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Love and Happiness: Hormone Hacks for a Happy Life

Hormones are chemical messengers that influence essential aspects of our health and wellbeing. The emotions of love and happiness are included as essential components of our lives. Three key compounds are involved in love and happiness – oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin. Today I’ll discuss the action of each and give some Hormone Hacks to help you boost your love and happiness in your day-to-day life.

Oxytocin

Oxytocin is a hormone and neurotransmitter that is often called the love hormone or the cuddle hormone. It is produced during times of bonding – during labour, breastfeeding and intimate contact with loved ones.

The release of oxytocin increases empathy and sensitivity to the emotions of others. It increases trust, caring for others and positive social interactions. It can make you feel more extroverted, and may even encourage you to lie for the benefit of a group!

Oxytocin also influences other hormones, leading to decreased stress hormone production and strong anti-anxiety effects.

Levels of oxytocin are high during the first six months of a romantic or significant relationship, but we can carry on that oxytocin high by focusing on these Hormone Hacks.

Touch and warmth – massage has been found to increase oxytocin, as has cuddling, holding hands, kissing or petting an animal

Give and receive hugs – some experts suggest both your immune system and oxytocin levels will benefit from 12 hugs per day

Eye contact – positive eye contact can increase oxytocin significantly, especially during intimate conversations and physical contact

Positive smells – smells associated with positive memories can increase oxytocin

Practice gratitude – focusing on the blessings in our lives can improve our mood, well being, and oxytocin levels. Simple steps like keeping a gratitude journal or sharing gratitude at the dinner table can go a long way towards improving happiness

Participate in something great – volunteer work, social movements, and any activity that benefits society and the greater good can boost oxytocin and social connectivity

Orgasm – the most direct line to increased oxytocin, it is produced by both men and women at orgasm. The boost is especially pronounced in loving relationships

Interesting fact: oxytocin is being studied for its potential benefits for autism and increasing empathy and social interaction. It may also be useful for tinnitus, but only preliminary studies have been done.

Dopamine

Dopamine is a feel-good neurotransmitter and hormone that is produced during new and novel experiences. It is a reward based neurotransmitter that increases desire, focus and attention, short term memory, boldness and delight in small details. It can also lead to a lower need for food or sleep and increase risk taking.

It is also a hormone associated with addiction. Dopamine feels good, so we repeat behaviours that encourage dopamine production, even if they have damaging effects on our lives.

Knowing this aspect of dopamine we can focus on building habits that are positive to our overall wellbeing.

Below are some Hormone Hacks to increase the beneficial effects of dopamine.

Try something new – engaging in a new activity will boost dopamine. Traveling to new places, visiting art galleries and trying new and novel activities

Eat something spicy – eating seemingly dangerous foods – spicy, hot, icy, fermented – will all trick your body into a dopamine boost

Take a healthy risk – riding rollercoasters, watching scary movies or playing video games, basically any mildly thrilling activity will increase dopamine

Achieve a goal – even small goals like finishing a book, finishing a chore, winning a game against friends can give you a dopamine edge

Meditation and visualizationmeditation has been found in studies to increase dopamine. And if you aren’t feeling adventurous enough for a rollercoaster, just visualizing the activity can trigger a dopamine release – just as if you were actually doing it!

Serotonin

Another feel-good neurotransmitter, serotonin is essential to a balanced, happy mood. It is also necessary for will power, to create long term plans and delay gratification. Serotonin makes us feel like anything is possible.

Serotonin is made both in the brain and in the digestive tract (80-90%). Not only does serotonin impact mood and memory, but also appetite (especially carbohydrate cravings), nausea and bowel function.

Low levels of serotonin are found in impulsivity and depression – but we don’t know if the low serotonin is a cause or effect of depression.

Increasing serotonin is often done through medications (some legal, others not), but there are many natural ways to increase serotonin.

Sunshine – outdoor light, or light boxes (available at some Toronto area libraries, or for personal home use) stimulate serotonin production and vitamin D synthesis, an essential nutrient for serotonin action

Exercise – in addition to making us feel good, exercise improves the function of serotonin in the brain

Massage – another kudos to massage therapy – massage can increase serotonin levels by 28% and decrease the stress hormone cortisol by up to 30%

Eat your greens – vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), found in leafy greens, cauliflower, fish and lean poultry, is an essential nutrient for the production of serotonin. Low levels can lead to low serotonin

Eat legumes – legumes, particularly chickpeas, are high in tryptophan – the amino acid necessary for serotonin production. Other foods high in tryptophan include nuts, seeds, tofu, turkey, lentils, eggs and dairy

Remember happy events – surrounding yourself with positive memories – photos and mementos of happy moments, special occasions, and loved ones, can give you a serotonin surge every time you see them and remember happy times

Hormones really are essential components to our health and happiness. Use these Hormone Hacks to help increase the love and happiness in your life. Got a tip I didn’t include? Please leave it in the comments below.

And if you’re interested in achieving your personal Hormone Harmony, book an appointment now.

Disclaimer

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only. It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider. Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.

PCOS Diet: Infographic

In celebration of PCOS Awareness month this September, I have prepared this infographic on the PCOS diet.  Polycystic ovarian syndrome impacts 1 in 10 women and is the most common cause of anovulatory infertility.

It is also a condition that responds incredibly well to dietary and lifestyle changes.  Take charge of your health, and your hormones and start following the PCOS diet today.

If you need more support on your journey to hormone balance, book a free 15 minute consultation or initial consultation with me.  You can have balanced, healthy hormones!

pcos-diet-infographic_drlisawatsonnd

Disclaimer

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only. It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider. Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.

Eight Benefits of Hula Hooping

I have an addiction. I don’t try to hide it. It’s an addiction to a sparkly plastic hoop (actually I have about 11 sparkly plastic hoops now!). It’s an addiction to hula hooping and I love it.

Hula hooping began as a child’s toy in 1958 and enjoyed a brief heyday through the late fifties and early sixties. But adults and teens around the world have taken this wonderful toy and given it a renaissance! We are hoopers.

I want to share with you eight reasons you should try hula hooping. It goes far beyond exercise and I want to tell you why.

1. It’s a Full Body Workout

You may think that hula hooping is done mostly on your waist, and while that may be true for beginners, most hula hoopers enjoy using the hoop on their whole body. You can hoop on your chest, shoulders, hips, knees, arms, hands, feet and more. Even just hooping on your waist works as many as 30 different muscles!

2. It Builds a Killer Core

Dr. Watson fire hula hooping #dangerfunWaist hooping works your core like no other exercise. Using muscles both in your abdomen (upper and lower abdominal muscles) as well as muscles in your back you can strengthen the core as well as burn nasty abdominal fat.

3. Hooping Burns a Crazy Amount of Calories

The amazing team over at the American Council on Exercise did a study that showed waist hooping can burn over 400 calories per hour. To give you some perspective that’s similar to an hour of tennis, hiking, stationary rowing or elliptical training.

4. Hooping Gets Your Heart Pumping

Cardiovascular exercise (aka “cardio”, aka “aerobic exercise”) results in improved heart health by both strengthening and enlarging the heart muscle, allowing it to pump more efficiently and reducing both heart rate and blood pressure. Engaging in cardiovascular exercise has been shown to have many benefits for lifelong health and can reduce the risk of death from cardiovascular disease. Who knew a hoop could do all that?

5. Hooping Improves Hand-Eye Coordination

I don’t know about you, but this was something I was not expecting when I picked up my first hoop! But looking around at all the amazing hoopers in my hoop class I knew I needed to learn some tricks!   From hand hooping to doubles and escalators and vortexes, you really challenge your brain and your body and build those neural connections that will last you a lifetime. It’s just like riding a bike!

6. Improves Flexibility

Hula hooping can improve flexibility of your spine, hips and entire body. Waist hooping is a rhythmic movement requiring purposeful (but not rigid!) back and forward, or side to side, movements. As you progress in your skill as a hooper you improve flexibility, not just through your core but through your hips, chest, shoulders and extremities.Dr. Watson hula hooping

7. Connect Your Mind and Body

The relaxation response that is elicited during yoga and meditation can also be achieved with rhythmic aerobic exercise – like hula hooping! The movement of hooping can be very meditative and it’s easy to spend 30 minutes with your hoop, connecting to your body and the music while relaxing and de-stressing your mind.

8. Hula Hooping Brings Happiness

There is no better reason to try hula hooping than that it is fun. There may be many many health benefits to hooping, but the reason that most of us pick up our hoops day after day is that we feel happy while we’re hooping. For me hula hooping brings out a spontaneous playful side that I’ve brought into my life as a mother, wife and doctor. I tell people that hooping boosts my Qi – the life force inside all of us. I feel more happy and more alive when I’m hooping regularly.

And the hooping community is amazing as well! I’ve made friends from Toronto and around the world through hula hooping. I dare you to try it and not love it!

References:

Holthusen, Jordan, John Porcari, Carl Foster, Scott Doberstein, and Mark Anders. “ACE-sponsored Research: HOOPING– Effective Workout or Child’s Play?.” American Council on Exercise: Fitness. Available online at: http://www.acefitness.org/certifiednewsarticle/1094/

*All featured photos are of Dr. Watson and her hula hoops.

Dr. Watson hoops in Toronto with HooperSonic and Sugar Hoops 

 

Nutrient Deficiencies in Celiac Disease

 

Celiac disease is more than an intolerance to gluten.  It is an immune-mediated condition where the immune system attacks and damages the microvilli in the small intestine after dietary exposure to gluten.

The damage done by the immune system results in many of the symptoms of celiac disease – abdominal pain, gas, bloating, diarrhea and/ or constipation.  The damage to the intestinal cells also prevents the body from absorbing nutrients from food, resulting in malnourishment and symptoms of anemia, weight loss, and fatigue.

Foods that contain gluten

Nutrient Deficiencies in Celiac Disease

The main treatment for celiac disease is complete avoidance of gluten.  Even a small amount of gluten can prevent the body from healing the damage done to the microvilli of the small intestines.  Celiac disease is a chronic condition – gluten must be avoided for a lifetime.

Gluten is a protein found in specific grains – wheat (including semolina, couscous, bulgur, durum, farina, spelt, graham flour), barley, triticale, and rye.

Gluten is also found in any foods that use wheat flour as a thickening agent.  Luncheon meats, gravy, soy sauce, mustards, baked beans, pates, salad dressings, malt balls and more can contain gluten.  If you have been diagnosed with celiac disease, be sure to read all labels to check for hidden gluten.

Nutrient Deficiencies in Celiac Disease

Nutrient deficiencies in celiac disease occur as a result of the damage done to the cells of the small intestines.  In many cases nutrient deficiences are what lead to a diagnosis of celiac disease! In up to half of celiac patients nutrient deficiencies persist despite being on a gluten-free diet.  Many of these nutrient deficiencies can have significant long-term impacts such as accelerated bone loss and cardiovascular disease.  This has led many experts in celiac disease to recommend both monitoring and supplementation to improve nutrient status. The specific nutrient deficiencies that are a concern in celiac disease are listed below.

Vitamin DVitamin D deficiency in celiac disease

Vitamin D deficiency is thought to be responsible for the high incidence of bone disorders in celiac disease.  With studies suggesting up to 70% of celiac patients have reduced bone mineral density this is a major concern for the life long health of people with celiac disease.

Vitamin D deficiency is common in celiac disease because it requires not only the proper function of pancreatic enzymes but is also absorbed in the region most damaged by celiac disease.

When vitamin D levels are deficient not only is new bone material not being created but calcium is also being removed from the bone, resulting in decreased density, increased fragility and a higher incidence of osteoporosis.

Low vitamin D levels also decrease the amount of calcium absorbed – in cases of low vitamin D only 10-15% of dietary calcium is absorbed (compared to 30-40% in healthy individuals).

In people with celiac disease on a gluten free diet taking a vitamin D supplement and calcium can improve bone mineral density.  One study found that those not taking supplements did not have an improved bone mineral density after one year of being gluten free.  Your Naturopathic Doctor can provide you with guidelines for appropriate vitamin D dosage, high doses may require laboratory monitoring to ensure liver health.

Calcium

Calcium deficiencies in celiac disease arise as a result of vitamin D deficiencies.  Vitamin D is required by the body for appropriate calcium absorption.  Taking a calcium supplement  with a vitamin D supplement is recommended for most people with celiac disease.

Vitamins A, E and K

Vitamin E deficiency in celiac disease

These fat soluble vitamins may also be deficient in celiac disease due to inadequate pancreatic enzyme secretion.  Vitamins A and E function as antioxidants in the body and can help decrease inflammation and prevent damage to cells from free radicals.  Supplementation with vitamins A, E and K may be warranted, particularly during the first 12-24 months on a gluten free diet while the body repairs the damage done to the intestinal lining.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 deficiency is relatively common in adults with and without celiac disease and incidence increases with age.  B12 is absorbed at a lower level of the small intestine than other nutrients but is still deficient in up to 40% of celiac patients, likely due to pancreatic enzyme insufficiencies or suboptimal gastric acid secretion.

People with celiac disease taking antacids, PPIs (proton pump inhibitors) or with low levels of B12 may benefit from B12 supplements.  B12 is available as an intramuscular injection or oral supplement.  Discuss with your Naturopathic Doctor which option is better for you.

Folic acid

Folic acid is a B vitamin and, like vitamin B12, the absorption of folic acid is diminished in celiac disease.  When folic acid and vitamin B12 are decreased levels of homocysteine increase – and elevated homocysteine is associated with an increased incidence of heart disease.

Food fortified with folic acid tend to be those that must be avoided in celiac disease, namely breads and cereal products.  Few gluten-free products are adequately fortified with folic acid.  The methylated form of folic acid, 5-MTHF is the best absorbed form of folic acid and may be an appropriate supplement for individuals with celiac disease.

Iron

Naturopathic treatment of iron deficiency in celiac diseaseIron deficiency is the most common non-digestive symptom of celiac disease.  Iron deficiency is one of the symptoms that is most likely to lead to a diagnosis of celiac disease.

Iron absorption may normalize after one year or more on a gluten free diet.  However, up to 50% of celiac patients will still have low serum ferritin (iron storage) levels after one year and up to 45% will have persistent low ferritin after two years.  Iron levels should be tested whenever using iron as a supplement and dosage should be tailored to your individual needs.

Deficiencies in pancreatic enzymes

While not a nutrient deficiency, deficiencies in pancreatic enzymes can contribute to sub-optimal nutrient absorption and are an important aspect of managing celiac disease. These enzymes are normally secreted in response to fats and proteins in the diet.  Pancreatic enzyme secretion is decreased in people with celiac disease due to the mucosal damage to the intestines.

Supplementing with digestive enzymes can be useful during the first year on the gluten-free diet while the body is repairing the damage to the cells of the intestinal lining.  Additionally, people who are still experiencing symptoms of diarrhea while on the gluten free diet may benefit from supplementation of digestive enzymes.

Other Concerns in Celiac Disease

In addition to the various nutrient deficiencies seen in celiac disease there are two other areas of concern that may be contributing to symptoms or suboptimal health in individuals with celiac.  They are dairy intolerance and dysbiosis.

Dairy Intolerance

People who have celiac disease have an increased chance of being lactose intolerant due to decreased pancreatic enzymes and damage to the cells in the upper intestinal tract where lactase (the enzyme that breaks down lactose in milk) is secreted.

Not only is lactose intolerance an issue in celiac disease, but there may also be reactivity to the proteins in milk, most notably casein.  In one study they found that half of the celiac patients exposed to milk had an inflammatory response when given cows milk.

Dysbiosis

We all carry around several pounds of bacteria in our digestive tract.  Some of it is bad, but most of it is good.  When we carry more bad than good bacteria we are in a state of “dysbiosis”.

In people with celiac disease studies have suggested that there is a tendency to carry higher levels of Bacteroides and Clostridium leptum (two ‘bad’ bacteria strains), regardless of whether they were consuming gluten or not.

In untreated celiac disease higher levels of  E. coli and Staphylococci have also been found.  Luckily these levels normalized with a gluten-free diet.

Since the gluten-free diet alone does not completely normalize the bacteria balance in the digestive tract supplementing with probiotics and prebiotics can be used to successfully modify the bacteria population and reduce inflammation and decrease symptoms.

Celiac disease is a condition that is best managed using an integrative approach.  An experienced Naturopathic Doctor can work with your Medical Doctor, nutritionist and other health care providers to ensure you are getting everything you need to live a long, healthy and full life, even without gluten.

Disclaimer

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only.  It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider.  Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.

Select References:

Malterre T.  Digestive and Nutritional Considerations in Celiac Disease: Could Supplementation Help? Altern Med Rev 2009;14(3):247-257

Annibale B, Severi C, Chistolini A, et al. Efficacy of gluten-free diet alone on recovery from iron deficiency anemia in adult celiac patients. Am J Gastroenterol 2001;96:132-137

Green PH, Cellier C. Celiac disease. N Engl J Med 2007;357:1731-1743

Leeds JS, Hopper AD, Hurlstone DP, et al. Is exocrine pancreatic insufficiency in adult coeliac disease a cause of persisting symptoms? Aliment Pharmacol Ther 2007;25:265-271

Sanz Y, Sánchez E, Marzotto M, et al. Differences in faecal bacterial communities in coeliac and healthy children as detected by PCR and denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis. FEMS Immunol Med Microbiol 2007;51:562-568

Corazza GR, Di Sario A, Sacco G, et al. Subclinical coeliac disease: an anthropometric assessment. J Intern Med 1994;236:183-187

Annibale B, Severi C, Chistolini A, et al. Efficacy of gluten-free diet alone on recovery from iron deficiency anemia in adult celiac patients. Am J Gastroenterol 2001;96:132-137

Meyer D, Stavropolous S, Diamond B, et al. Osteoporosis in a North American adult population with celiac disease. Am J Gastroenterol 2001;96:112-119

Photo Credits:

Creative Commons License Whatsername? via Compfight

Creative Commons License Tambako The Jaguar via Compfight

Eden Politte via Compfight

Robert Fornal via Compfight

Safety of Herbs in Pregnancy

Lemon Balm

Unless you are under the care of a knowledgeable Naturopathic Doctor, herbalist or Integrative Medical Doctor, it is unadvisable to use any herbs during pregnancy.  Health Canada currently recognizes SIX herbs that can safely be consumed as teas during pregnancy.  They are:

  • Ginger
  • Lemon balm
  • Linden flower*
  • Orange peel
  • Citrus peel
  • Rose hip

*Not for use in women with a pre-existing heart condition

The issue with the use of herbs during pregnancy is the lack of safety information. It is unethical to do product safety studies in pregnant women so few of these studies exist.  We need to rely on other types of information in determining the safety of herbs during pregnancy.

Herbs that are considered safe in pregnancy are those that:

  • Have a long safety record of traditional use in pregnancy
  • Are free of poisonous and toxic biochemical components
  • Do not cause uterine contractions
  • Do not alter blood flow to the uterus
  • Do not lead to birth defects
  • Do not cause nutrient deficiencies that could negatively impact pregnancy
  • Have no actions that could be harmful to either a pregnant woman or her fetus (i.e. laxative, sedative, purgative, etc.)

The herbs listed below are considered to be generally safe for pregnancy.  However, it is best not to take any medication (herbal or otherwise) during the first trimester of pregnancy as this is the most sensitive time of development for the fetus.  Only take these herbs under the supervision and guidance of a qualified health care professional.

Herbs That Can Be Used In Moderation In Pregnancy

This list refers to plants that may be used in moderation in pregnancy.  Essential oils should be avoided.

Anise seed

Herbs That Can Be Used in Moderation in Pregnancy

Althea officinalis (marshmallow root) Mentha piperita (peppermint)
Balotta nigra (black horehound) Pimpinella aniusm (anise)
Dioscorea villosa (wild yam root) Urtica diocia (nettle)
Echinacea species Viburnum opulus (cramp bark)
Gallium aparine (cleavers) Viburnum prunifolium (black haw)
Zea mays (corn silk)

Herbs To Be Used With Caution In Pregnancy

Garlic

This list refers to plants which may be used occasionally as mildly flavored beverages, teas, seasonings, or as food.  Extracts (i.e. tinctures) of all of these plants, even in small doses should be avoided.

Herbs That Can Be Used With Caution in Pregnancy

Allium sativa (garlic) Mentha spicata (spearmint)
Allium cepa (onion) Myristica fragrans (nutmeg)
Apium graveolens (celery) Nasturtium officinalis (watercress)
Armoracia lapathifolia (horseradish) Ocymum basilicum (basil)
Artemesia dracunuclus (tarragon) Oreganum vulgaris (oregano)
Beta vulgaris (beet) Oreganum magorana (marjoram)
Brassica spp. (broccoli, cabbage) Petroselinum sativa (parsley)
Capsicum fructescens (cayenne) Piper nigra (black pepper)
Caryophyllus aromaticus (clove) Prunus persica (peach seed)
Carica papaya (papaya) Rosemarium officinalis (rosemary)
Cichorum intybus (chicory) Satureua hortensis (savory)
Cinnamomum zeylanicam (cinnamon) Silybum (marianum (milk thistle)
Crocus sativa (saffron) Thymus vulgaris (thyme)
Daucus carota (carrot) Trigonellum foenumgraecum (fenugreek)
Equisetum arvense (horsetail) Ulmus fulva (slippery elm)
Ferula asafetida (asafetida) Zingiber officinale (ginger)
Foenicumlum vulgare (fennel) Mitchella repens (sqaw vine) – 3rd trimester only
Equisetum arvense (horsetail) Rubus idaeus (red raspberry)
Ferula asafetida (asafetida) Trifolium pratense (red clover)
Foenicumlum vulgare (fennel) Zingiber offinale (ginger)

Download an easily printable PDF here: Safety of Herbs in Pregnancy

Ginger

Disclaimer

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only.  It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider.  Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.

Resources

  1. American College of Naturopathic Obstetricians: Home Obstetrical Care, A Handbook for the Practitioner.
  2. Bove, Mary. “Herbs for use in pregnancy, birth and postpartum”. The Birthkit. Winter 1998. P. 3.
  3. Gallo et al.  “Pregnancy outcome following gestational exposure to Echinacea”.  Arch Intern Med 2000; 160: 3141-3143.
  4. Hoffman, D. The Holistic Herbal
  5. Weed, S. Wise Women Herbal for the Childbearing Year. 1985
  6. Weiss MD, Rundolf Fritz. Herbal Medicine.
  7. G Frazer 1992.
  8. PDR for Herbal Medicine. 1998.
  9. Yarnell, Eric. “Botanical Medicine in Pregnancy and Lactation”.  Alternative & Complementary Therapies. April 1997. P. 93-100.

Matcha Shortbread Cookies

Matcha is powdered green tea.  It is very high in cancer-preventing antioxidants, relaxing L-theanine, and vitamins A, B-complex, C, E, K, chlorophyll and trace minerals.

Matcha Shortbread Cookies

Matcha cookiesIngredients:

2 cups of flour (use coconut flour for a gluten-free cookie)
1-2 tbsp organic matcha powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 lb unsalted grass-fed butter
1/2 cup organic cane sugar

Directions

Sift together flour, matcha, and salt in a medium bowl.

In a large bowl cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

Slowly add flour and matcha mixture to butter and sugar, until just combined.  Do not over-mix!

Gently roll out the dough on a floured surface.

If you are using cookie cutters, refrigerate dough for one hour so that it is less fragile.

Line cookie sheet with parchment paper and bake cookies at 325F for approximately 10 minutes, depending on the size and thickness of the cookies.

Keep a close watch on them so that they don’t brown!

Getting to the Root of Female Hair Loss

Hair loss is a condition affecting many adults – both men and women.  Women are more likely to question why they are experiencing hair loss and may be more negatively affected by the hair loss than men.  Women with hair loss report lower self esteem and often have higher levels of fear, stress, depression and anxiety.

Conventional medicine is often dismissive of female hair loss.  The hair loss is most often not severe alopecia (the medical term for hair loss) and it is often diffuse (scattered over the scalp).

So why are women in their 20s, 30s, and 40s experiencing hair loss?  There are a number of potential causes.  By addressing the root cause of the hair loss, many women are able to stop the hair loss and in some instances, reverse it.

Aging

Unfortunately, hair loss is a normal part of aging.  By the age of 40, the rate of hair growth slows down.  New hairs are not replaced as quickly as old ones are lost.  This age-related hair loss affects both men and women.  In men the hair loss can be more prominent due to the effects of androgens (male sex hormones – such as testosterone).

Androgens

Androgens can contribute to hair loss in women just like in men.  It has been known since the time of Hippocrates that male sex hormones (androgens) contribute to hair loss.  This androgen-related hair loss is very common in women.  A report published in the Clinical Dermatology journal states that it affects approximately 30% of women before age 50.   When it occurs in women it is often referred to as “female pattern hair loss”.

There are a number of reasons why a woman may be affected by androgen-related hair loss.  Genetics, excess androgens, insulin resistance, diabetes, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and low antioxidant status are all associated with female pattern hair loss.

Drug-Induced Hair Loss

A long list of pharmaceutical drugs can cause hair loss.  Some of the most common ones are:

  • Medications_hair loss
    Many common medications can contribute to female hair loss

    Antibiotics

  • Anticoagulants (Coumadin, heparin)
  • Antidepressants (Prozac, lithium)
  • Antiepileptics (Valproic acid, Dilantin)
  • Cardiovascular drugs (ACE inhibitors, beta-blockers)
  • Chemotherapy drugs
  • Endocrine drugs (Clomid, danazol)
  • Gout medications (Colchicine, allopurinol)
  • Lipid-lowering drugs
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (Ibuprofen, naproxen)
  • Ulcer medications (Zantac, tagamet)

When possible, natural alternatives to these drugs should be considered if hair loss is occurring.

Nutritional Deficiencies

A deficiency of almost any essential nutrient can lead to hair loss.  A Naturopathic Doctor can assess your overall nutrient status, but there are a few signs you can look for at home.

Zinc – white lines on the nail can indicate poor wound healing, a common sign of low zinc levels.

Vitamin A – bumps on the back of the arms (called hyperkeratosis) is a common sign of vitamin A deficiency.

Essential Fatty Acids dry skin on the elbows and other parts of the body is a common sign of low essential fatty acid levels.

Another nutrient deficiencies that may lead to hair loss is iron.  A simple blood test is needed to determine iron levels.  Your Naturopathic Doctor can help you interpret this test – many labs have normal ranges that include low iron levels that should be corrected with iron supplements.

If you are deficient in any of these nutrients a test of hydrochloric acid (stomach acid) should be considered to determine if you are not absorbing nutrients properly from your diet.

Hypothyroidism

Hair loss is one of the first features noticed by most women with hypothyroidism.  10 to 20% of the adult population has mild to severe hypothyroidism.  A blood test can be done to determine if hypothyroidism is causing your female hair loss.

Celiac Disease and Gluten Intolerance

Gluten Free LogoCeliac disease is a medical condition where gluten (a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye grains) damages the small intestines and causes systemic symptoms by cross-reacting antibodies that attack various cells in the body, including hair follicles.  The hair loss with celiac disease is often complete – a condition known as alopecia areata.

In people with gluten intolerance, the condition may manifest as hair loss (not complete) rather than digestive symptoms (which are a predominant feature of celiac disease).

Consider being tested for celiac disease if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Bulk, pale, frothy, foul-smelling bowel movements
  • Weight loss
  • Signs of multiple vitamin and mineral deficiencies

A gluten-free diet will virtually eliminate symptoms in people with celiac disease.  A trial elimination of all gluten containing foods is recommended for anyone with hair loss to determine if gluten sensitivity is a cause.

Treatment of Hair Loss in Women

One of the central philosophies of Naturopathic Medicine is to treat the cause.  The treatment for female hair loss depends on the underlying cause of the hair loss.

hormone balance_feet
Hormone balance, addressing nutrient deficiencies and addressing the cause will improve hair loss in women.

Treatment of Androgen-Related Hair Loss in Women

  • Address underlying causes of androgen excess
  • Improve blood glucose regulation – low glycemic index diet, blood glucose normalizing supplements (such as glucomannan, fenugreek, or bitter melon), and regular exercise
  • Increase antioxidant intake – vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, green tea
  • Saw palmetto extract – reduces the formation of dihydrotestosterone (DHT) a more potent form of testosterone that is often elevated in male and female pattern hair loss.  Works in a similar manner to Propecia (finasteride) – a prescription drug often used in female hair loss.

Treatment of Nutrient Deficiency-Related Hair Loss in Women

  • Test hydrochloric acid levels to ensure nutrients from food are being absorbed and supplement when necessary
  • A high-potency multivitamin and mineral formula (with iron when indicated)
  • Flaxseed or fish oil daily as a source of essential omega-3 fatty acids

Hair loss in women is a concern that should be taken seriously.  Although some hair loss naturally occurs with aging there may be another underlying cause of hair loss.  Consult with your Naturopathic Doctor if hair loss is a concern for you.  There is help available.

Disclaimer

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only.  It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider.  Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.