My mom never got her chance to go through the natural menopause process.
She had her ovaries and uterus removed due to endometriosis when she was in her late 30s, effectively going from pre-menopausal to post-menopausal overnight.
She thinks the removal of her parts may have compounded her now severe hair loss, and there’s evidence that she might be right.
Other women have experienced dramatic shedding following menopause, or removal of their ovaries or uterus.
The Menopause Process & How it Can Affect Your Hair
Menopause is that time in life where our menstruation has been absent for at least a year, and it usually happens to us between ages 45-55.
Our ovaries begin to shut down their production of estrogen and progesterone. We stop ovulating and having our periods at menopause, and stop being able to have children at this time.
How does this affect our hair?
Our two best known female hormones are estrogen and progesterone. Progesterone is a calming hormone that is highest during ovulation (and pregnancy), and ovulation is the process in a pre-menopausal woman’s monthly cycle that creates the most progesterone).
Progesterone is needed to balance out estrogen, androgens (male hormones), and stress hormones. And in hormonal balance, we aren’t trying to completely kill off all the androgens, estrogens, or stress hormones. We need all of our hormones in varying amounts.
After menopause, estrogen, and estrogenic mimickers (xenoestrogens, excess fat we carry) continue to be produced in our bodies, though in smaller amounts than pre-menopause. Since we no longer ovulate after menopause, we lost most of our ability ot create progesterone. And in its absence, too much estrogen, stress hormones, and androgenic hormones may rise.
We are in a somewhat vulnerable state during menopause, since we are likely to be more stressed, have excess bodyfat, and have higher estrogen and testosterone – unbalanced by progesterone, which is a protective hormone. As we talked about in the other causes of hair loss, hormonal imbalance leads to hair loss in a few different ways. Excess estrogen and stress can then contribute to thyroid disorders, as these make our liver less efficient, and pave the way for increased inflammation and autoimmune disease.
What About Ovary/Uterus Removal or Chemotherapy Menopause?
Removal of the uterus and/or ovaries can cause hair shedding, as the symptoms of hormonal imbalance often come up. As with my mother, the removal of these organs can leave your body feeling shocked. Rather than the relatively gradual process of menopause, all of a sudden you find you’re unable to create the hormones necessary for balance like you used to.
Other reasons for hair loss may be due to the removal surgery itself. Surgery can cause telogen effluvium, iron deficiency, or a sub-clinical form of hypothyroidism. The stress caused by surgery itself can be corrected by doing everything you can to reduce your stress response, have your iron levels tested, and take the necessary measures for thyroid and hormonal health. If you have patchy hair loss following a surgery, it may be due to something called “pressure alopecia” caused by having your head lay in the same position during a long surgery. If you have any patchy hair loss following surgery, consult your doctor or dermatologist.
Ovary removal, or oophorectomy, can have a greater effect on your inner hormonal balance. Since your ovaries produce almost all of your progesterone, removing them can cause severe imbalances, especially if you are overweight or have other risk factors for excess estrogen. Your ovaries (also your adrenal glands) are the site of most of your testosterone production. Testosterone in the right amounts is a beneficial hormone for your hair’s health.
If you have gone through chemotherapy prior to menopause, you may enter “chemopause” – due to the drugs drastically suppressing your own hormone production. For cancer-treatment purposes, this hormone-killing effect is a necessary evil. Chemopause may feel exactly like menopause, if not worse. Once you’re diagnosis is in the clear, and chemo is done, it’s not unheard of for chemopause to enter its own remission after months or years, but this depend on your age and general health.
Having your ovaries or uterus removed, or entering any form of early menopause can be a very traumatic experience, but thankfully, you can still achieve hormonal balance. If you are insulin resistant and polycystic, removal of the ovaries may even help prevent the over-production of androgens that may contribute to hormonal imbalance. But you may just require a bit more hormonal support. It will be helpful to test your levels of estrogen and progesterone on at least a yearly basis.
Dr. Alison McAllister, ND of [HPRLK]ZRTLab.com (an independent lab test organization) discusses the appropriate ratio of progesteron to estrogen on blood or saliva tests for these hormones. She states that looking at the ratio is appropriate when hormones are “within range,” but the woman still has symptoms. If either of these two hormones is out of normal range, then the ratio might not be appropriate for the clinical setting.
Consider biodentical hormone supplementation with your doctor in order to keep hormones balanced and keep you feeling more youthful. Pay attention to the symptoms you have prior to hormone therapy, and see how they change after hormone therapy.
Most of us know how disappointing it can be to take a supplement or medication (including hormones), with the hope that it will improve our hair loss or some other symptom we’re having – only to find out that any good effects seem to decrease over time, or that the symptoms get worse.
After hormonal supplementation, if your progesterone and estrogen are still in normal range, but you still have symptoms, or symptoms start getting worse, it could be that you just need to adjust your dosage. For example, zealous progesterone supplementation could eventually lead to progesterone dominance. This is less common than estrogen dominance, but it can produce similar symptoms to estrogen dominance. In this case, says Dr. McAllister, you can either add an estrogen supplement back in, reduce your progesterone supplement, or both – to help bring the balance of the two hormones back to healthy, symptom-alleviating levels.
As someone who has treated myself with – and been treated with – estrogen, progesterone, and thyroid hormones, I like to think of hormonal supplementation as similar to driving on snow or ice. That means to proceed with caution and awareness, and don’t be quick to overcorrect when you feel yourself starting to slip, since that’s how many drivers end up careening off the road. With hormone replacement/supplementation, it is good to “feel out” your symptoms, and the signals your body is sending you, in addition to reading the numbers on your blood work. Tread lightly when treating yourself, or allowing yourself to be treated with hormones.
Removal of all or part of your reproductive organs can cause your body to be in a state equivalent to menopause. But remember that women are still able to keep growing new hair after menopause, which suggests that the hair loss problems that do arise may have more to do with the balance of reproductive hormones, thyroid, metabolism, and stress.
So if you have entered a premature menopause, due to removal of your reproductive organs, it is very likely that you can still achieve hormonal balance. Proceed gently, and trust that with a litte effort, your body will strive to achieve its most healthy balance, no matter your situation.
1. Hair Loss After Hysterectomy