What You Need to Know About Progesterone and Hair Loss
Did you know that hormonal imbalances can cause hair loss? No matter what time of life you are in, hormone imbalance is something that can impact your general health, well-being, and appearance. This is true whether you are going through menopause or you are twenty years old!
Hormone imbalance is pervasive, it’s misunderstood, and it is incredibly hard to deal with. Ask a doctor about it, and unless you happen to have stumbled on an expert, odds are good you will be met with blank stares or a shrug and “good luck.”
Let’s talk for a moment about menopause. Even if you are nowhere near menopause, bear with me. When you understand the changes that take place in the body at menopause, you can get a better understanding of the changes that result from hormonal imbalance earlier in life.
According to the North American Hair Research Society, female pattern hair loss (FPHL) is prevalent in around half of all women by the age of 50. It generally takes the form of general shedding and thinning, though women can get a bald spot on top of their scalp quite commonly just like men. Thick hair can become fine hair.
As NAHRS explains, the actual cause of female pattern baldness is not very well understood. There are a few hormonal explanations that stand out:
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- 51 is the average age for menopause for women in the U.S. As you can see, this is right around when female pattern baldness becomes prevalent. During menopause, estrogen fluctuates wildly before dropping off. Progesterone production stops. Testosterone declines as well, but production doesn’t cease. Female pattern baldness at this time of life is poorly understood. Surprisingly enough, this is a time when androgen levels are decreasing. Why is this unexpected? Consider the next bullet point.
- Early onset female pattern baldness (which happens in your teens or twenties) is associated with elevated levels of androgen or higher levels of sensitivity to androgen.
So depending on when you start losing hair, the hormonal cause could differ. Androgen is a hormone associated with hair loss. What causes high androgen levels? Genetics seem to play a role, but this is again an area where scientists do not have a clear understanding.
What is known are a couple of things:
- High androgen is commonly seen in women who suffer from polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is commonly caused by high androgen levels.
- Women with PCOS typically have low progesterone.
PCOS can reduce progesterone levels, but low progesterone levels can put a woman at risk for developing PCOS as well. The condition is part of a vicious loop.
Whether you have PCOS or not, you may have symptoms of low progesterone, high androgen, or another hormonal imbalance. One common imbalance which is under-recognized but which can cause a whole slew of symptoms is called “estrogen dominance.”
Women with estrogen dominance produce too much estrogen in ratio to their progesterone, and typically exhibit many of the same symptoms as women with high androgen levels. They also happen to exhibit a lot of the same symptoms of women approaching menopause!
Low progesterone and high androgen may (sometimes) be interlinked. So if you have low progesterone, you may suffer from hair loss! While it is hard to establish a direct causal link, it seems quite likely the two are connected.
What Can You Do About It?
Before you start messing around with your hormones, it is important to understand that your hormones are responsible for properly regulating a range of body functions. Your goal is to bring your hormones into balance. But if you guess wrong about what your imbalance is, you risk upsetting that balance even further. This could actually make your situation worse!
You have a couple of options for trying to figure out what impact your hormones may be having on your hair and on your health. The first is to go and get tested. Blood tests are the most accurate tests for most hormones.
There are also salivary tests, but these usually do not provide measurements you can rely on (except if you are testing cortisol). You may need to get tested a couple times several months apart to really get a feel for what is going on, and you need to know what point you are at in your monthly cycle (unless you are already finished menstruating).
Your other option would be to compare your symptoms with those commonly associated with different types of hormonal imbalance.
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High androgen levels may cause or be associated with:
- Adult acne
- Weight gain
- Menstrual irregularities
- Hirsuitism (hair in places where you don’t necessarily want it, like your chin or chest)
- Thinning hair on your scalp
Low progesterone levels may cause or be associated with:
- Weight gain
- Adult acne
- Depression, anxiety, or mood swings
- Night terrors and insomnia
- Hot flashes or night sweats
- Low sex drive
- Irregular periods
You can easily see how PCOS is a link between the two. But the relative levels of all of your hormones are bound together. Low progesterone for example is tied to high estrogen. If you shift your diet to reduce your estrogen production, you can boost progesterone production, and so on.
Just to add to the complexity, major shifts in your hormone levels can also cause unusual symptoms. So even as you start correcting problems, you may notice unwanted (temporary) side effects.
If you do count a number of these symptoms, and particularly if you notice a timing correlation with your menstrual cycle (if for example you have migraines that get worse after your period when progesterone levels are at their monthly low, and improve before your period as progesterone levels increase), you may be able to take a stab at self-diagnosis.
Just remember that self-diagnosis is never a substitute for diagnosis from a medical professional. Still, you are likely to be at least partly on your own when it comes to treating hormonal imbalance, unless a simple and concrete cause can readily be identified.
Oftentimes, doctors are clueless as to why you have an imbalance or what to do about it. If all of this seems frustratingly vague in some ways, that’s because it is. Research is spotty on hormonal imbalances, and assumptions are changing every day.
Let’s say you do discover or suspect you have low progesterone levels associated with high androgen and thinning hair. What can you do about it?
Treatment options for low progesterone include:
- Hormone replacement therapy (HRT). This is the most drastic measure you can take. HRT can be effective, but it can also offset your hormone balance in other ways. This can lead to problems later down the line. This is typically the only option a doctor will offer you, unless there is an underlying condition which can be identified and treated. Whether you want to try HRT or not is up to you, but there are milder methods you can try first at home.
- Consider some dietary changes. In order to manufacture progesterone, your body requires dopamine. But that means you need to be getting plenty of the nutrients that go into dopamine production. Boost your intake of healthy vitamins and minerals like magnesium, zinc, vitamin C, iron, vitamin B-6, and essential fatty acids. Symptoms of low levels of any of these nutrients may point to an underlying deficiency causing your imbalance and your hair loss.
- Take an herbal supplement for hormonal imbalance. There are a lot of different herbs can help to boost progesterone production relative to estrogen production. I recommend an herb called chasteberry, usually marketed as Vitex. It works wonders.
- Try wild yam. There are a couple of different types of progesterone creams on the market; you want the one that is made out of wild yam. You apply the cream topically. Just be careful with this one. The stuff can accumulate, and you can overdo it.
There are many possible causes of hair loss at any age, but hormones certainly can play a major role. Low progesterone may be the reason that your hair is thinning out, and it’s an imbalance that can happen at any age, young or old! If you have a number of the other symptoms, you could have a classic case of estrogen dominance.
Move forward cautiously with home remedies and dietary changes and see if you notice changes for the better. If you do, keep working on balancing your hormones. Once your progesterone production returns to normal, balancing out your estrogen and androgen levels, you may see new hair growth and thicker, fuller locks!