Hair loss is a common complaint among women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). In fact, an estimated 16 percent of individuals with PCOS suffer from thinning hair or hair loss. In this article, we’ll review the causes of PCOS hair loss and how we address this condition using a targeted root cause approach.
What Causes PCOS Hair Loss?
Treating hair loss in PCOS is not a quick fix because there are numerous potential factors that may contribute to this condition. Let’s review the most common causes of PCOS hair loss.
Androgens are sex hormones present in both men and women but with higher concentrations found in men. High androgen levels are the most common cause for PCOS hair loss. Different types of androgens include testosterone, androstenedione, dihydrotestosterone (DHT), and dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEA-S). Your doctor can order a simple blood test to look for high androgen levels.
New research suggests chronic low-grade inflammation may be a contributing factor in hair loss as well (1
). Interestingly, women with PCOS are more likely to have high levels of an inflammatory marker called C-reactive protein (CRP).
Insulin is a hormone responsible for controlling blood sugar levels. When your cells become resistant to insulin, your body releases even more insulin and blood sugar levels remain abnormally elevated. Insulin resistance
plays a role in PCOS hair loss because higher insulin levels lead to higher androgen levels. This is probably why some women do not experience long lasting benefits with conventional treatments because the medication fails to address the root cause of high androgens.
How to Treat Hair Loss
Treating hair loss is a gradual process, but it is possible. All of our targeted interventions are designed to treat the root causes of hair loss in women with PCOS.
Protein, Fat, Carb (PFC) balance is a simple way to plan meals for PCOS that also balances your blood sugar levels. Balancing PFC ensures you have protein, fat, and fiber-rich carbohydrates with each meal and snack. An anti-inflammatory diet can also lower inflammatory markers and improve insulin resistance that may contribute to PCOS hair loss. You can incorporate the PFC method with an anti-inflammatory diet by eating lots of non-starchy vegetables, legumes, fresh fruit, nuts/seeds, whole grains, and lean protein.
For a PFC Balanced Food plan and recipes using our Root Plate Method, download our Foundational Food Plan:
Replace Key Nutrients
Zinc is an essential mineral with antioxidant properties. Unfortunately, women with PCOS are more likely to have a zinc deficiency than women without this condition. Taking zinc for PCOS
may help reduce fasting blood sugar and insulin levels, improve insulin resistance, and reduce hair loss (2
). We generally recommend starting with 15 to 30 milligrams (mg) of supplemental zinc per day.
Omega-3 is a healthy fat found in nuts, seeds, and seafood. More specifically, fish is the best source of two key omega-3 fats: EPA and DHA. These two fats may improve insulin resistance and lower levels of inflammation in women with PCOS (4
). Strive to include oily fish, like salmon, into your diet at least twice per week. If you do not like fish or struggle to eat it regularly, consider taking an omega-3 supplement with EPA and DHA. We recommend starting around 800mg to 1,000 mg per day.
Iron deficiency may cause hair loss. Iron is a mineral found in animal protein like beef, chicken, fish, and eggs. You can also find iron in legumes, nuts, seeds, and certain vegetables. However, plant-based forms of iron are harder for your body to use, so it’s important to also eat lots of foods rich in vitamin C to boost absorption. Your doctor can easily check your iron levels with a simple blood test. Some individuals may require iron supplements to correct an iron deficiency. Prenatal vitamins often contain iron as well.
In times of stress, your adrenal glands release high amounts of a hormone called cortisol. High cortisol levels may be a contributing factor to hair loss by causing high blood sugar levels, insulin resistance, and worsening inflammation. Stress reduction and lifestyle management is essential in treating high cortisol levels. Incorporate healthy ways to reduce and/or manage your stress levels each day. Ideas may include meditation, deep breathing exercises, yoga, tai chi, nature walks, or therapy.
Adaptogens are supplements that may also help balance cortisol levels. We often use ashwagandha, which is an Ayurvedic herb with proven benefits for reducing cortisol levels, lowering perceived anxiety, increasing sleep quality, and reducing hair loss when stress is a contributing factor (5
DHEA-S, an androgen that is often elevated in PCOS caused by an adrenal root cause, can also lead to hair loss. Resveratrol has been shown to naturally lower DHEA-S.
We bundled together our top supplements for PCOS Hair loss in the bundle below. This is a nice complement to our core PCOS bundle as well.
Did you know that the health of your gut may factor into your hair loss? Dysbiosis (an imbalance of gut bacteria), leaky gut, and food sensitivities can all contribute to low-grade inflammation that may indirectly worsen hair loss. In fact, some researchers suggest that dysbiosis may be the triggering factor that causes PCOS in the first place (7
). Obvious signs of poor gut health include digestive symptoms like constipation, diarrhea, bloating, acid reflux, and gas. However, some individuals do not present with digestive symptoms. You can start supporting your gut health today by slowly increasing the fiber in your diet, limiting added sugar and alcohol, eating a diverse diet of colorful foods, and drinking enough water. Learn about our Gut Health Supplement Bundle
Rule Out Thyroid Disorders
Women with PCOS are three times more likely to also have Hashimoto’s thyroid disease. Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the thyroid. It is also the most common cause of hypothyroidism in the United States. Hair loss is a common symptom of hypothyroidism, and treating this condition may significantly reverse hair loss. Read more about PCOS and thyroid disorders
Hair loss in PCOS is often the result of high androgen levels, like testosterone. If you have insulin resistance, this is likely causing your high androgen levels. Other contributing factors include nutrient deficiencies, inflammation, stress, and gut dysbiosis.
We use a holistic, root cause approach in treating hair loss. Following an anti-inflammatory diet, correcting nutrient deficiencies, lowering stress levels, and repairing the gut can all help to reverse hair loss due to PCOS.
The best part about treating hair loss at the root cause is that other symptoms related to PCOS also improve, like acne, hair growth on face, and mood changes. Here is a summary of our Root protocol for PCOS hair loss:
- Balance Blood Sugar (use our Root Foundational Food Plan for guidance)
- Replace vital nutrients (PCOS Core Bundle plus gentle iron if needed)
- Manage Stress and Adrenal Androgens (Hair Loss Supplement Bundle)
- Repair gut health if needed to reduce inflammation (Gut Health Bundle)
- Rule out Thyroid Disorders
The best approach for hair growth includes a combination of nutrition, lifestyle, and targeted supplementation. If you are not sure where to start, the first two bullet points are a great place to start for not only hair health, but PCOS in general!