Hair loss can be alarming. Frequently, hair loss is the final straw that motivates my patients to seek help. They may have suffered for years with all sorts of health issues, but when their hair starts to fall out they are moved into action. Reversing hair loss from a functional medicine approach is very different from the traditional medicine approach.
The traditional medicine approach to curing hair loss is to treat the hair loss itself. A variety of things may be prescribed, from drugs to laser treatment to surgery.
The functional medicine approach to curing hair loss is to look for the cause of the hair loss and fix that. Presumably, the patient was not losing their hair at some time in the past, so what caused this patient’s hair loss to start? This approach looks at the WHOLE person. Hair loss is a clue that something is wrong in the body. In this article, I’m going to share the most common causes of hair loss I’ve found in my patients.
Toxins and Hair Loss
I often see hair loss in patients who have high levels of toxins in their bodies. Sometimes this is due to high exposure to toxins on a regular basis in the workplace, but most often the patient lives a normal life with a broken detoxification system. Trust me, you are dealing with more toxins than you think. We are exposed to plastic toxins, heavy metal toxins, and toxins in our foods. Once the patient loses the ability to get rid of the toxins, the body starts trying to eliminate these toxins through the hair. Then, as you can imagine, the hair growth is affected.
The key to fixing this kind of hair loss is identifying any possible source of the toxicity problem and assessing whether the the patient’s detoxification systems are working. For example here is the test result of a patient who came to me with hair loss, headaches, hormone problems, anxiety and severe fatigue.
This patient couldn’t detoxify very well because her sulfur levels were depleted. This was a huge piece to the puzzle in getting this patient well. Once we corrected this deficiency, the patient’s health issues began to resolve, including her hair loss!
This is a good time to point out that most “detox” diets, teas, baths, etc., while possibly helpful, don’t usually fix what needs to be fixed. Effective detoxification requires correct nutrients, and proper gut, kidney, liver and gallbladder function. It’s not until a patient knows the specific problem that true detoxification can be accomplished. This is why proper testing is so important.
Hormone imbalances often lead to hair loss. There could be a problem with male/female hormones, thyroid hormones, adrenal hormones or a combination. In functional medicine it’s not enough to simply run a blood test to measure hormone levels, and then prescribe some sort of replacement hormone to “fix” the problem. I bet by now you know what I’m going to say! Yes! WHAT caused the hormone problem? Exactly.
When I have a patient with hormone imbalances, I look for the cause. Often the cause of most hormone imbalances is improper detoxification. All hormones have a “shelf life”–a time span in which they are active. Once the hormone is used, it must be broken down and removed from the blood stream. At this point the hormone is a toxin. If the body can’t remove the old hormones the result is a hormone imbalance.
Another common hormone issue is with the thyroid. Both excessive and deficient amounts of thyroid hormones can cause hair loss. Again, if there is a thyroid problem the key is finding and fixing the cause.
I’ve seen many patients with hair loss that was caused by an intestinal problem. Anything from leaky gut syndrome to the presence of a pathogen can cause a patient lose hair. Intestinal problems contribute to toxicity. A leaky gut is basically dumping toxins from the gut into the bloodstream 24/7. Because intestinal problems result in toxicity they can also result in hormone imbalances. I hope you are starting to see how things are so interconnected.
Many of my patients with chronic viral, fungal or bacterial infections experience hair loss. I’ve had patients with infections like Lyme, Epstein Barr Virus or Mold have their hair return to normal as they get well. Infections produce toxins, destroy cells and consume nutrients. Obviously the first key to fixing this infections is diagnosing them. Often these chronic infections are overlooked. Treating these infections is different than fixing an acute infection. Chronic infections often require getting the patient overall healthier so their own immune system can be more effective in getting rid of the infection.
A Detailed History and Testing is the Key!
I hope by now you can see that the functional medicine approach to curing hair loss is to fix the underlying causes of the hair loss. The first step is to get a comprehensive history. Once a functional medicine doc has a good understanding of what the patient has been experiencing he or she can determine what kind of testing is needed to figure out what is causing the hair loss. From there treatment is usually pretty straight forward. Every patient is different. The “cure” is different for each patient. If you’re the kind of person that doesn’t want to treat a symptom, but instead fix the problem you will love functional medicine! Getting started couldn’t be easier!