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Hair Loss and Thyroid Problems

By: Jennie Kermode - Updated: 8 Jul 2011 | comments*Discuss
Thyroid Levothyroxine Hair Loss

Starting to lose your hair can be worrying enough on its own, but sometimes it's a sign of other health problems. Hair which thins evenly across the head, especially if it is accompanied by unexplained tiredness, weight changes and thinning of the outer edges of the eyebrows, can be a sign of thyroid problems. If you suspect this may be happening to you, Your Doctor Can Help – but what do you need to know to look after your hair?

How Thyroid Problems Cause Hair Loss

The easiest way to understand what your thyroid does is to see it as a sort of regulator controlling the pace of your metabolism. Sometimes the thyroid can stop working as hard as it should, or it can become overactive, either of which can cause problems. This can be triggered by other health conditions or it can happen spontaneously. It can happen at any age.

Because hair follicles normally work very hard and require a lot of energy, they can quickly start to suffer if your body doesn't have enough energy because your metabolism has slowed down. The hormonal changes that occur when the thyroid is overactive can also cause problems. Often people find that their hair becomes dry and rough, or that it clumps together more and tangles easily. The good news is that it almost never falls out completely and changes are usually reversible.

Thyroid Treatments and Hair Loss

The most common treatment for thyroid disorders in the UK is levothyroxine. This is a synthetic hormone which artificially does the regulatory job that the thyroid has stopped doing properly. If you are given levothyroxine it is important to take it at around the same time each day and to avoid foods containing soya protein, which can stop it functioning as it should.

Most people taking levothyroxine find that the condition of their hair starts to improve after a few months. Within six months it is often completely back to normal. Immediate improvement is very rare, however, so you will need to be patient as your body adjusts.

Unfortunately, in some cases levothyroxine can trigger another kind of hair loss. This happens because levothyroxine increases the amount of a hormone called 5-alpha reductase in the body. This hormone binds with testosterone (which both men and women have) and converts it into dihydrotestosterone, the hormone which is responsible for Male Pattern Baldness.

Not everybody is susceptible to male pattern baldness and often levels of 5-alpha reductase will not increase enough to make a difference anyway. If you do have problems, there are alternative treatments available. It is very important that you do not stop taking your medication in the meantime. Go to see your doctor to ask for advice.

Often problems with the thyroid get worse over time. This means that a dose of medication that works well for you at first can become insufficient over time. If you notice your hair starting to thin again, arrange with your doctor to get a blood test which will determine whether or not you need to start taking a higher dose.

Natural Remedies and the Thyroid

Mild thyroid conditions can sometimes be treated effectively by increasing the amount of iodine in the diet. Foods which are rich in iodine include most kinds of seafood, seaweed, eggs, cheddar cheese, green leafy vegetables, strawberries and, oddly enough, jaffa cakes (see our article Diet And Hair Loss). However if you have a progressive thyroid condition it is likely that dietary changes will be sufficient to preserve your good health over time. High-iodine shampoos will do nothing to counter hair loss caused by thyroid problems.

Some people who are having problems with levothyroxine and hair loss find that taking evening primrose oil helps. This is believed to be because evening primrose oil blocks the conversion of testosterone into dihydrotestosterone.

Paying attention to your hair is a good way to make sure that your thyroid is in good health. In the vast majority of cases, hair loss caused by thyroid problems is treatable and you can soon be back to feeling like your old self.

Further Reading

Find out how The Menopause and The Pill can cause hair loss problems in women.

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