Discovering the Root Cause of Hair Loss — and New, Promising Solutions

Posted on: May 19, 2021

We may not think much about hair loss when we’re young. But Joni Mitchell’s song lyrics, “You don’t know what you got till it’s gone,” are so true with health — and hair. 

Self-esteem and hair are intertwined. A head of thick, healthy hair subconsciously projects the image of youthful vigor. Hair loss, on the other hand, is linked to old age. In a culture that worships youth and beauty, hair loss can severely shake self-esteem.

Although hair loss was a common complaint among my female patients, I recently came face-to-face with it myself. I experienced rapid hair thinning and loss, which I tried everything to reverse. 

I’m excited to share with you what finally (and unexpectedly!) worked for me. 

But first, the science and background.

Hair Growth Cycles

Biologically, hair functions to keep us warm. 

We are born with about five million hair follicles all over the body, except the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, and lips. 

The follicle (also called the hair bulb) is where the hair magic happens. New hair grows from the protein cells in the follicles, which pushes the older hair out. The hair that emerges from the skin is dead, but oil glands in the skin lubricate it as it emerges, giving hair its sheen. As the follicle keeps producing more growth, the dead hair eventually falls out, or is shed. 

Hair growth goes through three main phases: anagen (active growth), catagen (regression, or transitional phase), and telogen (resting phase, where hair sheds). 1In the scalp at any point in time, about 85% of the hairs are growing (anagen), 14% are resting (telogen), and 1% are regressing (catagen).2

Many things can disrupt these phases. For example, a high fever, childbirth, hormonal disturbances, toxins, stress, and more. 

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Studies Surrounding Hair Loss 

The medical term for hair loss is alopecia. 

The most prevalent type is called androgenic alopecia (AGA), which affects 80 percent of white men and 40 percent of white women below the age of 70.3

The idea behind the drugs approved for use is to increase blood flow to the hair follicle, prolonging the anagen phase and shortening the telogen. 

One such topical drug, minoxidil (aka Rogaine), must be used for six to nine months to see if it works, and if it does, continued indefinitely. Its potential side effects include scalp irritation and unwanted adjacent growth on the face and hands.4  

A prescription oral medication for men (most effective for those under 60 years of age) is finesteride (aka Propecia). It may take a few months to see if it works, and if so, taken indefinitely. Potential (although rare) side effects are diminished sex drive and prostate cancer. Women who are or may be pregnant must avoid touching the crushed pills.5

Consensus seems to be that the benefits of anti-hair loss drugs plateau after one to two years of continuous use. Beyond that, hair transplants are typically the only other option, although new research is ongoing.

However, discovering new, health-promoting options fuels functional medicine research.

Functional Medicine and Potential Solutions

Addressing individual underlying causes is vital. Ailments with similar symptoms often stem from very different causes.

For example, hair loss is a symptom of extreme Vitamin C deficiency (scurvy), kwashiorkor (extreme protein deficiency), DNA damage from chemotherapy and/or radiation treatment,6, 7 lupus erythematosus8 (an autoimmune disorder), medications, thyroid imbalances, and more. 

Early hair loss research focused almost exclusively on hormonal imbalances, but we now know that oxidative stress and inflammation also play a major role.

In addition to lifestyle stress, smoking causes oxidative stress, so natural interventions (besides stopping the toxic input) include boosting potent antioxidants, such as melatonin, lycopene, and lutein.

Some people’s hair growth improves after using antimicrobials, such as topical tea tree oil or pyrithione zinc (commonly used in anti-dandruff products).

One promising study focused on the benefits of applying topical Trifolium pratense (red clover) combined with a peptide. The hypothesis was that it worked by reducing microinflammation in the scalp.9  

Other researchers have focused on supplementing with biotin, zinc, iron, B complex (including pantothenic acid), antioxidants, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, ginger, ginseng, safflower, peach leaves, sage, parsley, and Angelica archangelica (wild celery).10

Supplements are beneficial for many, but many other factors may still be at play. 

In my case, none of these types of interventions slowed my hair loss. 

I was so discouraged.

Little did I know that a solution would soon reveal itself in the most unexpected way!

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My Story

I am an avid snow skier. I incurred a hip injury, which gradually became more painful, so I opted to have hip surgery. Afterward, my hair started dramatically thinning and falling out in alarming quantities. 

As a physician, I thought I could easily solve it. I tried everything: I balanced my hormones, I tried all the natural therapies, I used all the nutritional protocols. In my case, none of them helped much. Even worse, my hip was becoming more painful, making me more immobile. This was distressing, to say the least, and did not fit with my healthy self-image.

Thankfully, though, the pain led me to the treatment that solved both my hip and my hair thinning problems.

I began injecting myself with a peptide to help my hip repair faster. It worked. And, to my surprise, my hair started growing faster and became noticeably thicker and more luxuriant. 

The naturally occurring peptide I began using was Thymosin beta-4, a substance found abundantly in almost every cell of the body. 

The results I got from my compounded peptide, Thymosin beta-4, a chain consisting of 43 amino acids, amazed me. Encouraged, I prescribed it for several other patients with excellent results. 

Then, a pivot.

The FDA just ruled that compounded injectable peptides must be 40 amino acids or fewer, so Thymosin beta-4 was no longer an option in that form. 

However, an oral formula similar to Thymosin beta-4 is now available.

Scientists are researching the potential of peptides to promote not only hair growth, but also tissue regeneration in cases of burns, heart attacks, liver fibrosis, ulcers, wound healing, and more.11

Another promising peptide product for hair loss combines zinc and thymulin. 

Are peptides the solution for everyone with hair loss? It’s too early to say. But it is certainly worth exploring. 

In some cases (like mine), it works.

Getting to the Root of the Problem

Functional medicine doctors are trained to discover the root (no pun intended) cause of health issues, not to just practice “cookbook medicine” with “this symptom requires this drug.”

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With hair loss, many factors may be involved. Is your case linked to stress, hormones, inflammation, nutritional status, a hidden infection such as Lyme disease, or a thyroid disorder?

Every individual is unique, so your protocol will be guided by your specific root causes. 

If you or someone you know suffers from hair loss, be encouraged. We know more about solutions now than ever before. And many safe and effective protocols for hair loss, including peptide therapy, offer a promising future.

Let’s discover your protocol. 

Schedule your appointment here.

1 2Ibid.
9Sonthalia et al., J Cosmo Trichol 2016, 2:1, DOI: 10.4172/2471-9323.1000105
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