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A study finds that half of older women have hair loss.

Half of older women have hair loss. Experts say few women are prepared for the spectre of encountering and preventing hair loss issues in later life.

Written by Gary Heron

Posted on: August 29, 2023

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Menopause isn’t just about hot flashes and night sweats. A new study showed that more than half of women over age 50 will experience thinning hair. The result can be a blow to their self-esteem.

Thai researchers scrutinised the scalps of nearly 200 postmenopausal women and found that 52.2% had some hair thinning, a condition called female pattern hair loss, according to a report published Wednesday in Menopause. Low self-esteem was found in 60% of participants and increased with the severity of hair loss.

Researchers, led by Dr. Sukanya Chaikittisilpa of Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, recruited 178 women already seen at a menopause clinic. They measured the women’s hormone levels and the density of hair in the middle of the scalp, where female-pattern hair loss generally begins.

The researchers, who couldn’t be reached for comment, found that among those with hair loss, 73.2% had mild hair loss, 22.6% had a moderate loss, and 4.3% had a severe loss. In addition to age, a higher body mass index was associated with an increased prevalence and worsening of the condition.

What are treatments for female hair loss?

While it’s unclear exactly why menopausal women’s hair starts to thin, the new research suggested declining estrogen levels.

“Estrogen receptors are present in the hair follicles, which hints at its association with the withdrawal of estrogen at menopause that may affect hair growth,” the researchers wrote. Other hormonal changes may affect scalp hair and accelerate the change from the growth phase to the resting phase of hair growth.

While thinning hair in an ageing man has been “normalized,” few women are prepared for it, said Dr Mary Rosser, director of integrated women’s health at the Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York. Mothers rarely, if ever, talk to their daughters about menopause symptoms, so, for many, menopause-related hair thinning can be a shock, said Rosser, who sends her patients with hair loss to a dermatologist.

Dr. Emma Guttman, director of the Kimberly and Eric J. Waldman Department of Dermatology for Mount Sinai Health System, said hair loss in women may be traced to a number of factors, of which menopause may be one.

“There are many causes of hair loss — such as autoimmune conditions and issues with the immune system,” Guttman said. “But the hopeful thing is, there are treatments for some of them.”

Guttman said hair loss in women can occur if certain nutrients are too low, such as iron, folic acid, and vitamin B. Thyroid problems can also lead to thinning hair.

Even if women can’t grow back the hair they’ve already lost, Guttman said there are effective ways to maintain what’s left, such as vitamin B complex injections, biotin supplements, and platelet-rich plasma injections.

“Hair loss is a big interest of mine because, as a woman, I feel that hair is so important for identity,” Guttman said, adding that it’s important to check with a medical doctor before trying treatments.

Some women can see improvements in hair density by using minoxidil, although improvements can disappear if the hair-growth product is discontinued, Guttman said. Minoxidil is the only drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration for female pattern hair loss.

CORRECTION (Feb. 22, 2022, 4:09 p.m. ET):  A previous version of this article misstated Dr. Emma Guttman’s title. She is the director of the Kimberly and Eric J. Waldman Department of Dermatology for Mount Sinai Health System, not the chair of dermatology at Mt. Sinai Health System.

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