March is Women’s History Month — a reminder for us to celebrate one another and ourselves. Take this opportunity to carve out well-deserved time for self-care and remind yourself to listen to your body not just this month but every day.

Any change in the quality of your hair can be a sign of a change in your overall health. In fact, any change in the density or color of hair, including eyebrows and eyelashes, can be the first outward symptom of something more than skin deep.

And while gradual hair thinning over the years is a normal part of the aging process, abrupt onset of hair loss without a clear trigger (such as childbirth, recent surgery or severe emotional distress) could indicate an undiagnosed medical condition or a medication side effect.

Learn more about the internal causes of hair loss that are important to identify and address — plus, find out what you can do to restore your hair health.

Nutritional Deficiencies

Hair loss can occur secondary to severe crash diets and poor eating habits. A primary reason a balanced diet is critical to hair growth is that protein (keratin), which we get from various food sources, is the main component of hair. Additionally, there are certain vitamins, such as zinc and iron, which play a role in maintaining the cells (keratinocytes) that produce keratin and are also essential for hair growth. Deficiency of either can lead to broken hair and hair loss. Essential fatty acids are also important for both hair growth and maintaining the color of the hair.

Hormone Imbalances

Underlying hormone imbalances may also present as hair loss. An underactive or overactive thyroid gland can manifest as either diffuse hair loss or may be related to patchy hair loss. Similarly, elevated androgen levels, which may occur from Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome or abnormalities with glands responsible for androgen production, like the pituitary or adrenal glands, can cause baldness and excess hair growth on the face, neck and chest.

Medications

Multiple medications can cause hair loss. This can range from medications that are widely recognized to cause hair loss, including drugs that work by blocking cells that are rapidly dividing (like chemotherapy), to other medications that may be more commonly prescribed, like medications for mood or blood pressure pills. If you have noticed hair loss after starting a new medication or an increased dose of a medication, be sure to let your doctor know.

Other Medical Illnesses

Serious disorders of the kidney and liver can cause hair loss. Autoimmune conditions, like sarcoidosis and lupus, can also cause diffuse, patchy and/or scarring an hair loss. Additionally, infections can lead to hair loss. This includes viral illnesses, like shingles, which can cause scarring hair loss or COVID-19, which has been reported to cause diffuse hair loss.

What Should You Do If You Experience Hair Loss?

If you are experiencing hair loss, it is important to get a medical evaluation by your physician to rule out causes other than stress or age-related hair thinning. As such, it is important to seek care from a physician who can take your history, perform a physical examination and, in some cases, obtain blood work and perform additional testing.

You're More in Charge of Your Hair Destiny Than You Think

Hair loss is important to detect early because, in many cases, it can be halted or reversed. It is also critical to uncover any possible underlying causes of hair loss that could be detrimental to your overall health.

After seeking medical care, you can take other measures to restore your hair health. If you have a vitamin deficiency, supplementation may be helpful. Hair loss products that have been shown to stimulate hair growth may help to get your hair back on track. Ensuring you are eating a balanced diet and mitigating stress can also help to restore hair back to its normal health. Taking care of yourself includes paying attention to and taking care of your hair, which in turn can help you achieve overall better health.

From Dr. Nathan: Why Now Is the Best Time to Preserve Your Hair Health

About Dr. Neera Nathan

Neera Nathan, MD, MSHS is a Harvard-trained, board-certified dermatologist. While completing her residency in dermatology, she had the privilege of learning from international leaders in hair loss, aesthetics, laser medicine, and medical dermatology. She has authored more than 25 peer-reviewed publications, reviews, and book chapters to date and has presented her work at both national and international forums.

She has received scholarships and scientific grants from the National Institutes of Health, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Advancing Innovation in Dermatology, the American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery, and the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery.

In addition to her academic presence, she has been frequently featured in the media for her expertise, including the New York Times, HuffPost, Forbes.com, ABC News, and the Harvard Health Blog. She is passionate about the science behind hair and skin health, medical blogging, and patient advocacy.

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Disclaimer: Information in this article is intended for general informational and entertainment purposes only. It is not intended to constitute medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek professional medical advice from your physician.