We all know that excessive hair-styling and swimming can leave your hair in bad condition. But a new book reveals the damaging effect on your scalp of the modern day medications we use every day, including aspirin, vitamins, HRT and antibiotics.
Here, we look at how everyday medications can damage your hair.
The problem: A low dose of aspirin (anything from half to two a day) can lower haemoglobin levels, which results in a mild anaemia and iron deficiency. Iron is essential for the normal growth and maintenance of hair and a deficiency can cause thinning and shedding hair.
The solution: Take a blood test to confirm anaemia and take iron supplements on a doctor’s advice. Eat iron-rich food such as leafy vegetables and red meat.
The problem: ‘Very many people take vitamin C to prevent colds,’ says trichologist Philip Kingsley. ‘But often they take much more than they need. Although the body is said to flush out excess vitamin C, there are side-effects.
‘Overdosing on vitamin C affects the reproduction in the scalp and the skin cells, and increases the levels of pityrosporon ovale yeasts that cause flaky, inflamed scalps.’
The solution: Moderate your intake of vitamin C to a glass of orange juice a day or one pill a day. You don’t have to stop taking it altogether, but don’t assume that if one is good for keeping you healthy, two will be twice as good. Monitor your medication regularly with your doctor.
The problem: Incorrect treatment of thyroid problems can result in hair loss, hair brittleness, dryness and dullness. People either suffer from hyper (overactive) or hypo (underactive) thyroid, when the gland which regulates the body’s metabolism is working too slow or too fast.
When it’s too slow, women tend to gain weight and feel lethargic. When it is overactive, you can be underweight and highly energetic.
With a hyperactive thyroid the reproduction of the hair follicle cells speeds up, hair falls out in handfuls and you can lose hundreds of hairs a day. It is impossible to replace them as fast as they are being lost, resulting in hair thinning.
If you are hypothyroid, your metabolism slows down and so hair does not grow back as quickly, leaving thinning patches.
The solution: It is important to keep going back to the doctor to adjust your medication.
The problem: Excessive vitamin E, used as a powerful antioxidant, can lower the absorption of iron in the body. As with aspirin, this can result in a mild anaemia which can cause brittle hair and hair loss in a few cases.
The solution: ‘If you take iron and vitamin E at the same time, they counteract each other,’ says Philip Kingsley. ‘So take one vitamin E tablet in the evening and an iron tablet in the morning.’
The problem: Taking more than 10,000 IUs of vitamin A can make your hair fall out. It increases cell reproduction in hair follicles, which means they reach the end of their growth phase faster.
When hair reaches the end of its growth phase, it falls out, so the sooner it reaches the end of its growth phase, the earlier it falls out. A normal growth phase lasts about three or four years.
The solution: As with vitamin C, you must lower your dosage.
‘To counteract damage, you must make sure you wash your hair every day and gently but firmly massage the scalp well,’ says Philip Kingsley. ‘This helps to stimulate the scalp.’
The problem: In some cases hair can fall out with the anti-acne drug Roaccutane because it is based on vitamin A, which speeds up the growth rate of hair, causing it to fall out sooner than it should.
The solution: Try an alternative acne treatment and use moisturizing treatments for your hair.
The problem: If taken regularly over more than three months, anti-inflammatory painkillers can cause extra shedding of the hair and hair thinning in three per cent of cases.
The solution: Try changing to another anti-inflammatory drug. It is a matter of trial and error as to which anti-inflammatories have a lesser effect. Some people can be more susceptible to one type than another.
The problem: Antibiotics are known to reduce hemoglobin and also lower vitamin B levels, sometimes making hair fall out faster. The illness being treated can also be the cause of hair loss.
The solution: Take vitamin B supplements when on antibiotics.
Birth Control Pills
The problem: Many androgenic oral contraceptives (containing male hormones) can lessen hair.
The solution: There are some brands of oral contraceptive pills that are anti-androgens and help hair growth, including Dianette, Marvelon, Mercilon and Cilest.
The problem: Anti-depressants have been linked to extra hair loss. It is not known why the drugs trigger hair loss. In some cases women experience it as a result of extreme stress and depression, so they go on Prozac, which also causes hair loss.
The solution: Only a tiny percentage of people are affected. ‘I would not recommend anyone avoid anti-depressants because of the tiny risk of losing hair,’ says Philip Kingsley.
The problem: Cholesterol inhibitors including Lipitor and Effexor can cause an increase in hair shedding in one per cent of cases.
The normal hair shedding rate for an average person is 100,000 hairs in four years, which is 25,000 hairs a year, 2,000 a month, 500 a week and around 70 a day. Faster shedding rate combined with slower replacement hair results in thinner hair.
The solution: ‘It is normal for hair to fall out seasonally, usually in spring and autumn,’ says Philip Kingsley. Up to six weeks is fine. After that, seek advice. For anyone to notice hair loss they will have had to lose 15 per cent of their hair.
The problem: Almost everyone associates chemotherapy with hair loss. The drugs that kill off the cancer cells also kill the cells in the hair follicle.
Hair will always grow back after chemotherapy. However, it might not grow back the same as it was before treatment – straight hair may grow back curly and vice versa.
The solution: There is no alternative to chemotherapy. Some hair loss is inevitable but you can minimize it by bandaging ice packs around the head before and during treatment. This restricts the flow of chemical therapy around the head.
Hormone Replacement Therapy
The problem: As women get older, their hair volume reduces naturally because the hair follicles microscopically shrink and produce smaller hair. Hormone replacement therapy can exacerbate the problem by acting in a similar way to the androgenic pill.
The solution: HRT pills that aren’t androgenic include Premique, Femapak, Femoston, Indivina and Tridestra. These will not cause hair-thinning but should not be used for this reason alone because they may be linked to fluid retention and weight gain.
About the Author (Author Profile)Blogger, writer, relationships/dating expert, fitness trainer and natural hair enthusiast since 1997. Sharing information from grandmomma, books and scientific journals, as well as my personal discoveries and experiences with natural hair as we journey from relaxers, flat irons and weaves together.
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