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More than Just a Fashion Statement: What Our Hair Reveals About Us

David Mittleman

Most of us are concerned about our hair–that is, how it’s cut, what color it is, and if it’s in style. However, according to experts our hair can reveal a lot more about us than just our fashion sense. In fact, while scientists once believed that our hair was just dead protein, they now understand that our hair is responsive to outside conditions such as stress. Read below for what your hair’s condition says about your overall health:

  1. Overly dry, thin, limp hair: yes, hair can become dry, limp, and thin from overprocessing such as constant heat-styling or coloring. However, these hair symptoms can also indicate hypothyroidism. Other signs of hypothyroidism include fatigue, weight gain, slow heart rate, and feeling cold all the time. If you suspect that you might have hypothyroidism, check with your doctor and ask for a test to check your levels of thyroid hormone.
  2. Scaly, thick patches on the scalp, especially near the hairline: when a thick crust forms on the scalp, this usually indicates a condition known as psoriasis. Psoriasis is the most common type of autoimmune disease and occurs when the skin goes into overdrive and sends out false signals for the scalp to regenerate. Psoriasis can also put sufferers at a higher risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, cancer, metabolic disorders, obesity. Check with your dermatologist for treatments for psoriasis, since there are many available and it can be difficult to know which actually work.
  3. Thinning hair all over the head: it’s normal to shed about 100 to 150 hairs per day, but if you notice a significant amount of hair in the shower drain or on your hairbrush, it could indicate something more serious. The most common causes of hair loss are psychological stressors, such as job loss or divorce. However, another cause could be diabetes. Check for white bumps on the end of the hairs–this signals temporary, rather than permanent, hair loss. Visit your doctor for further advice, but vitamin D has also been shown to help with hair regeneration.
  4. Overall hair loss that appears permanent, often following traditional pattern baldness: both men and women are subject to androgenetic or androgenic alopecia, which is caused by a change in the pattern of sex hormones. However, other underlying conditions can also cause this type of hair loss by affecting the hormones, such as hypothyroidism. Talk to your doctor about any health concerns you may have related to hair loss. Sometimes taking hormone pills can help with hair loss, as well as the underlying problem.
  5. Dry, brittle hair that breaks off easily: most often, if you see small pieces of hair on your pillow in the morning, it means that you have damaged hair from overprocessing. However, certain health conditions also lead to brittle, fragile hair, such as Cushing’s syndrome, a disorder of the adrenal glands that causes excess production of the hormone cortisol. Usually, if your dry, brittle hair is caused by an underlying health condition, you will also have dry skin.
  6. Hair falling out in small, circular patches: this type of hair loss happens when the body’s immune response turns on the hair follicles themselves, shrinking them and causing hair to fall out entirely in small, typically round patches. This type of hair loss is known as alopecia areata and happens more often in families with other autoimmune diseases. The most proven type of treatment for alopecia areata is cortisone shots delivered directly into the scalp in the affected spots.
  7. Yellowish flakes and scaly, itchy patches on the scalp: what most of us consider dandruff could actually be seborrheic dermatitis, which is a chronic inflammatory condition of the scalp that causes skin to develop scaly patches, often in the areas where the scalp is oiliest. When the flaky skin loosens, it leaves the telltale “dandruff” flakes. Seborrheic dermatitis is caused by an overgrowth of yeast, which is already present on our scalp. The overgrown yeast then takes advantage of the irritated skin and inflames it more. You can tell the difference between “dry skin” and seborrheic dermatitis by noticing where the dry skin is occuring. Most often, seborrheic dermatitis happens near the sides of the nose and between the eyebrows. Talk to your dermatologist about treatments, but eating garlic also helps to get the skin back in balance.
  8. Gray hair: many people worry about gray hair, thinking that it indicates great stress or trauma. However, most scientists believe that gray hair is mostly genetic.

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