7 things your hair can tell you about your overall health


Your hair can tell you a lot about your overall health. The condition of your hair and scalp can be an indicator of internal issues. By paying attention to changes in your hair, you may be able to identify underlying health conditions early. Here are 7 things your hair could be telling you about your health.

7 things your hair can tell you about your overall health

What Does Hair Loss Mean?

Hair loss is very common, affecting up to 50% of people by age 50. However, if your hair seems to be thinning or falling out more than usual, it could signal a health issue.

Some common causes of increased hair shedding include:

  • Telogen effluvium - This condition causes hair to prematurely enter the resting phase, leading to excessive daily hair loss. It can be triggered by physical or emotional stress, major surgery, significant weight loss, thyroid disorders, and more. The hair loss is usually temporary if the trigger is addressed.
  • Nutritional deficiency - Not getting enough protein, iron, zinc, biotin, or other vitamins can hinder hair growth and cause thinning. Eating a balanced diet can help.
  • Hormonal changes - Hormone fluctuations from pregnancy, childbirth, discontinuing birth control pills, menopause, and thyroid issues can cause hair loss. The problem typically resolves once hormones stabilize.
  • Alopecia areata - An autoimmune condition that causes patchy hair loss on the scalp, face, and body. It often resolves without treatment but may recur.

See your dermatologist if hair loss becomes excessive or persists for more than 6 months. They can help determine the cause and recommend treatments like prescription medications, light therapy, or hair transplant surgery for permanent hair loss.

What Does Thinning Hair Mean?

Gradual thinning of your hair, particularly at your temples and crown, could signal an underlying medical condition. Two common causes of progressive hair thinning include:

  • Androgenetic alopecia - Also called male or female pattern baldness. It's associated with aging and genetics. Hair follicles shrink and hairs transition to shorter, finer strands. Medications and surgery can promote regrowth.
  • Thyroid disease - Both overactive and underactive thyroid can result in hair thinning. Other symptoms may include fatigue, weight changes, dry skin, mood changes, or irregular periods. Blood work checks your thyroid hormone levels.

In some cases, thinning hair reflects temporary telogen effluvium (mentioned above) rather than permanent loss. Be sure to see your doctor to determine the cause. Treating thyroid dysfunction, nutrient deficiencies, or scalp conditions can help remedy many cases of thinning hair.

What Does Scalp Itch Mean?

An itchy scalp or flaking are signs you may have:

  • Dandruff - Skin cell turnover accelerates, causing dead cells to shed as white flakes. It can have several causes including dry skin, sensitivity to hair products, and a yeast-like fungus called malassezia. Anti-dandruff shampoos contain antifungal and moisturizing ingredients to treat it.
  • Seborrheic dermatitis - A common inflammatory scalp condition that causes an itchy rash and flaking. It stems from a reaction to malassezia. Prescription antifungal creams, medicated shampoos, and gentle hair care routines can help control outbreaks.
  • Contact dermatitis - An allergic reaction to ingredients in hair care products, especially hair dye. Switching products often resolves irritation. Patch testing can identify problematic ingredients.
  • Psoriasis - An autoimmune condition that causes raised, scaly, itchy plaques on the scalp. Topical medications, light therapy, and oral drugs help treat outbreaks.

See a dermatologist if you experience severe, persistent scalp itching, redness, and scaling for diagnosis and treatment. Controlling these conditions prevents further irritation and hair damage.

What Does Brittle Hair Mean?

Brittle hair that feels dry or coarse and is prone to breakage can result from:

  • Harsh hair care - Over-shampooing, overheating with hot tools, aggressively brushing wet hair, and using drying hair products can cause damage. Switch to more gentle hair care practices.
  • Sun exposure - UV rays degrade hair protein and strip moisture, causing dry, weakened hair prone to breakage. Use hair products with UV filters and wear protective styles.
  • Chemical processing - Bleaching, dyeing, perming, or straightening hair can damage and dry it out over time. Take breaks between treatments. Use repairing hair masks.
  • Nutritional deficiency - Inadequate protein, biotin, iron, or zinc can interfere with normal hair growth. Eat a balanced diet and take supplements if directed by your doctor.
  • Aging - Hair can become more brittle with age as growth slows and the hair's protein structure degrades. Use moisturizing products suited for aging hair.

Brittle, breaking hair isn't necessarily unhealthy but may feel and look better with proper hair care. If it worsens suddenly or excessively, see your doctor to identify underlying causes like thyroid disease.

What Does Graying Hair Mean?

Premature graying before age 30 may signal:

  • Vitamin B12 deficiency - This can decrease melanin and accelerate graying. Supplements can correct a deficiency.
  • Thyroid disorders - Both overactive and underactive thyroid affect hair color.
  • Vitiligo - An autoimmune condition causing skin pigment loss and whitening of hair, skin, and the retina.
  • Alopecia areata - Can cause hair to regrow white at patches.

However, going gray is largely genetic. By age 50, about 50% of the population has at least 50% gray hair. As you age, hair follicles produce less melanin, causing graying. Eating well, managing stress, and scalp massages may help delay graying. But ultimately gray hair is a normal part of aging.

What Does Dry Hair Mean?

Dry, frizzy hair can result from:

  • Harsh hair products - Sulfate-containing shampoos, clarifying shampoos, and products with drying alcohols strip moisture from hair.
  • Hard water - Mineral deposits from hard water can leave hair feeling parched. Install shower filters. Use chelating shampoos.
  • Hot styling tools - Heat styling leaches moisture from hair. Allow hair to air dry sometimes. Apply heat protectant.
  • Environmental damage - Sun, wind, and pollution deplete hair's natural oils. Cover hair outdoors.
  • Medical conditions - Thyroid disorders, diabetes, and deficiencies cause dry, brittle hair prone to tangling.

Using deep conditioning masks, leave-in conditioners, oils, and silicone serums can help restore moisture. But severely dry, damaged hair may require trimming to allow healthy regrowth. See a doctor if dryness is extreme or accompanied by other symptoms.

What Does Excessive Shedding Mean?

Shedding 50-100 hairs per day is normal. But losing more, at an alarming rate, may indicate:

  • Telogen effluvium - As mentioned, this causes premature shifting of hair into the resting phase and excessive shedding of up to 300 hairs per day. Stress, nutritional deficiencies, and hormonal changes often trigger it.
  • Hypothyroidism - Both too much and too little thyroid hormone can spur abnormal hair shedding.
  • Medications - Drugs that interfere with hair regrowth cycles cause telogen effluvium. Offending medications include retinoids, beta blockers, antidepressants, NSAIDs, and more.
  • Autoimmune disease - Conditions like alopecia areata damage hair follicles. Lupus and diabetes also increase hair shedding.

Sudden, rapid hair loss warrants medical attention for diagnosis and treatment. Shedding from telogen effluvium and autoimmune disorders may ultimately resolve. But thyroid disorders require long-term treatment and monitoring.

What Does a Scaly Scalp Mean?

A red, irritated scalp with greasy, yellow scales or crusting could signal:

  • Seborrheic dermatitis - This inflamed, scaly condition often appears where skin is oil-rich like the scalp, eyebrows, and nose. Antifungal treatments and scalp shampoos clear it up.
  • Psoriasis - The autoimmune condition causes raised, itchy plaques and scales on the skin and scalp. It may flare periodically. Topical ointments, light therapy, and oral medications manage it.
  • Fungal infection - Ringworm is a contagious fungal infection that invades hair and skin causing scaly patches. Antifungal creams and oral medication treat it.

Don't scratch or pick at scaly scalp conditions as it can worsen inflammation and potentially scar hair follicles causing permanent hair loss. See your dermatologist for accurate diagnosis and treatment. Controlling these conditions helps minimize damage to hair.

Conclusion: Take Hair Changes Seriously

While worrying over a few hairs falling out daily is unnecessary, significant changes in hair growth, texture, or scalp condition warrant medical evaluation. Hair offers visible clues about potential vitamin deficiencies, thyroid disease, autoimmune conditions, stress, hormonal changes, and more. Diagnosing and treating the underlying cause can stop unnecessary hair loss and damage.

With proper care, thinning hair, excessive shedding, and breakage may improve. But hair also reflects the effects of aging and genetics that you can graciously embrace. Ultimately, healthy hair stems from an overall healthy you. Eat nutritious whole foods, manage stress, get sufficient sleep, exercise moderately, and work with your doctor to address medical conditions that may affect your hair. Your hair will thank you!

What can my hair tell me about my overall health?

Your hair can actually reveal a lot about your overall health. Certain changes in your hair's texture, thickness, or even color can indicate underlying health issues or nutritional imbalances.

Can thyroid problems affect my hair?

Yes, thyroid issues can have a significant impact on the health of your hair. Hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid, can cause hair thinning and hair loss, while hyperthyroidism, or an overactive thyroid, can lead to brittle hair that breaks easily.

Is dandruff a sign of poor overall health?

Not necessarily. Dandruff is mostly caused by a fungal infection or an overgrowth of yeast on the scalp. However, in some cases, it can be a symptom of an underlying health condition like psoriasis or seborrheic dermatitis.

Does hair shedding always indicate a health problem?

Hair shedding is a normal part of the hair growth cycle, and it is common to lose around 50-100 strands of hair per day. However, if you notice excessive or sudden hair loss, it could be a sign of an underlying health issue that needs to be addressed.

What is alopecia?

Alopecia refers to a type of hair loss that can occur anywhere on the body. It is an autoimmune condition that causes the immune system to mistakenly attack the hair follicles, leading to hair loss in patches or even complete baldness.

Can hair breakage be a sign of poor overall health?

Hair breakage can be a result of various factors, including excessive styling, heat damage, or chemical treatments. While it may not always indicate poor overall health, it is important to take care of your hair to prevent breakage and maintain its health.

Can anemia affect the health of my hair?

Yes, anemia, which is a condition characterized by a deficiency of red blood cells or hemoglobin in the blood, can have an impact on the health of your hair. Anemia can lead to hair thinning, hair loss, and changes in hair texture.

Can hair turning gray be a sign of poor health?

Gray hair is a natural part of the aging process and is usually not a cause for concern. However, in some cases, premature graying can be a sign of underlying health conditions or nutritional deficiencies that should be addressed.

Can increased hair growth be a sign of poor health?

Increased hair growth, also known as hirsutism, can be a symptom of hormonal imbalances, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), or certain underlying health conditions. If you notice excessive hair growth in areas such as the face, chest, or back, it is important to consult a healthcare professional.

Can hair thinning be a sign of thyroid issues?

Yes, hair thinning can be a symptom of thyroid issues, especially hypothyroidism. When the thyroid gland is underactive, it can disrupt the hair growth cycle and lead to hair thinning or hair loss.

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