Can Hypothyroidism Cause Grey Hair?
Can you relate? Spotting a shiny, silvery thread gleaming amidst your locks from one day to the next can stir inner thoughts of transitioning into a silver fox. The sudden appearance of grey hair, though not harmful, incites curiosity about its origin. While it is typically associated with the natural aging process, grey hair could also indicate nutrient deficiencies, elevated stress levels, or certain underlying health conditions like hypothyroidism. In our recent article, we explored the vital role of copper in maintaining hair color, which you can access here. In this article, however, our focus shifts to uncovering the intriguing connection between grey hair and an underactive thyroid.
Hypothyroidism is a medical condition characterized by the thyroid gland's diminished activity. This butterfly-shaped gland situated in our throat is responsible for producing two key hormones: T4 and T3. Every cell in our body relies on T3 for energy production, necessitating the conversion of T4 to T3 in several organ systems, including the liver, kidneys, and gut.
The origins of hypothyroidism are diverse. They encompass genetic mutations, nutrient deficiencies (like copper, zinc, iodine, selenium, and iron), heavy metal toxicity, and endocrine disruptors that interfere with gland function. At times, the thyroid gland may be functioning adequately, yet the conversion of T4 to T3 struggles, predominantly within the liver, and to a lesser extent in the gut and kidneys. This could indicate potential deficiencies or problems within these organs.
Emotional traumas and mineral imbalances, such as excess calcium in soft tissue or potassium deficiency, are additional triggers for hypothyroidism. Excessive calcium can hinder our cells from utilizing thyroid hormone effectively, while potassium is essential for sensitizing our cells to thyroid hormone. Stress, in general, can also contribute to this condition.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism can look like:
- Hair loss
- Cold extremities
- Brittle hair and/or nails
- Weight gain
- Irregular periods
- Low heart rate
- Low blood pressure
Thyroid and Hair Cycle
As previously mentioned, every cell in our body, including hair cells, depends on the thyroid hormone (specifically T3) to function properly. The hair growth process consists of four main stages: anagen, catagen, telogen, and exogen.
The anagen phase, also known as the growth phase, typically lasts for 3-5 years. During this stage, a new hair shaft sprouts from the follicle. Individuals who can grow longer hair usually have extended anagen phases.
The catagen phase is a relatively short, transitional stage that lasts for about 10 days to 2 weeks. Hair ceases to grow during this period, marking the shift from active growth to a temporary resting phase.
The telogen phase begins when the hair follicle stops receiving nourishment from the shaft, leading to the termination of hair growth. This phase typically lasts approximately 90 days and often results in a natural shedding process.
Lastly, the exogen phase signifies the final stage in the hair growth cycle. At this point, the hair falls out to clear the way for a new hair cycle to commence. The exogen phase can be likened to the cycles observed in plants, where old growth is replaced with new growth.
Understanding these four distinct phases helps shed light on the intricate relationship between the thyroid hormone and the hair growth process.
Hypothyroidism and Hair Growth
With a grasp of the hair growth cycle, you may wonder, how does hypothyroidism factor into this process? Hair loss is a common symptom of hypothyroidism, and research, such as that presented in this paper, provides interesting insights into its relationship with the hair cycle.
It is suggested that inactive thyroid hormone (T4) stimulates the production of hair matrix keratinocytes. These cells compose hair strands, predominantly composed of the protein keratin. Chronic hair loss may be indicative of cell death within the follicles, which can be associated with T3 insufficiency.
Furthermore, T4 is observed to extend the anagen phase — the growth stage — by inhibiting a receptor known as TGF-beta 2. This receptor typically slows down cellular growth. So when suppressed, it encourages extended hair growth. Therefore, the thyroid hormones T3 and T4 play essential roles in promoting healthy hair growth and minimizing hair loss.
Hypothyroidism and Grey Hair
Alright, so what about grey hair? The key factors here are the thyroid hormones T3 and T4, which have been shown to stimulate intrafollicular melanin synthesis. In simpler terms, they help promote pigment production within hair follicles. Melanin is responsible for giving our hair its characteristic color.
As we age, melanin production decreases, and external stressors on the body can further downregulate its synthesis, ultimately leading to hair greying. Melanocytes present in hair follicles are responsible for creating pigment in the hair. However, when there is insufficient melanin, these melanocytes produce small air bubbles within the hair's keratin layers, creating the appearance of grey hair.
Stressors contributing to both hypothyroidism and diminished melanin production include oxidative stress from medications, poor diet, heavy metal toxicity, endocrine disruptors like pesticides or environmental toxins, nutrient deficiencies, and emotional trauma. All these factors intertwine to shed light on the relationship between thyroid hormones and grey hair.
Even though some individuals require thyroid medication to manage their condition, others may need specific minerals to address the root cause of the problem. It's vital to note that hormonal issues are typically symptoms of a stressed and depleted system, rather than being primary causes. This is due to the role of minerals as catalysts for cell activity, instigating enzymatic reactions that subsequently instruct organs to produce hormones, which then send feedback to cells.
Many health practitioners rely on blood tests, but we recommend assessing mineral status and heavy metal load via a hair test. This method serves as a type of tissue biopsy, providing a three-month snapshot of intracellular activity within the body. Unlike blood tests, which evaluate extracellular availability and provide real-time results, hair tests offer a more comprehensive scope of information. Consequently, for thyroid issues, we typically emphasize testing levels of calcium, potassium, copper, zinc, selenium, and heavy metals. This ensures we maintain the right balance and intake of these essential nutrients.
Interested in exploring your mineral status? Click here to order a hair test with us today! It's an easy step towards understanding your body better.