Causes of Hair Loss in Women – Part 6: Inflammation

You can see and feel signs of chronic inflammation easily if you know what you’re looking for.

The signs are easy to ignore or write off as a normal part of aging. They include aching joints, fibromyalgia, wrinkling and sagging skin, hair loss, varicose veins, cellulite, autoimmune diseases, central obesity (abdominal fat), diabetes, digestive issues, water retention, rashes, itching, trouble sleeping, and many others.

Inflammation and Modern Life

Many people experience low grade inflammation simply by living a “normal” life by today’s standards. Inflammation is the new norm.

Most of us eat food that’s genetically modified and allergenic. We are exposed to chemicals and plastics on a regular basis. Statistically, most of us are *at least* slightly overweight. We have diminished metabolisms; we get almost no physical activity; we have high stress; we suffer from allergies; and we burn the candle at both ends.

Inflammation, along with stress, is at the heart of many modern diseases, and is a major cause of heart disease. It also causes many of the problems within our skin that lead to female hair loss. Inflammation is present in the follicles of women with alopecia, as the cells in the skin and hair are attacked by an immune system on “kill mode.”

Poor nutrition, eating foods we suspect are bad for us, having too much body fat, lack of exercise and circulation, insulin resistance, imbalanced hormones, depression, constant stress, and liver toxicity – all of these contribute significantly to inflammation.

With all of these factors feeding into our immune response, it’s tough to know where to start to begin healing.

We might not be able to just snap out of depression or chronic stress as we’d like to – improvement in these areas is more likely to be a secondary effect of taking control where we can in our lives.

From spending time with other people, doing things we enjoy, increasing our daily movement, and improving our diets, which is the focus of this post.

A huge part of our inflammatory response is actually in our control, and that is the foods we eat, and our ability to process and digest them.

The Digestive Tract is a Gateway: to Health or to Inflammation

Much of your immune system is centrally located in your digestive tract.

When we persist in eating foods that aren’t healthy for us, we can develop allergies that affect the whole body. Food allergies can cause a weakened intestinal lining (i.e., permeable bowels/leaky gut). Slow-moving bowels and a lack of digestive enzymes can allow for overgrowth of bacteria such as endotoxin and yeast-like fungi.

The prevalence of too much bacteria signals your immune system’s natural response. This causes your immune cells to destroy your tissues while trying to protect you from the inflammatory pathogens that have been distributed throughout your body.

The same inflammation that causes an autoimmune response in your skin and hair cells, also is affected by imbalanced hormones, your circulation, your daily thoughts and lifestyle, and the things you take into your body.

As food is the basis of our existence and survival, it is also the foundation of our health.

Here are some very common foods that can trigger immune responses that lead to hair loss – take a look at your cupboard and see if you can find any of these common pro-inflammatory foods.

The Worst Foods for Inflammation

Unsaturated fats, and particularly polyunsaturated fats, can be major catalysts for inflammation.

“The omega-6 fatty acids are commonly found as linoleic acid, most often in vegetable oils such as corn, safflower, peanut, cottonseed, and soy oils, as well as in processed and packaged foods containing these oils. The omega-6 fatty acids stimulate the body’s production of many other inflammation-causing chemicals, such as prostaglandin E2.”[1] PGE2 contributes to inflammation by increasing the effects of histamine,[2] which is an immune response regulator that works throughout the body.

Omega-6 fats are polyunsaturated fats, and they are found in many natural or “healthy” foods. Although people are educating themselves about the truth behind saturated and unsaturated fat propaganda, unsaturated fats are still promoted as “heart-protecting,” and called “essential fatty acids.”

In reality, high concentrations of unsaturated fats in our tissues contribute to tissue oxidation, rapid aging, and a lowered metabolic rate – all leading to hair loss.

Dr. Ray Peat has pointed out that unsaturated fats, like those found in cold water fish, are designed to preserve that animal’s life. And if that fish was full of saturated fat, it would probably stiffen up and die in its cold habitat.[3] In contrast, we humans are warm-blooded and warm-bodied. Our body fat is more saturated, because that is what’s necessary to protect our organs and regulate our temperature.

Several studies like this one [4] show that a deficiency in “essential” fatty acids actually helps prevent diseases like diabetes, which have their roots in inflammation and insulin resistance, which are two of the biggest root causes in female hair loss. The end result of insulin resistance, diabetes, is often correlated with women’s hair loss as well. It could be that an essential fatty acid deficiency could help to reverse the inflammation that causes female hair loss.

Grains and Inflammation

Grains are a staple of the American diet,and have been for a very long time.

Grains and seeds, be they processed or “whole,” increase the presence of inflammatory proteins in the body. And eating them contributes to insulin resistance because they tend to cause a huge spike in insulin levels. Wheat and other cereal grains lead to “chronic inflammation and autoimmune diseases by increasing intestinal permeability and initiating a pro-inflammatory immune response.”[5]

Insulin resistance and leaky gut, and the secondary effect of autoimmune diseases should tell you to cut back on grains if you want to reduce inflammation and help your hair. If you absolutely must have them, choose one of the (slightly) less inflammatory ones like white rice or masa flour.

Thickeners and Inflammation

It’s amazing that large-scale food production companies care so much more about their bottom line, rather than delivering real food to consumers. Many of us have become trained to enjoy a certain texture and thickness to the nutrient-deficient foods we buy at the store. To help add artificial “substance” to otherwise insubstantial food products, food manufacturers often add thickening agents. Unfortunately, their use is very wide-spread, despite the evidence showing they cause harm.

Carrageenan is a food thickener, found in baby formula, in creams, ice cream, yogurts, and many baked goods. It has been found to “induce acute inflammation” and also has a toxic effect on macrophages (which play a big role in our central immune defense).[6] Some other effects of carrageenan come from this study[7] where it was fed to animals, include “fetal toxicity, birth defects, pulmonary lesions, hepatomegaly,” among others. It appears that this substance is doing harm to those who consume it. And the same may be said of other gums such as guar gum, xanthan gum, and others.

Too Much Food Can Cause Inflammation

Aside from contributing to insulin resistance, eating too much of any food can contribute to inflammation.

For those of us who have slowed digestion due to stress, low thyroid, etc., eating too much at once can cause inflammation. Those of us with compromised thyroid and metabolism will produce less stomach acid, have slowed stomach “clearance,” and may even have increased levels of gut bacteria and yeasts. If there is too much food in your belly and not enough stomach acid to digest it, this can lead to a harmful overgrowth as naturally occurring bacterias and yeasts feed on undigested or partially digested food in the stomach and digestive tract.

Yeast Overgrowth and Inflammation

Yeasts-like fungi such as Malassezia globosa and Candida albicans are present in your body or on your skin at any time, but in the right conditions, they can multiply fast, affecting your health and hair growth if the right conditions present themselves.

Malassezia globosa is a yeast-like fungus that lives on your scalp, feeding off of the sebum from your hair follicles. It causes itchy, greasy or dry dandruff, and can cause hair shedding. It can also grow in other parts of the body where sebaceous glands are present such as the face and upper back.

This fungus tends to overgrow when there is an abundance of sebum on the scalp (seborrhea), coupled with certain dietary factors. A diet high in inflammatory fats such as Omega 6 and PUFA, can feed the yeast as these oils come through in the sebaceous glands.

Seborrhea and seborrheic dermatitis are often a problem in women with pattern alopecia, accompanying a variety of hormonal imbalances such as hyperprolactinemia and hyperandrogenism. The yeasts from M. globosa and Candida tend to inflame the skin on your scalp, causing pain, tenderness, or itching, and making hair loss problems even worse.

Candida is a normal microorganism present in your GI tract and mouth. In healthy people who have healthy immune systems, it doesn’t overgrow or cause problems – but in the case of compromised immunity, it can be just as opportunistic as any other pathogen and spread quickly through the body.

I recently sat down with a dermatologist who supplied me with some unique insight into the causes of female hair loss. She believes that yeast overgrowth, aided by permeable bowels due to inflammation, is one of the biggest contributing factors in female hair loss.

She noted that a common complaint among women with hair loss caused by yeast overgrowth is an itching or pain in the scalp that accompanies the shedding of hair. Women with a chronic yeast problem often have symptoms indicating a compromised immune system – suffering from allergies, fatigue, poor cognition, vaginal infections, and even infertility.

So we must be mindful of what we eat and how we eat it if we want to help our bodies recover from inflammation and the problems it causes.

Food is the number one place to start, and it may require replacing highly inflammatory foods with healthier options, even if they have been our staples.

[1] The Inflammation Syndrome, Jack Challem p.28
[2] (Accessed 2-12-13)
[3] Unsaturated Fats: Nutritionally Essential or Toxic? Dr. Ray Peat
[4] Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1988 August; 85(16): 6137–6141.PMCID: PMC281920 Essential fatty acid deficiency prevents multiple low-dose streptozotocin-induced diabetes in CD-1 mice. J R Wright, Jr, J B Lefkowith, G Schreiner, and P E Lacy Essential fatty acid deficiency prevents multiple low-dose streptozotocin-induced diabetes in CD-1 mice. Essential fatty acid deficiency prevents multiple low-dose streptozotocin-induced diabetes in CD-1 mice. Essential Fatty Acid Deficiency Prevents Low-Dose Streptozotocin-Induced Diabetes in CD-1 Mice
[5]Nutrients 2013, 5(3), 771-787; doi:10.3390/nu5030771 Review The Dietary Intake of Wheat and other Cereal Grains and Their Role in Inflammation Karin de Punder 1 and Leo Pruimboom 1,2, 1 University of Girona, Plaça Sant Domènec, 3 Edifici Les Àligues, 17071 Girona, Spain2 Uni for Life, University of Graz, Beethovenstraβe 9, 8010 Graz, Austria Author to whom correspondence should be addressed. Received: 17 December 2012; in revised form: 8 February 2013 / Accepted: 21 February 2013 / Published: 12 March 2013
[6] Food Junk and Some Mystery Ailments: Fatigue, Alzheimer’s, Colitis, and Immunodeficiency Dr. Ray Peat
[7] Cancer Detect Prev 1981;4(1-4):129-134 Harmful effects of carrageenan fed to animals. Watt J, Marcus R

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