immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys healthy body tissue.
When the body’s immune system attacks hair follicles or other cells or tissues important to hair growth and maintenance, it can result in hair loss of various kinds including cicatricial alopecia (a form of permanent hair loss) and telogen effluvium (which occurs when hair’s growth cycle is disrupted).
3. Although a number of infections can lead to hair loss, probably the most common infection that affects the scalp and hair is ringworm, but don’t let the name fool you, ringworm is actually caused by a fungus.
Tinea capitis, as it’s more scientifically known, is caused by mold-like fungi called dermatophytes that thrive in warm, moist conditions and typically arise due to poor hygiene. While it affects mostly children, it can be caught at any age is highly contagious!
4. Cancer cells typically divide and grow faster than the body’s healthy cells. This is what allows chemotherapy to be so effective in stopping cancer, by targeting cells that grow rapidly. Unfortunately, there are other cells in the body that grow rapidly as well — like those in hair follicles! While there are cancer myths out there, experiencing near-total hair loss after chemotherapy isn’t one of them.
The loss could be gradual or dramatic, depending on the type of drug, but the end result is usually the same. Thankfully, the hair usually grows back!
5. Most of the human population is well aware that chemotherapy drugs can lead to hair loss, but there are, in fact, dozens of other drugs that might cause hair to fall out. These include anti-thyroid medications, hormonal therapies (like birth control), anti-convulsants (for epilepsy), anti-coagulants, beta-blockers and many others.
These medications tend to cause telogen effluvium, a rapid shedding of the hair which arises when a large number of hairs suddenly shift from a growth phase (known as anagen) to a resting phase (known as telogen) and then fall out when new hairs begin to grow.
6. Whether it’s because of a crash diet, general malnutrition or some genetic or biological defect, deficiencies in certain nutrients can cause hair loss. Probably the most common deficiency thought to contribute to hair loss is iron. Being severely low in iron can lead to iron-deficiency anemia, a condition that causes the body not to have enough red blood cells.
Red blood cells are important because they carry oxygen to nearly every cell in the body, helping those cells maintain normal function. Deficiencies in other nutrients — such as vitamin B (specifically B12) and protein — are thought to contribute to hair loss as well.
7. Severe physical stress (like surgery) or severe psychological stress (like a death in the family) can have strange effects on the body. Severe stress typically sends the body into a state of shock, flooding it with various hormones and metabolites.
This may lead to telogen effluvium, a shedding of the hair that we mentioned above. While the effects of acute stress on hair are well-understood, what isn’t as clear is how chronic or long-term stress affects hair loss.
In my personal case stress, I believe, has played a major part in my hair loss, or more specifically the speeding up of the process.
8. Despite all the different causes of hair loss, the leading cause is one that we can’t do much about. Male pattern baldness, medically known as androgenetic alopecia, refers to hair thinning in an “M-shaped” pattern that is typically mentioned when men talk about balding.
Over time, the hair follicles will change and shrink leading to thinning hair. While many treatments are available, they aren’t guaranteed to work and most only slow progression (although some can lead to hair regrowth) and are not permanent solutions for hair loss. In the end, we’re all victims of our genes — and that’s something that will never change, along with the last resort of embracing your baldness.