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If hair could talk

Having a bad hair day? It’s no accident; your locks contain secrets to your body’s system.

EVER wondered why some people have a wonderful head of hair while you are perpetually battling bad hair days? Here’s the secret: the crowning glory is actually a barometer to your state of health. In the same way the nails carry telltale signs of your nutritional status, the state of your locks are your body’s way of telling you that something is not right within. This is why many people continue to battle hair problems despite trying a plethora of (often expensive) hair-care products or services.

Hair problems can also be a sign that you need to change certain habits, such as excessive dyeing, styling or hair-blowing. In these cases, simply using the hair blower less often, or setting it on lower heat, is all you need for the glow to return.So, if your hair has not been looking the way it should, perhaps you might want to look beyond the surface. Getting to the root of the problem (and hair root!) could be the ultimate solution that returns the glowing glory to your locks.

Dreadful dandruff

Dandruff, the white flaky stuff that falls out of your hair, can ruin a perfectly sophisticated appearance, especially when you’re in a black or dark-coloured dress or business suit. Although they are essentially dry skin from the scalp, having dandruff is often associated with poor grooming or hygiene. The most common misconception about dandruff is that it is caused by dry scalp skin, which needs treatment in the form of more moisturisation.

For most people, the real cause of dandruff is actually skin that is too oily, not too dry. Dry skin or scalp can be caused by genetic conditions, a lack of vitamin B and zinc, or a diet with excessive sugar and fat. It can also indicate a scalp condition known as seborrheic dermatitis, where the skin is red and itchy, similar to conditions such as psoriasis and eczema. Apart from that, stress, certain conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, or not washing your hair for too long, can also cause dandruff.

Help, I’m losing hair!

Balding is not just an aesthetic problem; some people can lose self-esteem and confidence as they lose hair. Balding is usually associated with ageing and men, although many young people (both men and women) today begin experiencing thinning hair in their early 30s. The main difference is that balding in men is usually genetic, whereas for women, much of it is caused by hormonal imbalance.

Many women go through a bout of severe hair loss after giving birth, which is resolved after the baby reaches one. Menopause also triggers hair loss in women. Hair loss can also be caused by excessive weight loss, eating disorders, thyroid problems, stress and certain medications.

Before splashing on costly hair treatments, first assess your lifestyle and daily routine to determine whether it is something you can correct. People with a low-protein diet tend to experience hair loss, as the body is forced to conserve protein stores for other more crucial body functions. Try cutting down on processed foods and increase protein-rich foods, such as fish, eggs and nuts.

Dry and brittle

Like the skin, hair is also affected by a diet that lacks essential vitamins and minerals, such as iron and vitamin E. This explains why it can be harder to maintain a headful of glowing locks when your main diet consists of fat-rich foods, fast foods and processed snacks laden with sugar, salt, additives and flavourings. Relook your diet and include more “real” food consisting of meat, vegetables, tubers, grains, nuts and others, to give your hair and skin a nutrient boost inside-out.

Diet aside, brittle and dry hair can also be the result of excessive styling, washing, blow-drying or colouring. These treatments strip the hair cuticles of their natural protective oils and disrupts growth equilibrium, causing split ends and dull-looking hair. The solution? Try some tender loving care, with less visits to the salon, complemented by a change in dietary habits. Snip off broken ends periodically to allow new hair to grow out.

If you’ve tried it all and your hair still looks lacklustre, get your thyroid tested to assess whether it is underactive. Other signs of an under-performing thyroid include weight gain, fatigue, low libido and energy levels.

Going gray

Most people associate gray hair with ageing, although there are many who start sporting gray strands in their teens or 20s. This is because graying hair is generally linked to genetics – if your parents or other relatives have a history of graying early, you are likely to follow in their footsteps.

Like darker shades of the skin, hair colour is influenced by the pigment called melanin, present in the hair. As we age, melanin production decreases, making new hair strands less coloured as they emerge. There is emerging evidence that suggests hair colour can also be affected by stress. So take a chill pill whenever you feel the pressure mounting to avoid turning gray faster!

Snow white

Can your hair turn white overnight or very suddenly from a traumatic event or extreme stress? The answer is no, but don’t be too happy yet, because physical and emotional trauma such as illness, a death of a relative or other loved one, or prolonged stress, do have effects on your hair.

In order to conserve energy, the body sends signals to the rest of the body to go slow. The hair is put into resting mode, falling out after a few months. When the hairs drop off, leaving only the grayer, whitish strands, this makes the entire head of hair appear white or silverish (hence, the expression “going white overnight”).

Hair care

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, United States, drinking coffee or alcohol can affect how well your body absorbs vitamins and minerals from the foods you eat. Smoking can also hinder nutrient absorption, affecting how healthy your scalp and hair is. Hair loss can also occur from food allergens such as dairy, wheat, soy, corn and food additives

To keep your locks shiny, healthy and glowing, it helps to have a diet that is rich in vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids (such as fish oil supplements, wild salmon or flax seeds). Don’t expect improvements to occur overnight though; your hair will need a few months to grow new healthy strands. Reduce harsh hair treatments, blow-drying or excessive hair products to avoid stressing your hair roots, and use a hat or scarf when out in the sun to protect your tresses from harmful ultraviolet rays.

One often-overlooked factor in hair care is tying, braiding or over-combing, which stresses hair roots and can lead to hair breakage over time. This may result in balding or frizzled hair, which will need more time to regenerate. Your hair is actually an excellent biomarker of your overall health. There are a variety of factors – from illness to hormonal imbalances and poor nutrition to stress – that can contribute to hair loss.

If you’re experiencing thinning hair or baldness, you need to get to the root of the problem to determine the best treatment. Your doctor can test you to determine whether your hair loss or thinning is linked to your diet, illness or hormonal imbalance.

The Star Newspaper,FEBRUARY 8, 2014
Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar

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