By Kimberly Vaughn, President,
HPI Hair Partners, Nashville, Tennessee
An estimated 80 million Americans suffer from hair loss, while 20 million Americans are estimated to have some type of thyroid disorder. For potentially millions of these people, there is a link between their hair loss and the functioning of their thyroid gland.
Yet, this link is not well-known, even among the medical community. If a physician is aware of it, the complexities of diagnosis are often misunderstood. Additionally, men are more commonly misdiagnosed, as thyroid disease is rarely a consideration for them. Nevertheless, hair loss is one of the first symptoms a client could notice if there is a problem with the thyroid gland.
Despite its small size, the thyroid has a significant effect on many of the body’s organs and systems. It is a butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of the neck right below the Adam’s apple.
Why is it so important? Our thyroid gland is small yet can have a great effect on the metabolic functions of the entire body.
Hashimoto’s disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes hypothyroidism, and Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes hyperthyroidism.
Many people mistakenly think that only hypothyroidism is associated with hair loss, but both thyroid conditions may include hair loss and related symptoms. If the thyroid hormones are too high or too low, the body can lose more hair than it can replace, thus resulting in hair loss, thinning and damage.
With hypothyroidism, there is a normal amount of hair loss, but the new hair growth is slowed so there is a net loss of hair on the head. With hyperthyroidism, the replacement is normal, but the amount of hair loss daily is accelerated. Thus, the net outcome with either condition is less hair.
Besides hair loss, the most common symptoms of hypothyroidism include fatigue, weight gain, cold intolerance, dry skin, joint and muscle pain and depression. Besides hair loss, common hyperthyroidism symptoms include anxiety, heat intolerance, concentration problems and goiter. Trichology clinics should include a deep dive to understand the nature of your client’s hair loss.
Of course, the thyroid is a gland that produces hormones: T1, T2, T3, and T4. Medicine knows little about T1 and T2, but we know that T3 and T4 help oxygen enter our cells, which helps the body produce and use energy. In this way, it plays a vital role in metabolism.
Due to the difficulties in diagnosing thyroid issues and related hair loss, a full blood panel for the thyroid must be considered for each client. These include TSH, Free T4, Free T3, Reverse T3, Thyroid antibodies, Sex Hormone Binding Globulin, Total T4 and Total T3
Due to insurance issues or perhaps lack of knowledge, doctors may only run tests for TSH and Free T3. These are not enough to get a full picture of the thyroid’s function and whether hair loss can be attributed to it. The numbers for each of these markers must be evaluated together. Sometimes, other hormonal issues might be involved. This depth of determining the root cause of your client’s hair loss will also require a good physician partner or a solid referral list of physicians.
Vitamins, Minerals and Diet
If someone is ultimately diagnosed with a thyroid condition, they might be treated with antithyroid medications if they have hyperthyroidism or a synthetic hormone replacement if they have hypothyroidism. Hair loss and other symptoms may not improve with these medications, however. That is because the underlying cause of the hair loss could be a nutritional deficiency that has also caused or contributed to the loss of thyroid function. Hair follicle testing can be helpful in this case.
In some cases, though, an excess of a particular nutrient can cause hair loss. This is the case with selenium, for example. Bear in mind that copper and zinc can accumulate in the body, so it is recommended to test vitamin and mineral levels at least every six months when your client is undergoing trichology treatment.
Lastly, if someone suffers from hair loss and scalp pain or irritation, thyroid tests, vitamins, minerals and diet should all be considered during a comprehensive consultation. As we know, hair loss is complicated and devastating. Do not take shortcuts when caring for your clients!