What your hair reveals about your health

Many women go to great lengths and spare no expense when it comes to getting the look, feel, color, and cut of the hair that they want. And while you may be busy spending lots of time (and money) on dyeing, curling, straightening, cutting, blow-drying, and chemically treating your hair to achieve the ideal style that you're seeking, it's important to look more closely at what your hair might actually be telling you.

In fact, your hair can provide great insight into your overall health and well-being, and it's important to recognize the many different ways in which the hair on your head can reflect what's happening inside your body. With this in mind, here's a closer look at the different health-related causes behind three of the most common hair conditions that women face: hair loss, lackluster locks, and gray hair.

If you're experiencing hair loss

Have you noticed that you've been losing a lot of hair recently? Perhaps you've seen large clumps left on your pillow when you get out of bed each morning or an unusually large amount in your drain after you shower. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, people tend to lose 50 to 100 strands of hair every day and up to 250 strands on days when they wash their hair.

However, if you're aware of the fact that your hair has been falling out in clumps, let this be a wake-up call that your body is trying to send you a critical message. There are many different medical conditions and circumstances that can bring about hair loss, and it's important to take note of the wide array of possible causes. To that end, if hair loss is something you're experiencing, one of the following health issues may be to blame.

Your thyroid isn't functioning properly

The thyroid is the butterfly-shaped endocrine gland that's found in the front of your neck, and its role is to release hormones that regulate your metabolism as well as several other bodily functions, such as your heartbeat, breathing rate, core body temperature, menstrual cycles, and cholesterol. When your thyroid isn't working properly, this hormonal imbalance can lead to numerous health issues, one of which is hair loss.

In fact, hair loss can result from both hyperthyroidism, which is caused by an overactive thyroid producing too many hormones, or hypothyroidism, which is caused by an under-active thyroid not producing enough hormones. So if you're experiencing significant hair loss, especially in addition to other symptoms, including unexplained weight gain, lethargy, memory difficulties, eye problems, and depression, an ill-functioning thyroid may be the culprit.

You have an infection

If you're experiencing hair loss, it's important to note that there are a variety of infections that can trigger this symptom. For example, ringworm is a fungal infection, and if it occurs on your head and scalp, it can make its way into the fibers of your hair and cause them to fall out. In addition, certain bacterial infections can cause folliculitis, which is the inflammation of your hair follicles, and this can also lead to hair loss. In fact, one of the most widespread types of folliculitis is known as "hot tub folliculitis," which is an infection caused by the bacteria found in poorly chlorinated water. Since hot tub folliculitis can result in hair loss, the thought of hopping into a hot tub may not be as relaxing as it once did.

You just had a baby

Your body goes through countless physical, emotional, and mental changes after you have a baby, and for many women, another possible reason behind their excessive hair loss occurs after pregnancy itself. To that end, after a woman gives birth, a condition known as telogen effluvium can occur, which is a sizeable loss of her hair. In fact, telogen effluvium typically happens during the first five months after pregnancy, and it affects nearly 50% of women.

So while you may find yourself shedding all over the place, the good news is that this kind of hair loss isn't permanent. To that end, it's interesting to note that during pregnancy, your increased estrogen levels can actually help your hair look and feel fuller. Who knew the bun in your oven could affect the hair on your head?

You have an iron deficiency

Iron is found in a variety of foods, including red meat, beans, kale, and dried fruits such as raisins, cranberries, and apricots. However, if you don't have enough iron in your blood, this can create numerous health problems, particularly in terms of your red blood cells and their ability to carry oxygen. With this in mind, some of the symptoms of low iron levels include lethargy and shortness of breath, and while it may surprise you, hair loss is also one of the tell-tale signs. In fact, your hair follicles need iron to help them grow, and research has shown that being iron deficient can lead to a loss of hair, especially for those who already have a genetic propensity to lose their hair in the future.

To that end, many women with heavy periods often experience an iron deficiency because of the large amounts of blood they lose each menstrual cycle, which is typically why it's rarer for postmenopausal women (and men in general) to experience this type of deficiency. However, while studies have demonstrated that taking iron supplements can help to prevent hair loss and even help to regrow hair that's fallen out, it's important to consult with your doctor before you begin to add any supplements to your daily regimen.