Maybe your scalp has become insatiably itchy. Maybe you’ve noticed more hair in the drain when you shower. Or maybe you’re seeing just a touch more gray than you did a few months ago. Whatever the case, these changes in your hair and scalp could signify all manner of health problems, from nutrient deficiencies to thyroid issues.
“Hair is an excellent barometer for general health because it is viewed by the body as a non-essential and dispensable tissue—it is not essential to survival,” says trichologist Anabel Kingsley of Philip Kingsley Hair Care. “Your hair is therefore often the first part of you to suffer when something is not quite right health-wise.” Here’s exactly what to watch out for.
1. Excessive oil: Polycystic ovary syndrome
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition in women in which the ovaries develop numerous small collections of fluid, according to the Mayo Clinic. The condition introduces more androgens (male hormones) into the body, which can lead to an over-oily scalp, according Kingsley.
“You will usually experience other symptoms—which can include weight gain, acne, increased body and facial hair, and irregular periods—when you have PCOS,” she notes. “So be on the lookout for other symptoms in addition to the greasy hair.”
2. Just a few grays: Stress
According to a 2013 study published in the journal Nature Medicine, the hormones produced in response to stress can deplete melanocyte stem cells, which are the cells that determine hair color. That results in your hair turning gray or white. In other words, that age-old adage that someone who stresses you out can give you gray hair may actually be true.
3. Premature grays: Vitamin B12 deficiency
“Low vitamin B12 levels are notorious for causing loss of hair pigment,” board-certified dermatologist Dr. Karthik Krishnamurthy told Good Housekeeping. To prevent your strands from sliding down the grayscale, eat more food that’s high in vitamin B12—like tuna and salmon—or pop in a vitamin supplement.
4. Dandruff: Imbalanced diet
Dandruff occurs when the microflora of your scalp becomes imbalanced, which can happen from eating certain foods. If you’re noticing more dandruff lately, “reduce bad fats in your diet, particularly chocolate and dairy,” certified trichologist Kevin Mancuso told Everyday Health. These foods can cause more oil production, exacerbating dandruff.