The Short Story on PCOS and Hair Loss. We know you’re in a hurry!
PCOS Hair Issues
Women with PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) can sometimes have polycystic ovaries, but what you might not know is there are a variety of symptoms pertaining to your hair as well. High levels of male hormones (androgens) that occur in PCOS can have a viral-like effect on a woman’s body. If you’re a woman with PCOS you might have a symptom called hirsutism, which can also cause excess body hair, as well as the symptom of baldness. When it comes to hair loss or hirsutism, women are far less likely to be accepted by society standards, which makes this condition both physically and emotionally devastating. These symptoms can often be managed with anti-androgenic drugs, or topical treatments, such as waxing, depilatories, or hair re-growth treatments with ingredients like Minoxidil. To prevent baldness or excess facial hair, a woman should first focus on her diet. Taking good care of your health by eating a nutritious diet, exercising regularly, and taking high quality nutritional supplements is the first line treatment for PCOS hair issues and other troubling symptoms. Remember, these conditions aren’t that uncommon since PCOS affects roughly five to ten percent of the population of females who are of childbearing age.2 So, if you, or someone you know, suffers from excess facial hair, there’s a strong chance it’s a sign of PCOS. Excess facial hair is a fact of life for as many as 15 percent of women and teenage females and this symptom can be linked to PCOS in about 70-80 percent of the cases. The same is true of excess body hair, as well as hair loss, known as male pattern baldness.3
Causes of Hirsutism and PCOS
Until puberty your body is covered with fine, colorless hairs called vellus hairs. When you begin to sexually mature, male sex hormones called androgens help vellus hairs on certain areas of your body become darker, curlier, and coarser. These are called terminal hairs. Unwanted terminal hair growth in women can result from excess androgens or from an increased sensitivity of hair follicles to androgens. About half of the women with mild hirsutism have high androgen levels. Conditions that can cause high androgen levels include:
- Cushing’s syndrome. Cushing’s syndrome is a disorder that occurs when your body is exposed to high levels of the hormone cortisol, a steroid hormone involved in your body’s response to stress.
- Congenital adrenal hyperplasia. This inherited condition is characterized by abnormal production of steroid hormones, including cortisol and androgen, by your adrenal glands.
- Tumors. In rare cases, an androgen-secreting tumor in the ovaries or adrenal glands can cause hirsutism.
- Hypothyroidism. A number of women with PCOS might also have an underactive thyroid gland, called hypothyroidism, which can lead to a reduction of sex hormone-binding globulin and an increase in free testosterone. Free testosterone is one of the factors contributing to PCOS symptoms, including excess facial and body hair.
- PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome). This disorder is caused by an imbalance of hormones that can result in irregular periods, obesity, infertility, and sometimes multiple cysts on your ovaries. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is the most common identifiable cause of hirsutism. A small amount of testosterone is normal in women. But excess testosterone often results from a condition called Insulin Resistance, which prevents your body from responding to normal insulin levels. Insulin Resistance often underlies PCOS, causing an imbalance in your hormones that stimulates the ovaries to produce increased levels of male hormones (androgens), especially testosterone. Until testosterone levels are reduced, excess hair growth and male pattern baldness will continue to be a problem. According to research experts, there is evidence that suggests, ‘Hirsutism appears to be strongly related with hyperandrogenism (imbalance of male sex hormones) and metabolic abnormalities in PCOS women’.1
Keep in mind that Insulin Resistance usually lies at the center of PCOS. It prevents the efficient conversion of food into energy because the cell walls have become increasingly insensitive to insulin. As a result, glucose and insulin levels in your bloodstream become unbalanced. When this happens it leads to an increase in free-floating glucose, which is sent to your liver and converted to excess body fat. When this happens it can result in weight gain and obesity, which, in turn, can lead not only to PCOS, but also to other serious health conditions involving the cardiovascular system and Type 2 diabetes. Because PCOS symptoms can vary so drastically, not all sufferers display the same symptoms, so doctors very often misdiagnose PCOS.
Fighting back with a doctor’s appointment
If you’ve scheduled an appointment with your doctor to talk about excessive hair growth, you maybe already have tried and been disappointed with at-home treatments such as shaving and drugstore wax kits. Because your doctor will want to see your hair growth pattern, it’s best to avoid trying new at-home treatments in the days leading up to your appointment. It’s natural to feel distressed by the effect the unwanted hair has on your appearance. But in most cases, your doctor will be able to help you find a treatment plan that improves your symptoms.
Many females start to combat hirsutism by seeing a family doctor. However, you will likely be referred to a doctor who specializes in endocrine disorders (endocrinologist) or to a dermatologist. Here’s some information to help you prepare for your appointment:
- Write down your symptoms, including any that might seem unrelated to the reason for which you scheduled the appointment. For example, if you’ve been feeling depressed or fatigued lately, tell your doctor. Also tell your doctor about any other changes in your appearance, such as weight gain or loss, changes in your breast size or muscle mass, new acne, or patches of dark, velvety skin.
- Write down key personal information, including any changes in your menstrual cycle and in your sex life.
- Make a list of all medications, as well as any creams or nutritional supplements you’re taking or have used in the past. Include the specific name and dose of these medications and how long you’ve been taking them.
- Take a family member or friend along, if possible. Sometimes it can be difficult to soak up all the information provided to you during an appointment. Someone who accompanies you can remember something you missed or forgot.
- Write down questions to ask your doctor. Preparing a list of questions will help you make the most of your time with your doctor. For hirsutism, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
- What is likely causing my symptoms or condition?
- What are my treatment options?
- If the first treatment I try isn’t effective, what can I try next?
- How much will treatment improve my physical signs and symptoms?
- Will I need to be treated long-term?
- What are the possible side effects of the medications you’re recommending?
- Will the medications you’re recommending affect my ability to have children?
- How will you monitor my response to treatment over time?
- Are there alternatives to the primary approach you’re suggesting?
- Are there any restrictions I need to follow?
- Should I see a specialist?
- Are there brochures or other printed material I can take home with me? What websites do you recommend?
Don’t hesitate to ask your doctor any other questions you have about your condition.
The Symptoms of Hirsutism
Many PCOS patients suffer from hirsutism-excess hair growth on our faces or other parts of our bodies. Others with PCOS experience hair loss called male pattern baldness. According to research experts, hirsutism appears to be strongly related with hyperandrogenism, an imbalance of male sex hormones, and metabolic abnormalities in PCOS women.1
When it comes to facial hair, women with PCOS-linked hirsutism often have hair in the mustache and beard areas that become heavier and darker. Women with hirsutism can also have masculine hair on the arms and legs, as well as hair on the abdomen, chest, or back, together with extra growth in the pubic area. High levels of male hormones (androgens), notably testosterone, can cause this condition via a hormonal imbalance sparked by PCOS.
Just as heavier hair growth is possible, so is the type of hair thinning that many men experience (male pattern baldness).5 Small amounts of the male hormone testosterone are normal in a woman. But the high levels of excess insulin sparked by PCOS can stimulate your ovaries to produce large amounts of testosterone, preventing the ovaries from releasing an egg each month and causing infertility, as well as hirsutism and hair loss among many other symptoms.
Hirsutism is excess hair most often noticeable around the mouth and on the chin and neck of women. The major sign of hirsutism is coarse and pigmented body hair, appearing on the body where women don’t commonly have hair-primarily the face, chest, and back. Other symptoms can develop over time. This process is called virilization.
Signs of virilization may include:
- Deepening voice
- Decreased breast size
- Enlargement of the clitoris
- Increased muscle mass
When to seek medical advice
Schedule an appointment with your doctor when you notice any of the following:
- Rapidly growing, unwanted hair on places such as your upper lip, cheeks, chin, neck, mid chest, inner thighs, or lower back
- Unwanted hair growth associated with irregular menstrual periods
- Male features, such as a deepening voice, balding, increased muscle mass, or decreased breast size
- Unwanted hair growth that appears to be worsened by a medication
Women approaching menopause or in the early years of menopause can develop coarse chin or other unwanted facial hair. But this isn’t considered hirsutism. Your doctor can help you distinguish between stray hairs that commonly develop at the time of menopause and unwanted excess hair resulting from another disorder like PCOS.
Prevention of Hirsutism and PCOS Through Natural Means
Hirsutism generally isn’t preventable, although a balanced, nutritious diet and regular exercise to maintain a healthy weight level can help to stop the onset of PCOS and its multiple symptoms, including hirsutism. But if you do have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, controlling obesity and preventing Insulin Resistance can result in lower androgen levels, including testosterone, and greatly reduced hirsutism. Lean women and females of a healthy weight can also suffer from PCOS, by the way.
Because there is no single solution that reverses Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome or Insulin Resistance, Insulite Health has developed through our research the most comprehensive and effective system available. We feel you need to rely on a multi-faceted approach, comprised of five elements, to improve or reverse these conditions. What is required is a complete system, (vitamins, minerals and botanicals that are condition specific), a realistic exercise program, nutritional guidance, accessible learning material, and a support network that can help you change unhealthy lifestyle choices and address the issues presented by these disorders.
Symptoms of Insulin Resistance-related Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) are targeted by the Insulite PCOS System, which includes an exclusive formula called Poly Plus that can help to decrease circulating testosterone levels in order to reverse unwanted hair growth.
Lifestyle and home remedies
Self-care methods to remove unwanted body hair include:4
- Plucking. Using tweezers is a way to remove a few stray hairs but is not useful for removing a large area of hair.
- Shaving. Shaving is quick and inexpensive but it needs to be repeated regularly since it removes the hair only down to the surface of your skin. It also encourages hair to grow more strongly.
- Waxing. Waxing involves applying warm wax on your skin where the unwanted hair grows. Once the wax hardens, it’s pulled back from your skin against the direction of hair growth, removing the hair. Waxing removes hair from a large area quickly, but it stings temporarily and sometimes causes skin irritation and redness. Hot wax can also burn your skin.
- Chemical depilatories. Generally available as gels, lotions, or creams you spread on your skin, chemical depilatories work by breaking down the protein structure of the hair shaft. Some people are allergic to the chemicals used in depilatories.
- Bleaching. Instead of removing unwanted body hair, some women use bleaching. Bleaching removes the hair color, making the hair less visible. Bleaching can cause skin irritation, so test the bleach on a small area first.
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The Insulite PCOS System is not intended to be medical treatment, nor is information on this website intended to be a substitute for the advice or care of a health-care practitioner. The Insulite PCOS System is a combination of nutritional supplementation and lifestyle programs intended to help individuals better manage their health and wellbeing. Consult a health-care practitioner before beginning the Insulite PCOS System. Because of ongoing research, clinical experience, and the rapid accumulation of information relating to the subject matter discussed on this website, the website's users are advised to carefully review and evaluate the information on this website and continue to expand and broaden their knowledge of new information as it becomes available on this website and elsewhere. The use or application of the information contained on this website is at the sole discretion and risk of the user.
Since June 2008, Insulite Laboratories and Insulite Health has supported more than 2.4 million women through the Insulite PCOS System, through this website, through emails providing information and support, through consultations with our Consulting & Advisory Team, through telephone conference calls, through online webinars, through published articles, and most recently, through social media community building and support efforts. Insulite Laboratories and Insulite Health are singularly dedicated to improving the lives of women with PCOS and conditions resulting from Insulin Resistance.
This website has been written by the research team at Insulite Health, a division of Insulite Laboratories. The members of the Insulite Health research team are experts in dealing with issues related to Insulin Resistance.
This website is published by Insulite Health. For more than a decade, Insulite Health has been an authority on health conditions relating to Insulin Resistance, including PCOS.