February 22, 2010
Hair issues often go beyond the cosmetic to indicate possible health problems that we may overlook. Doctors agree that there is a link between people's health and their hair. The better our physical health, the better our hair's condition will be.
One of the most important factors affecting hair health is nutrition and diet. Poor nutrition may cause people to experience hair loss, according to both doctors and hair care experts. In addition, fad diets, certain illnesses and eating disorders may contribute to the problem.
Also, a deficiency in nutrients, such as iron and protein, may cause hair loss. Excessive amounts of certain nutrients, such as vitamins A and E, can have the same result. But there are vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin B-6, biotin, calcium, iron, zinc, copper and silica, that our bodies require for healthy hair.
Among other general lifestyle issues that affect our hair are stress, substance abuse, specific illnesses, medications and hair styling techniques. All can hurt our hair's health.
For African Americans, because black hair, in particular, is easily damaged, these lifestyle issues present huge challenges. Researchers confirm that people of color do have special considerations compared with other population groups based both on actual differences in our hair, skin and cultural issues.
When people discuss hair, they usually mean the hair that is visible growing from the scalp. But the hair that we see on the scalp's surface is actually not a living organism. It is dead. Live, active hair resides below the surface of the scalp, which has five distinct layers.
The scalp acts an anchor onto which the hair's shafts or strands are secured. Underneath the scalp are hair components called bulbs and follicles. These components act to shield the hair's internal structure, where nutrients are carried via the blood, blood vessels, nerves, arteries and connective tissue that allow hair growth to occur.
Hair growth is simply the reproduction of hair cells. When they reproduce, the newer cells push the old ones upward and further away from nourishment sources. There, these cells become hardened or keratinized, pigmented and die.
At this point, the hardened protein or keratin of the dead hair pushes above the scalp's surface and becomes visible. All of this activity takes place over the course of three primary phases-the anagen, catagen and telogen phases of a hair's life cycle.
In the anagen phase, hair experiences the most growth. In the hair cycle's catagen phase, hair growth ends as the hair stops receiving nutrients and prepares for the last phase. That last part of the hair cycle is called the telogen phase. This is when the scalp loses or sheds hair that has reached the end of its full life cycle. This process is normal and people experience the loss of about 50 to 100 hairs from their scalp.
HOW BLACK HAIR IS DIFFERENT
The hair texture of African-Americans, and other people of color, is unique compared with that of other population groups.
Hair texture is shaped by genetics. Whether hair is curly, kinky or straight, depends on the shape of the hair follicle and the direction in which each strand grows out of the follicle. Black hair is curly and kinky because the hair is shaped like an elongated oval and grows out at a sharp angle to the scalp.
As a result, the angular, tightly-coiled structure of African-American hair makes it difficult for oils from the scalp to coat the entire length of the hair shaft. The effect? Very dry, brittle and, consequently, fragile hair that is subject to breakage.
HOW LIFESTYLE ISSUES AFFECT THE HAIR
Nutrition and diet. As previously mentioned, medical experts confirm that poor nutrition can contribute to hair loss. Crash diets or eating disorders, such as bulimia or anorexia nervosa, have caused some people to suffer hair loss. This hair loss, called telogen effluvium, is the second most common type of hair loss in females.
One major example of poor nutrition that contributes to hair loss is severe protein deficiency or kwashiorkor. Also, in general, if the body is not getting sufficient vitamins and minerals, this may trigger hair loss.
Stress. All kinds of stressful life events, such as a death in the family, undergoing surgery or having a baby, may temporarily disrupt the hair growth cycle and cause hair loss.
Substance abuse. The complex effect of addictive drugs on the body can result in nutritional deficiencies that may cause hair loss in some people. For example, amphetamines in diet pills may cause users to shed their hair.
Medical conditions or illnesses. A number of diseases, such as lupus, hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism (an underactive or overactive thyroid gland), diabetes and trichotillomania (a mental disorder characterized by the individual's irresistible urge to pull out his or her hair), may cause hair loss. Typically, individuals experience hair growth once their condition is corrected, but this may take time.
Medications. Many people are aware that certain cancer treatment drugs cause hair loss. In addition, so does a number of meds used to treat arthritis, gout, depression and other mental illnesses, high blood pressure, epilepsy and cardiovascular disease, among other health conditions. As with illnesses, hair usually grows back after the medication is discontinued.
Hair styling techniques. For African-American women in particular, hair styling processes may cause damage leading to breakage and loss perhaps even more so than other lifestyle issues. Hair styles requiring excessive handling of the hair or the use of too much heat can cause either temporary or permanent damage. In addition, chemical treatments, such as relaxing, coloring, tinting or bleaching, can cause hair damage and breakage.
WHAT EXPERTS RECOMMEND
In general, doctors suggest that people eat a well-balanced diet to support their hair's health. In addition, they suggest that individuals who are experiencing hair loss discuss the matter with their physicians. Also, hair care experts recommend that people use caution and common sense when choosing styling methods to avoid damaging their hair.
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