When it comes to hair loss, male pattern baldness gets all the attention. But if you are a woman with thinning hair or bald patches, you know that female pattern baldness is most definitely a thing.
Research shows that it is more common than many people realize. In a study of 564 women, 13% displayed frontal and frontoparietal recessions before menopause. After menopause, that number jumped to 37%.
In both cases, the primary hormone linked to hair loss is dihydrotestosterone, or DHT for short—a type of androgen hormone. But once again, this situation is where the most well-known factor is getting all the attention, and a lesser-known but crucial element is getting ignored. And that factor is estrogen.
Where is the Science?
In an article on menopause, the University of Maryland Medical Center states, “Estrogen loss can contribute to slackness and dryness in the skin and wrinkles. Many women experience thinning of their hair, and some have temporary hair loss.” Meanwhile, this study reports, “It has long been known that estrogens also profoundly alter hair follicle growth … the time has come to pay estrogen-mediated signaling the full attention it deserves in future endocrinological therapy of common hair growth disorders.”
Just as you might guess from reading that, there is a need for more research in this area. If you search for studies on hair loss, most of them relate to DHT.
Estradiol is one of the three naturally occurring forms of estrogen found in the body. Here is one small European study from Europe PubMed Central (PMC) which looked at 20 pre-menopausal women with female pattern hair loss to check their serum levels of estradiol, free and total testosterone, SHBG, LH, FSH, and DHEAS. The study compared these levels to those of a control group without hair loss.
The androgen levels in both groups were normal. But the group with the hair loss recorded a significantly lower ratio of estradiol to free testosterone and DHEAS.
So there is a small but growing body of scientific evidence demonstrating that low levels of estrogen may account for female pattern hair loss. As you can also see, this may strike before you even hit menopause.
So the next logical question is this: what can you do about it?
HRT vs. Phytotherapy
You have two major choices: hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or phytotherapy (herbal remedies). You may wish there were more options, but there really are not. You can, of course, take other approaches to treat hair loss. Still, if low estrogen levels are one of the leading causes of your hair loss, the results you will see in treating the problem through other means are going to be quite limited if you are failing to treat the cause.
That means you need to look for a way to increase the estrogen in your body to fill out your hair.
Why You Should Probably Avoid HRT
I am going to recommend a few herbs which you can use to treat low estrogen levels and restore a full head of hair. Still, first things first—we need to talk about why you should avoid hormone replacement therapy.
Hormone replacement therapy is tempting for a couple of reasons: it is easy and familiar. Many women have used birth control pills at one point or another, so you probably know they contain synthetic hormones. HRT is similar; you pop a pill or use a patch and receive a boost to your estrogen levels.
So this probably makes you wonder why you would ever go to the trouble of experimenting with herbal remedies if you can take a pill that provides your body with more estrogen. The answers come from the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI).
The WHI was an extensive, prominent long-term study that looked at the health effects of HRT. While the study did find a few benefits (women who used HRT had fewer hip or bone fractures and were less likely to develop colorectal cancer), it found many risks, including an increased chance of heart attack, stroke, cancer, and blood clots.
As a result, doctors are not so keen to recommend HRT to women in menopause (or dealing with lower levels of estrogen earlier in life).
Unfortunately, there is no surefire way to boost your estrogen levels otherwise. Still, there are a few herbal remedies that may help you to achieve a balance. This natural approach is gentler because it stimulates your body’s production of hormones or replaces your missing estrogen with phytoestrogens (this applies if you are in menopause).
7 Herbs to Boost Your Estrogen Levels and Re-grow Your Hair
As promised, I want to introduce you to 7 different herbal remedies that may help you get your hormones back in balance. This, in turn, can help your hair to grow!
1. Black Cohosh
This plant is native to North America and has been used for centuries by indigenous people to treat menstrual and menopausal disorders. While modern research results are mixed, some studies do indicate that black cohosh can be effective as a treatment in menopause. While the research focuses on hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause that get more attention than hair loss, it follows that black cohosh could also help to improve hair growth when estrogen levels decline.
2. Red Clover
This herb contains phytoestrogens, which I mentioned briefly before. Phytoestrogens are compounds found in plants that have an estrogenic effect. If your body is low on estrogen, as in menopause, the phytoestrogens in red clover can theoretically bind to your estrogen receptors, providing a weak replacement.
How effective is this replacement in menopause? Once again, most studies in this area focus on something other than hair loss. But there is research showing that red clover may result in a reduction of hot flashes, so this may indicate that it is indeed effective in treating all the symptoms of menopause.
If you live in an area overrun by vines native to the Far East, you may be familiar with the invasive species called “kudzu.” While kudzu is something you do not want in your garden (it will smother everything in sight), you may find it helpful for boosting your estrogen levels, thereby treating hair loss.
Kudzu contains phytoestrogens and may help to replace some of your lost estrogens during menopause.
4. Dong Quai
Dong Quai also comes from the Far East, where it is a popular traditional remedy used to treat a variety of female health problems. Known as “female ginseng,” practitioners sometimes prescribe it for treating menopause symptoms.
Does it actually work? The jury is out on that one, but judging from its popularity (you will find it listed in numerous hormone-balancing formulas), there is a fair amount of anecdotal evidence backing its use. This herbal remedy could also help you to fight your age-related hair loss issues.
Also called “chaste tree,” Vitex is an herb typically prescribed to treat estrogen dominance. It also seems to be recommended as a remedy for deficient estrogen levels. However, it does seem to have a general balancing effect on the overall ratio of estrogen to progesterone. Vitex’s balancing effect is thought to result from stimulating dopamine production.
Should you take it to increase estrogen levels? On that, I don’t know. Since the herb does work to treat estrogen dominance, it seems counterintuitive that it would also work to treat the opposite. But perhaps the general “balancing” effect works from both ends.
I do know that Vitex is most commonly prescribed to women in perimenopause, the stage just before menopause. If that describes you, you may very well benefit from taking it.
6. Licorice Root
Have you ever eaten natural licorice? The answer is “no” for many people who live in America, where most “licorice candy” is actually flavored with anise, not natural licorice. The two flavors are very similar and can be difficult to distinguish. Many Americans do not even know that they have never tried actual licorice.
Overseas, though, licorice candies are made using natural licorice root extract. They are pretty popular, especially in the Netherlands, where they are something of a national specialty.
Licorice has a somewhat controversial reputation. There seem to be a couple of reasons for this:
- Licorice does have an estrogenic effect on the body. Eating licorice may be unwise for those with estrogen-sensitive conditions (as with any other estrogenic herb).
- Licorice contains an ingredient known as glycyrrhizin which can trigger your kidneys to release potassium. Eating excessive black licorice within a certain period can cause heart arrhythmias and even feasibly kill you.
Before you panic, “a certain amount” seems to be multiple 2-ounce bags daily for 14 days or longer. That is a lot of licorice. Unless you are a licorice addict, this is unlikely to be something that will ever tempt you.
I eat licorice regularly as it is a fantastic remedy for heartburn. I don’t know why it works, but it is far more effective than anything I have ever used.
If you have any more concerns about licorice, remember that licorice candies are a Dutch treat, and overseas, plenty of Dutch people are consuming the stuff regularly with no ill effects. In moderation, this may be an effective (and tasty) way to raise estrogen levels. While you are at it, you can reduce any heartburn problems you have.
Soy is one of the best herbal remedies for boosting your estrogen. Soy contains phytoestrogens, so if you are in menopause, it may help replace some of your estrogen production. They are weak phytoestrogens, so the effect may not be dramatic, but it should still help you to function at your best.
There are a couple of other reasons soy is a great choice. For one, it is really good for you, protecting your cardiovascular health by reducing your LDL cholesterol levels. For another, soy is an easy, cost-effective choice. Instead of searching everywhere for quality herbal supplements you are unfamiliar with, you can add some soy milk to your diet or eat some tofu.
You can take soy in a powder form, but the quality of soy supplement products is dubious in many cases, so eating soy in your food is a better choice. Plus, replacing red meats high in saturated fats with soy is how you reduce your LDL cholesterol and get heart-healthy benefits.
Try a Combination of Herbs for Reducing Estrogen to Promote Hair Growth
Balancing your hormones is not an easy process, whether you are in perimenopause, menopause, or post-menopause. Start gradually and track your results carefully to ensure you choose the right products to balance and adjust your hormone profile. You may find that just one of these herbs is sufficient to do the trick, but in many cases, you will achieve the best results by taking a combination of herbs.
You may also want to take an additional supplement to stimulate hair growth directly. This combined approach will tackle the problem on two fronts, replenishing estrogen and providing the nutrients your hair needs to grow healthy and long!