You have been experiencing any number of symptoms related to your diabetes, and now you notice that your hair seems to be falling out. Is hair loss yet another symptom of diabetes?
Diabetes can disrupt natural cycles within your body, including the processes of hair growth. Prolonged hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) damages small blood vessels that deliver oxygen to various parts of your body, including hair follicles. This disruption may lead to unnaturally accelerated hair loss.
Continue reading to learn more about how hair grows, how diabetes can alter that growth process, and possible treatments to help treat or reverse your loss of hair.
Diabetes Connection To Hair Loss
Diabetes can inhibit red blood cells’ ability to deliver oxygen to different parts of your body properly, which also results in loss of hair. (source)
Oxygen deprivation can damage your heart, kidneys, and brain. It can damage the cells that grow the hair on your body, as well.
Diabetes causing oxygen deprivation to hair cells will result in a slowing of hair growth. The hair growth cycle includes a growth period, transitional period, and a resting period.
If the growth period is cut short due to oxygen deprivation to the cells, the problem lies in a lack of balance between the hair growth stages.
Given that hair falls out at a fairly regular rate during the resting stage, if the growth stage is shortened or impaired due to lack of oxygen, the end result is hair loss. When the hair regrows, it will come back at a slower than normal rate.
The Hair’s Cycle Of Life And Diabetes
When most people think of hair, they think of the hair on their head. The hair on your scalp only comprises a small area where about 100,000 hair follicles are found.
Keep in mind that there are many more hair follicles all over your body, from your fingers to your toes. The hair on your body is not grouped like it is on your head.
The hair on your body and scalp goes through a “life cycle.” Three distinct stages characterize this cycle:
Anagen – The First Stage Of Hair Growth
The first stage of hair growth, the Anagen stage, is the active stage of hair growth.
Cells in the roots of the follicle divide rapidly. Approximately 80-90% of hair is in this stage at any given time.
The hair on the scalp grows at about a half-inch (1-2 cm) per month. The Anagen stage remains active on the scalp for two to six years.
Catagen – The Second Stage Of Hair Growth
The Catagen stage of hair is a short, transitional phase. During the second phase, hair stops growing and prepares for a dormant, or resting stage.
This preparation includes a significant shrinking of the outer root sheath and a fastening to the root of the hair.
The Catagen stage lasts for two to three weeks, and about 3% of your hair is in this stage at any given time.
Telogen – The Third Stage of Hair Growth
The resting stage mentioned in the Catagen stage is called the Telogen stage. This stage of hair is entirely at rest.
After it is shed, it goes dormant. The hair will naturally fall out at a rate of 25 to 100 per day.
The Telogen stage lasts for approximately 100 days for scalp hair, and longer for other areas like the face or armpits. About 10-15% of your hair is in this phase at any given time.
Diabetes and Its Effects On Hair Growth
An issue that may arise from hair loss and diabetes is a known as Alopecia Areata (AA), also known as “spot baldness.” Unfortunately, people who have diabetes are more likely to develop AA.
What is Alopecia Areata, and How Does it Affect Diabetes?
Alopecia Areata is an autoimmune condition that attacks the hair follicles. The condition can attack hair growth on some or all of the body.
People with diabetes are more likely to have this condition. There is no known cure for Alopecia Areata, but some treatments may slow the progression of the condition.
Reversal Of Diabetic Hair Loss
One of the main issues found in studies regarding hair loss and diabetes is that higher glucose levels tend to promote hair cell apoptosis within the body. (source)
Apoptosis is a natural process where the death of cells occur. During Catagen stage, hair follicles go through a process of shrinking that reflects a burst of apoptosis.
Our immune cells work continuously to remove unwanted invaders from our bodies. In people with diabetes, higher blood glucose interrupts the normal apoptosis cycle and makes the immune cells ‘remove’ hair cells that appear to be invaders.
How To Reverse Diabetes Hair Loss
Well, if high blood sugars cause the issue, then regulating your blood sugar is step one. This is the goal of every person with diabetes in the first place – proper regulation of blood glucose.
Reversing Diabetic Hair Loss With Diet
Eating foods that help the body regulate blood sugar is an excellent place to start. Proper nutrition, including high fiber foods, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean protein is Important.
The most common nutrient deficiencies linked to hair loss are iron and zinc, but other nutrient deficiencies may contribute, as well.
Take a look at my article on the ultimate Vegetarian Diabetic Meal Plan With Examples. In that article, I outline some great foods that are reported to help regulate blood sugar levels.
Reversing Diabetic Hair Loss With Lifestyle
Regular physical activity, stress management, and medication management are key focus points when it comes to diabetic hair loss.
Physical activity promotes blood circulation. Proper circulation increases blood flow to all areas of the body, including hair follicles.
In most cases, regular physical activity is recommended for people with diabetes. Before you hit the gym or step into the street for a jog, I recommend a consultation with your medical provider and your diabetes care and education specialist.
Your doctor may want to evaluate your heart rate or respirations to make sure it is safe to exercise. You may or may not have limitations or restrictions.
Your diabetes care and education specialist will help you adjust your insulin, injectables, or oral diabetes medications that will cause a drop in your blood sugars, such as sulfonylureas including Amaryl, Glucotrol, Micronase, Glynase, and Diabeta.
When we do physical activity, the body’s muscles need fuel. That fuel comes in the form of glucose, which is released from the liver, and is served up via the blood. The problem with diabetes is the inability to deal with that blood sugar properly.
Medical Treatment For Diabetes Hair Loss
Besides dietary and lifestyle choices just mentioned, there are many medical over-the-counter and prescription topicals and supplements that may help with diabetic-related hair loss. Let’s take a look at some of the common treatments for diabetics below.
Treatments For Hair Loss
The drug anthralin is a skin irritant. It irritates the skin to cause hair cells to grow. This drug is typically used to treat psoriasis.
Corticosteroid Treatments like Clobetasol (Impoyz)
Clobetasol is a common skin treatment used for the treatment of swelling, irritation, and itching. Such conditions as eczema, contact dermatitis, psoriasis, lichen planus, and lupus are all treated topically with this type of cream. (source)
The drug diphencyprone (DPCP) is a common treatment for alopecia areata. The drug has been used to treat adults and children suffering from this form of hair loss. (source)
The topical Rogaine has grown in popularity due to longevity in the market as well as a healthful advertising budget by its creators. The topical found use to treat male pattern baldness and should not be used by any under the age of 18. (source)
Biotin is a B vitamin. Some people with diabetes have low levels. There is some evidence to show that biotin may help slow the rate of hair loss in some people, but more research needs to be done.
Multiple foods contain biotin. Biotin supplementation is available, but it is recommended that you discuss this with your medical care provider. Genuine biotin deficiency is rare.
When To Call The Doctor For Diabetic Hair Loss?
If you have abnormal hair loss or any unusual symptoms, call your provider. Someone will answer your questions, or you might be scheduled to go in for an outpatient visit. There is no harm in calling your doctor and setting up an appointment.
However, there are a few situations that may require more immediate attention:
- Sudden and rapid hair loss
- Skin irritation that lasts more than a few days
Several things might cause sudden and rapid hair loss, but some could be signs of poisoning or other emergencies. If you experience sudden and rapid hair loss, seek emergency medical attention.
Skin irritations can sometimes creep up for seemingly no reason. Certain skin irritations can disturb hair cells, as well. You may develop a rash from using a new soap or skin cream. It may be nothing serious, but it should still be watched.
If you are not aware of any exposure to anything out of your usual routine, and you have skin irritation that lasts more than a day or two, you should seek medical attention.
When in doubt, call your doctor or medical provider. If nothing is wrong, you will at least have peace of mind.
Other Reasons For Diabetic Hair Loss
It has been established that diabetes itself can cause hair loss. Know that hair loss may also occur due to the stress of a chronic illness, including diabetes.
Some people with diabetes might experience hair loss as a side effect of their diabetes medications. Other diabetics have thyroid disorders or hormone-related problems, which can lead to hair loss, as well.
Furthermore, if you have diabetes and you are also taking an anticoagulant, anticonvulsant, certain beta blockers, or antidepressants, this can lead to hair loss.
Final Word On Diabetes And Hair Loss
It is understood that a variety of complications may arise from diabetes that may affect hair growth and loss. Diabetes may trigger certain autoimmune conditions that attack the hair follicles, such as Alopecia Areata.
Although there is no known cure or proven treatment to cure AA of a stricken individual, several therapies might be used to help slow, reduce, or even reverse some of the condition’s effects.
Through a medically approved diet and lifestyle (regular exercise), combined with your doctor’s recommended medications, be it topical or otherwise, most of the hair loss effects of diabetes and its related complications may be managed.
If you are experiencing hair loss and either have diabetes or think it may be possible, don’t hesitate to contact your doctor. A simple blood test may be all that is needed to confirm.
Know that preventive measures are possible is smarter than waiting until there could be potentially life-threatening complications. If you are experiencing anything you aren’t sure about, make the call and discuss it with your doctor.
In my many years of practice, I have witnessed any number of symptoms of diabetes. In my experience, patients will encounter more common symptoms before they experience hair loss. Check out my article on Symptoms of Diabetes Mellitus (DM) to help identify if you are at risk.