Menopause, Hair Thinning, and the Ingredients That Can Help
That Can Help
In partnership with our friends at Nutrafol
When you start to notice that more hair than usual is collecting in your shower drain or on your brush or that running your hand through your hair picks up more than a few loose strands, it can be shocking.
Women don’t expect to experience hair thinning when they hit perimenopause or menopause, says Sophia Kogan, MD. As the cofounder and chief medical advisor at Nutrafol, she hears this sentiment all the time: “Why didn’t anyone tell me?” And if we’re not even talking about the experience, then we’re certainly not talking about solutions.
Kogan adds that it doesn’t need to be this way: Menopause can be liberating—even an event to potentially celebrate. Have a conversation about what the transition means, how it feels, and how you can support yourself (and other women) through it.
(To read more about Kogan’s story, see our Q&A with her on the link between chronic stress and hair health.)
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A Q&A with Sophia Kogan, MD
Research shows that there can be a genetic predisposition for hair thinning, but it’s not an explicit future we need to resign ourselves to. There are factors other than your genes that play a role in whether you experience thinning or not. These are things that affect how well your body builds and maintains hair, including the environment, hormones, stress, and nutrient absorption in your gut.
As we grow older, our bodies may not produce antioxidants as well as we used to. We also start to experience more inflammation in the body, and as a result, we might experience more serious health issues. All of this ultimately contributes to poor hair health and possible thinning. Hair follicles are sensitive. To maintain hair health, especially if we’re genetically predisposed to thinning, we need to support our bodies against these kinds of physical stressors. Hair health issues are multifactorial, and while genetics loads the gun, environment and lifestyle pull the trigger.
Women may experience hair thinning during distinct stages in their lives: after the birth of a child, during periods of stress, or in the process of perimenopause or menopause.
When we dove into the research, we found that when a woman is transitioning into menopause, estrogen and progesterone decline fairly rapidly. However, testosterone lingers a little longer. As a result of that, there is a period of time when a woman is in something called androgen dominance. That means there is a relatively large ratio of testosterone to estrogen and progesterone. When we have that much testosterone, more of it may convert to dihydrotestosterone (DHT), the follicle-damaging hormone implicated in men’s hair thinning.
For the new menopause formulation, Women’s Balance, we increased the amount of saw palmetto, which lowers the conversion of testosterone to DHT.
We also added ingredients tailored to the needs of perimenopausal, menopausal, and postmenopausal women.
Maca, for general hormone support: During menopause, hormonal changes happen very, very fast. Studies on the adaptogen maca have shown that it is beneficial for menopausal women, even without affecting hormone levels.
Astaxanthin, to support healthy cell aging: With age, we experience the effects of oxidative damage that has accumulated over our lifetime. So we also added a compound called astaxanthin, which is derived from red algae. It’s been found to be up to 6,000 times more effective than vitamin C in quenching reactive oxygen species. It’s a great choice as an antioxidant for the whole body.
Curcumin was a clear choice. It’s the bioactive component from turmeric that supports the body’s natural defenses for a healthy inflammatory response. Research has verified the value of curcumin in helping promote cardiovascular health, immune health, neuronal health, and cellular health.
Because research shows there are elevated cortisol levels during menopause—and because cortisol affects so many other aspects of our physiology related to insulin, thyroid hormone, estrogen, and progesterone—we included ashwagandha as well. The ashwagandha we source has been clinically shown to lower cortisol levels over time in stressed adults.
Digestion also suffers at this stage of women’s lives. Higher stress levels compromise the gut and challenge the microbiome, and—this happens in general with age—our bodies can lose some of their stomach-acid production, which compromises digestion. It’s very important, when you’re developing any kind of supplement for older adults, to keep in mind absorption by the body. That’s why we chose ingredients that are well-absorbed, like hydrolyzed marine collagen and botanical extracts.
Hormones are made from fats, so it’s important to consume enough. I encourage women to go for fish for their omega-3s, plus extra virgin olive oil and avocados for their omega-9s. I recommend a diet low in simple carbohydrates—age-related changes in insulin sensitivity affect how we process sugars.
Whole foods with mild, plant-based estrogens, like flaxseed or miso, can also help some women. I recommend high-collagen foods, like bone broth, because the collagen depletion that occurs with age affects the quality of your skin and hair, and collagen may also improve the integrity of our gut lining.
There have been studies that have showed yoga and meditation are highly effective in mitigating secondary symptoms for women going through menopause. It makes a lot of sense: These practices—as well as any self-care routines that bring you joy—decrease stress levels. And studies have also shown that stress makes a big difference for our hair.
Plus, for general health, yoga is great for joint flexibility—something we tend to lose as we get older. Weight-bearing exercises help reduce the risk of osteoporosis that comes with estrogen decline.
And as I mentioned before, microbiome diversity tends to decrease as we age. It’s great to take a probiotic to support microbial changes in the gut and help improve nutrient absorption.
Sophia Kogan, MD, is an integrative hair health expert. She is a cofounder and the chief medical strategist at Nutrafol, where she has coauthored peer-reviewed studies on hair thinning, hair-loss treatments, and botanical medicine. Dr. Kogan received her medical degree from and completed her dermatology fellowship at SUNY Downstate Medical School in Brooklyn, New York.
This article is for informational purposes only, even if and regardless of whether it features the advice of physicians and medical practitioners. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. The views expressed in this article are the views of the expert and do not necessarily represent the views of goop.