Menopause and Thyroid-Related Hair-Loss
Many women (and often their hairdressers) notice changes in hair quality during menopause, with hair becoming dry and coarse, falling out more easily and not growing as fast. Thyroid problems due to hormonal disruption are common as the production of estrogen in the ovaries slows down in menopause, making the adrenal glands an important site for hormone production. As the adrenals are negatively affected by stress, caffeine, and alcohol, this makes homeostasis even more of a challenge than before. Stress also induces inflammation and some people compound the problem by resorting to smoking as a calming activity. Smoking, neck pain, hair loss, stress, and thyroid disease may all be bound up together in a complex dysfunctional state, meaning that a patient may need considerably more than just thyroid medication to resolve all their issues surrounding hair loss and neck pain.
Low progesterone levels are also found in a large number of women with thyroid problems, making it important to check levels of this hormone as well as thyroid hormones T3 and T4. Symptoms of menopause and thyroid dysfunction often overlap, leading to misdiagnosis of correctable thyroid problems as the ‘change of life’. Post-pregnancy hair loss is also fairly common and can be a sign of hormonal fluctuations that precipitate thyroid disease. More often it is simply the natural loss of an abundance of hair that was retained during pregnancy for longer than the usual cycle; thicker, fuller hair is a common occurrence in pregnancy (Wallace, 1998). In some cases, thyroid issues may arise during pregnancy and some women experience pinched nerves in pregnancy along with water retention that may cause them to suspect hypothyroidism.
Thyroid Medication and Hair Loss
Interestingly, the problem of hair loss in thyroid disease may actually in some cases be a direct result of the thyroid medication itself, rather than a feature of the disease. If the symptom began or became worse after being treated for thyroid problems with medication such as levothyroxine then it is advisable to discuss the treatment with the attending physician as it may be possible to change medication, dose, or treatment plan to avoid the hair loss and any other complications caused by the drug. Many physicians do not know that hair loss is a side-effect of drugs such as levothyroxine in some patients.
T4 and T3
If a patient being treated for hypothyroidism finds that their hair loss has continued to escalate or has not been ameliorated after a few months of treatment with exogenous thyroid hormones then it may be that their medication is not sufficient to restore optimal function of the gland. Some patients find that simply taking synthetic T4 as a thyroid hormone replacement is not sufficient to correct abnormalities such as hair loss. Many have found that taking both T4 and its precursor T3 are more effective at reversing the symptoms of thyroid irregularity. Having regular check-ups is highly recommended to ensure correct dosage of medications. Similarly, if the patient has started or stopped a medication or supplement then there may be other issues, such as nutritional deficiencies that are now at play. Sometimes the stress of thyroid disease, or other condition such as fibromyalgia, can cause hair loss.
Evening Primrose Oil for Hair Loss
Problems of essential fatty acid metabolism share common symptoms with thyroid disease and so some people may find that supplementing with evening primrose oil (a good source of omega 6), along with omega 3, can reverse hair loss and improve the quality of the hair. This should not be a replacement for proper diagnosis and treatment, however, although it may be a useful supplement to support thyroid function alongside other treatment options as it can inhibit the conversion by 5-alpha-reductase of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone which has benefits for those suffering from male pattern baldness.
Reversing Hair Loss from Thyroid Disease
As hair loss can be a sign of many illnesses it is important to be thoroughly assessed by a physician and, if necessary, a dermatologist. Treatment for a thyroid problem may take 3-6 months to have a noticeable effect on the hair, especially as medications and dosages may require subtle adjustments during this time in order to achieve optimal levels of thyroid hormones in the blood. If there is no change in the pattern of hair growth after this time then it is possible that the patient is experiencing side-effects of the medication or has another issue affecting the hair, medical advice is essential in both cases. Some neck pain medications may also have the unfortunate effect of hair loss, particularly in cases of long-term oral steroid use. Hair loss and neck pain may not be immediately connected by patients or physicians but the thyroid gland could provide an all-encompassing explanation for their occurrence.