The Science Behind
Those 'Bad Hair Days'
By Libby Callaway
NEW YORK - Is your hairdo trying to tell you something about your health?
Prof. Veronica James of Australia's University of New South Wales thinks so.
She recently published a report, which revealed that what many women might consider to be a string of bad-hair days (BHDs) could indicate a poor diet, a hormonal imbalance or even the onset of diabetes.
("People with diabetes find their hair isn't manageable when the sugar is high," explains James. "I have spoken to a lot of hairdressers who have all said they could always tell if someone was sick, from their hair.")
Indeed, Mark Garrison, owner of The Mark Garrison Salon on Madison Avenue, says that he has had clients who, after periods of intense antibiotic treatment, have experienced a total change in their hair texture. "In the most extreme cases, I've seen women whose hair has gone from straight to wavy to curly," says Garrison.
Others, he says, experience less severe reactions that result in "limp, lifeless hair that loses its punch."
"Whatever you put into your system within hours will show up in your hair," Garrison says.
When the amount of estrogen in a woman's body changes during menopause, it can cause "a weird wave or kink."
One client who takes strong medication to help her deal with crippling arthritis "comes in with different hair each time I see her," says Garrison. "It's amazing what hair can tell you."
Hair is made up of long spirals of protein, called keratin. James found that the molecular structure of these building blocks is different in breast-cancer patients, for example.
She examined hair samples using a process called X-ray diffraction, through which irregular DNA patterns in the hair's genetic makeup can be detected.
James says that the new technology may someday allow medical professionals to screen women for breast cancer by examining a single strand of hair, effectively replacing the mammogram. (Drug tests are already being done by focusing on hair follicles.)
As for those bad-hair days " here's what she says you can do to fix them. Shedding
Symptoms: Hair in the sink or tub after washing; short hairs along hairline. Why? After an accident, illness or major operation, some people report losing up to half their hair. (It's thought that since hair is non-essential, in times of crisis the body temporarily diverts nutrients to vital organs).
Women who've just give birth are especially apt to shed, due to the hormonal and nutritional changes that accompany childbirth.
What to Do? Just wait. Normally, hair will grow back when your body readjusts to the changes it has endured. In the meantime, because shedding might be caused by insufficient levels of iron or lysine, (contained in meat, fish and eggs) you should try to improve your diet. Eating more red meat and avoiding dairy should help.
Greasy Hair
Why?You may be drinking too much milk or chowing down on inordinate amounts of cheese. When the body can't process all of the fatty acids in milk products, they are secreted as oil by sebaceous glands in your head.
What to Do? Cut down on dairy.
Thinning Hair
Symptoms: Your part gets wider and each hair gets finer.
Why? Pre-menopausal women who have very fine hair or experience thinning hair are probably plagued with genetic hair loss, which can start as early as one's 20s. Menopausal women experience hair thinning because of a lack of estrogen. It can also indicate the onset of a thyroid disease.
What to Do? You should see your doctor, who will probably prescribe an anti-androgen therapy as well as a product to encourage hair growth, or a medication to help control your over- or under-active thyroid.
Why? Stress might cause the harmless yeast that occurs naturally near the scalp to become unbalanced. That's when dandruff occurs.
What to DO? Doctors recommend shampooing daily. If there is still no relief, you should find a good anti-dandruff shampoo. Still no luck? See your doctor, who might diagnose a scalp condition.