Heading for a fall

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 October, 2011, 12:00am


Stress can have devastating effects on your physical and emotional health, from weight fluctuations and mood swings, to insomnia, anxiety disorders and an increased susceptibility to colds. If you're under severe stress, you may also experience significant hair loss, also known as telogen effluvium.

The average scalp contains about 100,000 hairs; it is normal to lose about 50 to 120 a day. Extreme stress, however, can interrupt the hair's growth cycle - your hair stops growing and 'rests' for a while, only to fall out a couple of months later and typically in clumps.

Apart from stress, your hair may fall out as a result of hormonal changes from pregnancy, major surgery, certain medical treatments like chemotherapy, medication (such as vitamin A, antidepressants, birth control pills, or drugs for high blood pressure), fungal infections (such as those of the scalp), or underlying illnesses such as diabetes or lupus. Hair loss in these cases is temporary; normal hair growth usually resumes once these interruptions to the growth cycle are minimised or stopped.

Hair loss as a result of ageing or genetic factors, on the other hand, is permanent. According to Gary Chow, managing director of Nu/Hart Hair Solutions, both male pattern baldness (also called androgenetic alopecia) and female pattern baldness are genetic and, therefore, inevitable. More men than women suffer from this form of hair loss, which is related to the production of certain hormones and their effect on the hair follicles.

Jonathan Tang, managing director of HIS Hair Clinic, agrees that nothing can bring your hair back once the follicles are dead. 'Unless you have alopecia, which might be due to stress or a medical condition, your hair isn't going to grow back. Lotions and potions generally don't work and are a waste of money, although there are a couple of brands on the market that do slow down hair loss,' he says. Tonics, herbs and pills are also ineffective at making hair grow again.

If you're lucky enough to have a full head of hair, you can keep it looking lustrous with a balanced diet. Charmain Tan, registered dietitian at Seventeen Nutrition Consultants, says hair needs protein, iron, omega-3 fatty acids, zinc and a very small amount of vitamin A to stay healthy and strong. 'Very low-calorie diets are often lacking in essential nutrients and can stunt hair growth or leave hair dull and limp,' she says. 'If the nutritional deficiency is significant enough, such as in the case of someone with an eating disorder, hair can fall out.'

Iron helps red blood cells carry oxygen to the hair follicles, and the best sources of this mineral include lean meat, spinach, tomatoes, beans, lentils and bran. 'It's been well-established that women suffering from hair loss or baldness have low levels of iron in their blood,' Tan says.

Zinc deficiency not only causes hair loss, but also a dry and flaky scalp, so it's important to consume zinc-rich foods, such as oysters, red meat, seafood, whole grains, beans, nuts and dairy products.

Foods such as salmon, sardines and other oily fish, and walnuts, have high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, which help to keep your strands shiny. 'Foods that are good for your hair are also good for your heart, so you get extra benefits from consuming them,' adds Tan.

If you've been diagnosed with male or female pattern baldness, no amount of good food can cause your hair to grow back again; however, there is hope in the form of a hair transplant. This treatment, which is performed at Chow's Nu/Hart clinic, involves removing follicular units from the donor area, such as the back or sides of the head, and placing them in the thinning or balding area.

According to Chow, the donor areas are not susceptible to hair loss, which means that, once their follicular units have been transplanted to the thinning or balding area, your hair will grow back naturally, and continue to grow back for the rest of your life. 'Most of our male clients are in their mid-30s, while our female clients are in their late 30s to 50s,' Chow says. 'We've also had a few clients in their early 20s with extreme hair loss.'

At HIS Hair Clinic, a special MHT (Micro-Hair Technique) scalp pigmentation treatment is performed to give men the appearance of a short, cropped hairstyle. Think the 'close-shaved, stubbly head' look. This innovative procedure uses a combination of cosmetic pigmentation and artistic techniques, and does not involve surgery or hairpieces. There is no scarring, either. The treatment is ideal for thinning hair, a balding crown, complete hair loss or hair loss due to alopecia, and lost hairlines or sideburns.

'This treatment is performed just once,' Tang says. 'It lasts a few years and then you have the option of topping up the pigment to refresh the look. You can even alter the appearance of your 'scalp stubble' several years down the road. We can remove some of the pigment on your crown using a modern sonic laser.'

Stem cell technology might be the next big thing in hair restoration procedures. This involves producing hundreds of hair follicles from just one donor follicle. In tests, bald mice grew hair after being implanted with these cloned hair follicles. However, 'there've only been trials on mice so far, none on humans,' Tang says. 'If the human trials go well, it'll be another five-plus years before the procedure is available commercially, but it'll definitely be very expensive.'

Taking measurements


The average growth rate, in centimetres per month, of hair