Originally published October 2 2008
Beautiful Hair and Skin Require Optimal Thyroid Functioning
by Barbara L. Minton
(NaturalNews) Whether your hair turns gray and falls out or stays a thick mane of vibrant color is dependent on your body having proper levels of thyroid hormones. New ground breaking research has documented that human hair follicles are direct targets of the thyroid hormones T3 and T4 which modulate hair biology parameters from cycling to pigmentation.
The August 26th Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism reports a study to assess the impact of the two central thyroid hormones of the body, T3 and T4 on the human hair follicle. Human hair follicles in their growth phase were obtained from women between the ages of 40 and 69 with adequate thyroid levels. The follicles were cultured and treated with T3 and T4.
The results showed that T4 up-regulates the proliferation of hair matrix keratinocytes, cells responsible for growth, and a combination of T3 and T4 down-regulate programmed cell death. T4 was also shown to prolong the growth phase, possibly due to the down-regulation of a key inhibiting growth factor. Both T3 and T4 significantly stimulated the synthesis of melanin in the follicle. Melanin is what gives pigment or color to the hair.
Empirical evidence has already led to the belief that hair loss is the result of decreased metabolism in the scale follicles of people with low levels of thyroid hormone, resulting in early release of the hair shaft and root. Hair that is brittle, has split ends and breaks has been observed to correlate with low thyroid levels. Many physicians and dermatologists diagnose low thyroid based solely on early graying of the hair and the loss of hairs from the outer ends of the eyebrows.
Thyroid problems can develop at any age and usually appear so slowly that they go unnoticed. At least 27 million Americans are estimated to have an undiagnosed thyroid problem, and most of them are females.
The thyroid is the master gland of metabolism. When it is not functioning properly it can affect every aspect of your health, particularly weight, mental outlook, body temperature and energy levels. The thickness and quality of your skin is also dependent on thyroid function. Under active thyroid, called hypothyroidism, is the most common thyroid condition, affecting as many as one in five women at some point in their lives.
Untreated hypothyroidism dramatically increases your risk of serious health concerns and degenerative diseases. Another symptom of hypothyroidism is weak heart beat. When your heart beat is not as strong as it should be, the amount of oxygen getting to your cells is reduced. This is the kind of environment in which cancer grows.
Along with the loss of hair and its color, symptoms of hypothyroidism include difficulty losing weight, weight changes, and muscle and joint pain. Severe or long-term constipation is frequently associated with hypothyroidism, while diarrhea or irritable bowel syndrome is associated with hyperthyroidism. Depression and anxiety, including sudden panic attacks, can be symptoms of thyroid problems. Feeling overly warm or cold when everybody else in the room is comfortable also suggests thyroid malfunction, as does excessive fatigue. If you are tired when you get up after a good night's sleep, or need a nap or two to get through the day, you probably have a thyroid problem.
Think about how the wisdom of the body operates. When your thyroid is not functioning up to par, the body will attempt to conserve energy by redirecting it from nonessential areas, and directing efforts at repair and regeneration to those functions considered more essential. This is why the beauty of your hair and skin are among the first to go then your thyroid starts to give out. And when the thyroid function is low, intestinal absorption and utilization of nutrients is compromised. There are then not enough raw building materials available to keep the nonessential parts of you at their best.
What can be done to restore your beautiful locks?
To get your full head of hair back and halt the graying, you must restore your level of thyroid functioning to what it was when your hair was plentiful and colorful. This is not always an easy task.
Most traditional physicians are reluctant to consider thyroid functioning at all. When they do, the standard of care for people with symptoms of low thyroid is to be checked with a thyroid hormone stimulating test (TSH). The thinking is that a low score on the TSH means your body isn't trying to simulate thyroid production so therefore thyroid production must be OK. A high score on the TSH means your thyroid is not functioning well and that's why your body is trying to stimulate it. Needless to say, this approach misses a lot. The best way to see what your thyroid is really up to is to have blood testing of TSH, T3 and T4.
If your traditional doctor decides your thyroid function is low, he will probably prescribe a synthetic drug. Levothyroxine, the synthetic form of T4, is the most commonly prescribed, either generically or under the brand names of Synthroid and Levoxyl. He may also add Liothyronine, the synthetic form of T3 (brand name is Cytomel). Some doctors do not prescribe synthetic T3 because there is evidence that the body can convert T4 into T3. But this assumption means your body must be up to the conversion process, and many times it is not. There is also a synthetic T4/T3 combination that is branded as Thyrolar.
All of these are patented drugs and are substances that do not occur in nature. They will be recognized by your body as foreign, and your body will build resistance to them so that in time they will become ineffective. These chemicals must be detoxified by your liver. They have side effects.
If you are lucky enough to have a naturopath or physician that practices holistic medicine, you will get the natural thyroid replacement, derived from pigs. The pig thyroid hormone is bio-identical to the human thyroid hormone and contains both T3 and T4. The most popular brand of natural thyroid is Armour thyroid. Since this will be recognized by your body as a natural substance, you will not build resistance to it, and there are no undesirable side effects. There are some physicians who have gone into the hormone balancing business who will be willing to treat you with this natural hormone. If all you have is a traditional doctor, you can try being assertive and firm, making it clear that you will only accept natural substances into your body.
It may take a series of baby steps to get your thyroid level adjusted to where it should ideally be. Many physicians are reluctant to prescribe a dose that will bring your levels of T3 and T4 back to levels considered prime. Many use tests that compare you to others your age. If you are 40, your level will be compared to the 40 year old population which includes many people with underperforming thyroids. So you will have to make it clear that you want to be supplemented to the ideal level. Once your thyroid hormone levels are stabilized in an ideal range, your hair loss or graying will eventually slow down and finally stop, and you will probably have a lot more energy.
Understanding hair loss
There are three common types of hear loss. General shedding occurs throughout the head. You notice more hair in drains, hair brushes, and on the bathroom floor. This is the most common form of hair loss typically found in people with hypothyroidism and also those with hyperthyroidism.
The second type of hair loss involves circular patches of hair loss, or complete hair loss resulting from many such small patches. This is usually the result of a fungal infection or autoimmune alopecia, and is not particularly associated with thyroid problems.
The third type is male pattern hair loss, and although men are the most susceptible, women get it too. It is concentrated on the temples and top of the head, and is caused by the enzymatic conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone (DHT). This conversion makes hair follicles shrink up and disappear. If you have been receiving thyroid treatment and your hair loss continues, this conversion is the most likely reason. It is easily remedied by taking Saw Palmetto, an herb sold in health food stores and by online health retailers.
Men with hairy bodies but little hair on their heads are usually converting much of their testosterone to DHT. This conversion may also put them at risk for prostate problems including prostate cancer.
Other alternative treatments
A recent study at Portsmouth University found that 90 percent of women with thinning hair were deficient in iron and the amino acid lysine, although this does not imply a causal relationship. Fish, meat and eggs are the only dietary sources of lysine. A vitamin, mineral and fatty acid supplementation program may also be helpful.
J. Margesson MD, "Thyroid Disease of the Skin" Thyroid Foundation of Canada
Mary Shoman, "Ten Things You Can Do To Stop Hair Loss With Thyroid Disease" (www.thyroid-info.com)
Mary Shoman, "Ask the Experts" (www.thyroid-info.com)
About the authorBarbara is a school psychologist, a published author in the area of personal finance, a breast cancer survivor using "alternative" treatments, a born existentialist, and a student of nature and all things natural.
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