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Your hair may hold clues about your health

By Kate V. Viola, M.D., MHS, FAAD
Sudden hair changes, such as a significant loss of hair, are likely to be linked to a treatable health condition.

While your hair may attract the attention of others, it may be worth your own attention, too. If you experience changes in your hair’s texture, thickness and overall condition, it may be sending you clues about an underlying health condition.

Sudden changes, such as a significant loss of hair, are likely to be linked to a treatable health condition. Gradual changes in the hair, such as thinning, are typically connected to genetics.

The next time you look in the mirror, look out for these hair symptoms:

  • Dry, thinning hair may indicate thyroid disease. The thyroid is a powerful little gland at the base of the front of your neck. By producing and storing hormones, the thyroid impacts nearly every organ in your body by regulating your metabolism and energy level. Having the thyroid disease called hypothyroidism means your thyroid isn’t working effectively, so your energizing hormone levels are too low. Among other symptoms, such as tiredness, joint pain and weight gain, hypothyroidism may result in increased hair shedding and a change in the way your hair looks.
  • More strands in your hairbrush or the shower drain could be a sign of anemia or a low iron level. Women with heavy menstrual cycles and people who are vegetarians have an increased risk for anemia and the hair changes that result from it. Including more iron-rich foods in your diet, such as shellfish, quinoa, turkey, tofu and dark, leafy greens like spinach and broccoli, may help you keep more of your hair and ward off anemia.
  • Slow growing hair may mean your diet is low in protein, which is the main building block of hair. To encourage hair growth, squeeze in an extra serving of protein each day through foods like lean red meat, chicken, eggs, fish, tofu, olive oil, whole grains and nuts. (Note: A serving of red meat should be about three ounces, or the size of a deck of playing cards.)
  • Dull, lifeless hair may point to junk food overload. It may taste good, but it has no nutritional value for giving you sustained energy and a fit body. Plus, a diet packed with highly processed foods can lead to a lackluster mane. Swap out that blah plate of brown—breaded fried food, a burger with fries, cookies and chips—and enjoy the vibrant, delicious produce of the season, crunchy whole grains, and the light, delicate taste of salmon or other fish. Your body, including your hair, will be so happy.

If you recognize any of these telltale signs of a potential health concern, be sure to talk with your doctor.

Kate V. Viola, M.D., MHS, FAAD

Dr. Kate Viola is a board-certified dermatologist with Henry Ford Allegiance Health specializing in general dermatology as well as cosmetic and surgical procedures.

To schedule an appointment with a primary care provider or find a dermatologist, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936). If you’re in the Jackson area or south central Michigan, visit henryfordallegiance.com or call 1-888-862-DOCS.

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