Oh, that dazzling head of hair: sleek, shiny, thick and lustrous. But what if your hair isn't exactly this crowning glory? Well, your less than lovely locks may, or may not, be revealing important clues to your health. Take a look at these signs and what they might mean.
YOU GO WHITE OVERNIGHT
That's a myth and won't happen. But an illness or stress can send actively growing hair into a resting phase. A couple of months later, all those strands in the resting phase may fall out. So, if the dark hairs fall out and the already white ones remain, the result is hair that may appear suddenly grayer.
Whether it starts happening in your 20s or 50s the cause is unrelated to how healthy-or unhealthy-you are. It's genetics. If your parents grayed early, it's likely you will too.
It's normal to lose about 100 strands of hair each day. And even if you think you're losing more than that, your head carries at least 100,000 hair follicles, so it's possible to collect a handful or two out of the bath or hairbrush without it visibly changing the appearance of your mane. Unless you're starting to notice visible thinning of your hair or bald spots on your scalp, chances are the loss is nothing more than natural, everyday shedding.
If you have an iron or protein deficiency it's not unusual to have severe hair loss. That's because malnutrition forces the body to conserve protein by shutting down hair growth. And since more hair may also be shed-without being replaced-the result can be noticeable thinning over several months. Thyroid disease (both overactive and an underactive one) can also increase hair loss. Once the disease is under control, hair growth can usually be restored.
Really losing lots of hair can be a sign that you've inherited a tendency for baldness, or it could indicate a bigger health issue. The hair loss-which typically begins at the temples or crown-is permanent. Alopecia is an autoimmune disease which can cause anything from smooth bald patches to the loss of all hair on both the head and body. The cause of the disease isn't known, although some doctors feel there is a genetic link.
Folks often assume that flakes mean their scalp is too dry and more moisture is needed. Not so. Dandruff is the common name for seborrheic dermatitis, an inflammatory condition of the scalp that causes redness and flaking in the areas of the skin that are rich in oil glands. Other skin conditions-such as psoriasis and eczema-can also cause a similar condition in which the scalp gets red, itchy and produces flakes of dandruff. In any case, the best cure is to seek out a medicated (not necessarily moisturizing) shampoo or scalp treatment.
BRITTLE AND BREAKING
Can you blame the damage on dyes and permanents or the blow dryer aimed directed on your head? All of these abuses destroy the cuticle and leave hair open to damage. Pulling hair into ponytails can also increase stress and lead to breakage-or even bald spots. But if none of these abuses apply to you, the problem could be your diet. Without adequate protein, growing hair strands won't become as strong and resilient as they should be. Essential fatty acids (found in fish oil supplements, wild salmon, and flax seeds) play a role in keeping strands strong and shiny.
Robin Westen is ThirdAge's medical reporter. Check for her daily updates. Her newest book, co-authored with Dr. Alyssa Dweck, is "V Is For Vagina."
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