The most common cause of hair loss is androgenic alopecia (AGA) or male/female pattern hair loss. It is caused by a genetic sensitivity to the androgen dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which interacts with hair follicles and causes a process called miniaturization where the hair follicle slowly dies over time.
Even though AGA is fairly easy to identify due to the pattern it typically follows (in the temples/crown in men and the part-line in women), people often mistake other causes of hair loss for it. This is understandable because hair loss can be a very stressful experience and oftentimes people want to find a solution as quickly as possible, which, unfortunately, may lead people to incorrectly self-diagnosing.
Self-diagnosing could not only cause your hair loss to potentially worsen, but also could be dangerous. This is why before we continue into the article, I want to make it a point that if you start noticing hair loss the first thing you should always do is go to the doctor. It could save you time, money, and potential unwanted side effects from incorrect treatments and/or worsening hair loss.
There are many different causes of hair loss besides AGA, from stress, nutritional deficiencies, and more. But, what a lot of people may not consider is that their thyroid could be causing their hair troubles. In this article, we are going to talk about how your thyroid can cause you to lose your hair and what you can do about it so that you don’t accidentally mistake it for AGA and use the wrong treatments.
How the thyroid causes hair loss
Your thyroid is a little butterfly-shaped gland in your neck. It is primarily responsible for releasing hormones throughout your body that help control metabolism. But, testosterone and several other hormones are also regulated by the thyroid that are responsible for things like: growth during puberty, sexual development, and reproductive function (1). In short, this little organ is crucial for your body to function, although when things aren’t operating right it can cause a whole host of problems, one being hair loss.
Note: thyroid-induced hair loss does not follow the typical patterns of male/female AGA, instead it usually results in thinning across the entire scalp.
There are several common thyroid disorders including hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, grave’s disease, goiter, and more that affect around 20 million Americans (60% of which don’t realize they have a condition) according to the American Thyroid Association. Interestingly, all thyroid disorders and usually the cause of, or result of, either an overactive (hyperthyroidism) or underactive (hypothyroidism) thyroid.
Both an overactive and underactive thyroid can cause hair loss. This is because the two main hormones produced by the thyroid, T3 (triiodothyronine) and T4 (thyroxine), are responsible for hair development at the root as well as initiating the anagen phase of the hair cycle (2).
The way the hair cycle works is that the hair must go through all four phases, in-order, before it is able to start a new cycle. Those phases are: anagen (growth), catagen (transition), telogen (resting), and exogen (shedding). When levels of T3 and/or T4 are too high or low, this can cause hair to not move into the anagen phase after shedding, which means that once the hair has fallen out, a new one will not replace it, which can lead to overall thinning if it is prolonged.
Additionally, thyroid issues have been shown to be associated with telogen effluvium (TE) (3). TE is a form of rapid, temporary hair loss that is normally the result of stress. It is also normally reversible. But, when you have an over or underactive thyroid, because of the uneven levels of T3/T4, the hairs you lose from TE may not grow back until your thyroid condition is addressed.
What can you do to stop thyroid-related hair loss?
There is no one single cure that everyone can use to balance out their thyroid. Everybody is different, meaning that everyone is going to have different levels/severity of elevated/suppressed hormones. Again, it is always best to go to your doctor to figure these things out.
Hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism have very similar symptoms, and wrongly self-diagnosing could result in them (and the hair loss) becoming much worse. Your doctor will be able to perform tests that will accurately diagnose your condition so that you can get the right treatments. Also, don’t waste money on taking vitamins like biotin or others that promise hair growth: the only way to fix thyroid-induced hair loss is to stop it at the root of the problem.
Luckily, unlike AGA, thyroid-related hair loss is usually reversible. Once levels of T3 and T4 are normalized, hairs that were unable to grow before will most likely resume their normal growth cycles, though the process takes time (sometimes up to 6 months or more) so it is important to remain patient throughout the recovery.
Don’t get me wrong, thyroid-related hair loss is no joke, but it is normally reversible so be thankful that you don’t have AGA. It is caused by elevated or suppressed levels of T3 and/or T4, and the best way to treat it is by using treatments that will balance those levels out.
Unfortunately, most thyroid conditions have similar symptoms to one another, which make the chances of an incorrect self-diagnoses much higher. The best thing that you can do if you are experiencing hair loss in general, but especially thyroid-related hair loss, is to talk to your doctor. They should be able to accurately diagnose your condition and get you on the right path to bringing your hormone levels back to normal and re-growing your lost hair.