Could Low Levels of Estrogen Be Causing Your Hair Loss?
When it comes to hair loss, male pattern baldness seems to get all the attention. But if you are a woman with thinning hair or bald patches, you know that female pattern baldness is most definitely a thing.
In fact, research shows that it is more common than many people realize. In a study of 564 women, 13% displayed frontal and frontoparietal recessions before menopause. After menopause, that number jumped to 37%.
In both cases, the main hormone linked to hair loss is called dihydrotestosterone, or DHT for short—a type of androgen hormone. But once again, this is a situation where the most well-known factor is getting all the attention, and a lesser-known but very important factor is getting ignored. And that factor is estrogen.
Where is the Science?
In an article on menopause, the University of Maryland Medical Center states, “Estrogen loss can contribute to slackness and dryness in the skin and wrinkles. Many women experience thinning of their hair and some have temporary hair loss.” Meanwhile, this study reports, “It has long been known that estrogens also profoundly alter hair follicle growth … the time has come to pay estrogen-mediated signaling the full attention it deserves in future endocrinological therapy of common hair growth disorders.”
Just as you might guess from reading that, there is a shortage of research in this area. If you search for studies on hair loss, most of them relate to DHT.
Here is one small European study which looked at 20 pre-menopausal women with female pattern hair loss to check their serum levels of estradiol, free and total testosterone, SHBG, LH, FSH, and DHEAS. These levels were compared to those of a control group without hair loss. Estradiol is one of the three naturally occurring forms of estrogen found in the body.
The androgen levels in both groups were normal. But the group with the hair loss recorded a significantly lower ratio of estradiol to free testosterone and DHEAS.
So there is a small but growing body of scientific evidence demonstrating that low levels of estrogen may account for female pattern hair loss. As you can also see, this may strike before you even hit menopause.
So the next logical question is this … what can you do about it?
HRT vs. Phytotherapy
You basically have two major choices here: hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or phytotherapy (herbal remedies). You may wish there were more options, but there really are not. You can of course take other approaches to treating hair loss, but if low estrogen levels are one of the major causes of your hair loss, the results you will see treating the problem through other means are going to be quite limited if you are failing to treat the cause.
That means you need to look for a way to increase the estrogen in your body to fill out your hair.
Why You Should Probably Avoid HRT
I am going to recommend a few herbs which you can use to treat low estrogen levels and restore a full head of hair, but first things first—we need to talk about why you should avoid hormone replacement therapy.
Hormone replacement therapy is tempting for a couple of reasons: it is easy and familiar. A lot of women have used birth control pills at one point or another, so you probably know that they contain synthetic hormones. HRT is similar; you pop a pill or use a patch and receive a boost to your estrogen levels.
So this probably makes you wonder why you would ever go to the trouble of experimenting with herbal remedies if you can just take a pill which provides your body with more estrogen. The answers comes in the form of the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI).
The WHI was a very large, very prominent long-term study which looked at the health effects of HRT. While the study did find a few benefits (women who used HRT had fewer hip or bone fractures and were less likely to develop colorectal cancer), it found a number of risks, including an increased chance of heart attack, stroke, cancer, and blood clots.
As a result, doctors are not so keen to recommend HRT to women in menopause (or dealing with lower levels of estrogen earlier in life).
Unfortunately there is no surefire way to boost your estrogen levels otherwise, but there are a few herbal remedies which may help you to achieve a balance. This natural approach is gentler because it stimulates your body’s own production of hormones or replaces your missing estrogen with phytoestrogens (this applies if you are in menopause).
7 Herbs to Boost Your Estrogen Levels and Re-grow Your Hair
Now, as promised, I want to quickly introduce you to 7 different herbal remedies which may help you to get your hormones back in balance. This in turn can help your hair to grow!
1. Black Cohosh
This plant is native to North America and has been used for centuries by indigenous people to treat menstrual and menopausal disorders. While modern research results are mixed, some studies do indicate that black cohosh can be effective as a treatment in menopause. While the research focuses on hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause that get more attention than hair loss, it follows that black cohosh could also help to improve hair growth when estrogen levels decline.
2. Red Clover
This herb contains phytoestrogens, which I mentioned briefly before. Phytoestrogens are compounds found in plants which have an estrogenic effect. If your body is low on estrogen, as in menopause, the phytoestrogens in red clover can theoretically bind to your estrogen receptors, providing you with a weak replacement.
How effective is this replacement in menopause? Once again, most studies in this area do not focus on hair loss. But there is research showing that red clover may result in a reduction of hot flashes, so this may indicate that it is indeed effective in treating all the symptoms of menopause.
If you live in an area which is overrun by vines native to the Far East, you may be familiar with the invasive species called “kudzu.” While kudzu is something you do not want in your garden (it will smother everything in sight), you may find it helpful for boosting your estrogen levels, thereby treating hair loss.
Kudzu contains phytoestrogens, and may help to replace some of your lost estrogen during menopause.
4. Dong Quai
Dong Quai also comes from the Far East, where it is a popular traditional remedy used to treat a variety of female health problems. Known as “female ginseng,” it is sometimes prescribed by practitioners for the treatment of menopause symptoms.
Does it actually work? The jury is out on that one, but judging from its popularity (you will find it listed in numerous hormone balancing formulas), there is a fair amount of anecdotal evidence backing its use. So there is a chance that this herbal remedy could also help you to fight your age-related hair loss issues.
Also called “chastetree,” Vitex is an herb which is typically prescribed to treat estrogen dominance. It seems to be recommended as a remedy for especially low levels of estrogen as well however, and does seem to have a general balancing effect on the overall ratio of estrogen to progesterone. Vitex’s balancing effect is thought to result from the stimulation of dopamine production.
Should you take it to increase estrogen levels? On that I am not certain. Since the herb does work to treat estrogen dominance, it seems counterintuitive that it would also work to treat the opposite. But perhaps the general “balancing” effect works from both ends.
I do know that Vitex is most commonly prescribed to women in perimenopause, the stage just before menopause. If that describes you, you may very well benefit from taking it.
6. Licorice Root
Have you ever eaten real licorice? The answer is “no” for many people who live in America, where most “licorice candy” is actually flavored with anise, not real licorice. The two flavors are very similar and can be quite difficult to distinguish. Many Americans do not even know that they have never tried actual licorice.
Overseas, though, licorice candies are made using real licorice root extract. They are quite popular, especially in the Netherlands where they are something of a national specialty.
Licorice has a somewhat controversial reputation. There seem to be a couple of reasons for this:
- Licorice does have an estrogenic effect in the body. For those with estrogen-sensitive conditions, eating licorice may be unwise (as with any other estrogenic herb).
- Licorice contains an ingredient known as glycyrrhizin which can trigger your kidneys to release potassium. Eating an excessive amount of black licorice within a certain time period can cause heart arrhythmias and even feasibly kill you.
Before you panic, “a certain amount” here seems to be multiple 2-ounce bags every single day for a period of 14 days or longer. Unless you are a licorice addict, this is unlikely to be something which will ever tempt you. That is lot of licorice.
I eat licorice on a regular basis as it seems to be a fantastic remedy for heartburn. I have no idea why it works, but it is far more effective than anything else I have ever used.
If you have any more concerns about licorice, just remember that licorice candies are a Dutch treat, and overseas, plenty of Dutch people are consuming the stuff on a regular basis with no ill effects. In moderation, this may be an effective (and tasty) way to raise your estrogen levels. While you are at it, you can reduce any heartburn problems you happen to have.
One of the best herbal remedies you can choose for boosting your estrogen is soy. Soy contains phytoestrogens, so if you are in menopause, it may gently help to replace some of your own estrogen production. They are weak phytoestrogens, so the effect may not be dramatic, but it should still help you to function at your best.
There are a couple of other reasons why soy is a great choice too. For one, it is really good for you, protecting your cardiovascular health by reducing your LDL cholesterol levels. For another, soy is an easy, cost-effective choice. Instead of searching everywhere for quality herbal supplements you are unfamiliar with, you can simply add some soy milk to your diet or eat some tofu.
You can take soy in a powder form too, but the quality of soy supplement products is dubious in many cases, so eating soy in your food is a better choice. Plus, replacing red meats which are high in saturated fats with soy is how you reduce your LDL cholesterol and get the heart-healthy benefits.
Try a Combination of Herbs for Reducing Estrogen to Promote Hair Growth
Balancing your hormones is not an easy process, whether you are in perimenopause, menopause, or post-menopause. You may find that just one of these herbs is sufficient to do the trick, but in many cases you will achieve the best results by taking a combination of herbs. Start gradually and track your results carefully to make sure you are choosing the right products to balance and adjust your particular hormone profile.
You may also want to take an additional supplement to stimulate hair growth directly. This combined approach will tackle the problem on two fronts, replenishing estrogen and providing you with the nutrients your hair needs to grow healthy and long!