Are you noticing more hair in your brush than usual? You might be surprised to learn that diabetes could be the cause. Recent studies have shown a connection between diabetes and hair loss, but many people are unaware of this link. In fact, a study involving 6,000,000 people found that those with undiagnosed type 2 diabetes experienced diffuse hair loss. This means their hair is thinned all over their scalp. It’s a problem that often goes unnoticed until it’s too late, leaving many wondering what’s happening to their once-thick hair.

In this article, we’ll explore how diabetes can lead to hair loss, why it happens, and what you can do about it. If you’re struggling with unexplained hair thinning, it might be time to consider your blood sugar levels. Let’s dive into the details and find out how to tackle this issue head-on.

Key Takeaways

  • Diabetes can cause hair loss by damaging the small blood vessels in the scalp, leading to hair thinning all over the head. A study found a 68% increased risk of severe central-scalp hair loss among African American women with type 2 diabetes.
  • High blood sugar levels, known as hyperglycemia, damage blood vessels and reduce the oxygen and nutrients supplied to hair follicles, disrupting the hair growth cycle and leading to hair loss.
  • Type 1 diabetes increases the risk of autoimmune disorders like alopecia areata, which causes the immune system to attack hair follicles, resulting in patches of hair loss.
  • Managing diabetes effectively through blood sugar control, a balanced diet, regular exercise, and stress reduction can help prevent hair loss and promote hair regrowth.
  • Treatments for diabetes-related hair loss include topical medications like minoxidil, prescription medications like finasteride, and natural remedies like biotin supplements, essential oils, and scalp massages.
  • Hair loss from diabetes can potentially grow back if blood sugar levels are controlled and proper hair care is maintained, but the regrowth rate may be slower, and additional treatments might be needed.

Understanding Hair Loss

A hairbrush with some hair loss

Hair loss, or alopecia, is a common condition that can affect individuals of all ages. It’s a natural part of the hair’s life cycle. The hair growth cycle consists of three phases: anagen (growth phase), catagen (transitional phase), and telogen (resting phase). During the anagen phase, hair grows actively for several years. In the catagen phase, the hair stops growing and detaches from the blood supply. Finally, during the telogen phase, the hair rests before falling out and making way for new hair growth.

Hair loss occurs when there is a disruption in this natural cycle. Hair loss can also be a symptom of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Beyond diabetes, several factors can contribute to hair loss, including stress, hormonal imbalances, nutritional deficiencies, and certain medical conditions. For instance, high levels of stress can push hair follicles into the telogen phase prematurely, leading to increased hair shedding. Hormonal changes, such as those experienced during pregnancy or menopause, can also affect hair growth. Additionally, conditions like thyroid disorders or iron deficiency anemia can result in hair loss.

Can Diabetes Cause Hair Loss?

A man holding his bald head

Yes, diabetes can cause hair loss. Diabetes affects the body’s ability to produce insulin, which regulates blood sugar levels. When blood sugar levels are too high for extended periods, it can damage the small blood vessels in the scalp, leading to hair loss. This damage can cause hair to fall out, slow down hair growth, or even stop new hair from forming and growing. 

A study found that type 2 diabetes was associated with a 68% increased risk of severe central-scalp hair loss. Severe central-scalp hair loss refers to hair thinning or loss that primarily occurs on the crown or central part of the scalp and can progress outward.

There are three main causes of hair loss in individuals with diabetes:

Immune System Disorders

People with type 1 diabetes are at an increased risk of developing other autoimmune disorders, such as alopecia areata. This condition occurs when the immune system attacks the hair follicles, leading to patches of hair loss on the scalp and other parts of the body.

Hyperglycemia

Hyperglycemia (elevated blood sugar) can cause damage to both small (microvascular) and large (macrovascular) blood vessels. This damage can affect blood flow, reducing the supply of oxygen and nutrients to hair follicles, and disrupting the hair growth cycle. Hyperglycemia can also cause hair thinning, fragility, and a decrease in hair growth speed. Additionally, insulin resistance associated with diabetes can impair microvascular function, contributing to hair loss conditions like androgenic alopecia.

Hormonal Imbalances

Diabetes is closely associated with thyroid disorders, which can disrupt thyroid hormone levels and affect the natural hair cycle. Elevated levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) in people with diabetes can also increase insulin resistance and disrupt hair follicles, leading to hair growth disorders such as androgenetic alopecia, alopecia areata, and telogen effluvium.

How to Stop Hair Loss From Diabetes

Managing diabetes effectively is key to preventing hair loss. Here are some strategies to help stop hair loss related to diabetes:

Control Blood Sugar Levels

Maintaining normal blood sugar levels is essential to preventing damage to blood vessels and hair follicles. The recommended fasting blood sugar level is between 80-130 mg/dL, and the level two hours after meals should be less than 180 mg/dL. Here’s how to manage your blood sugar effectively:

  • Monitor Blood Sugar Levels Regularly: Regularly test your blood sugar levels to understand how different foods and activities affect your levels. This helps you make informed decisions about your diet and lifestyle.
  • Medications: Take all prescribed medications as directed by your doctor. Medications like insulin or oral hypoglycemics help keep your blood sugar levels within the target range.
  • Diet: Eat a balanced diet rich in vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, and whole grains. Avoid foods high in sugar and refined carbs, which can cause blood sugar spikes.
  • Exercise: Engage in regular physical activity to improve circulation and control blood sugar levels. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise, such as brisk walking, most days of the week.

Reduce Stress

Chronic stress can exacerbate hair loss by disrupting hormonal balance and increasing inflammation. To manage stress effectively:

  • Counseling or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Consider professional counseling or CBT to help you manage stress and develop healthy coping mechanisms.
  • Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques: Practice mindfulness and relaxation techniques like meditation, deep breathing exercises, and yoga. These practices can help reduce stress and improve overall well-being.
  • Healthy Lifestyle Choices: Ensure you get adequate sleep, maintain social connections, and engage in activities that you enjoy and that help you relax.

Improve Scalp Health

Healthy hair growth starts with a healthy scalp. Here are some tips to maintain scalp health:

  • Regular Scalp Care: Keep your scalp clean and free from excess oil and dandruff. Use a mild shampoo suitable for your hair type.
  • Avoid Harsh Hair Treatments: Limit the use of harsh hair treatments like chemical dyes, perms, and heat styling tools, as these can damage your hair and scalp.
  • Massage Your Scalp: Regular scalp massages can improve blood circulation to the hair follicles, promoting healthy hair growth. Use natural oils like coconut or olive oil to massage your scalp gently.

Treatments for Hair Loss

Several treatments can help manage hair loss caused by diabetes. These include topical medications, prescription medications, lifestyle changes, and dietary supplements. 

Topical Medications

  • Minoxidil (Rogaine): This over-the-counter medication is applied directly to the scalp to stimulate hair growth. It works by widening blood vessels and opening potassium channels, which allows more oxygen, blood, and nutrients to reach hair follicles. Both men and women can use Minoxidil, and it is available in liquid or foam form.

Prescription Medications

  • Finasteride (Propecia): This is a prescription oral medication primarily used for male pattern baldness. Finasteride works by decreasing the amount of dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a hormone linked to hair loss. It is not approved for use in women due to potential side effects, including birth defects if taken during pregnancy.
  • Steroid Treatments: For autoimmune-related hair loss conditions like alopecia areata, doctors may recommend steroid injections or oral immunosuppressants such as methotrexate or cyclosporine. Steroids can reduce inflammation and suppress the immune system, helping to prevent further hair loss and potentially encouraging regrowth.

Biotin Supplements

  • Biotin: Also known as Vitamin B7, biotin is essential for maintaining healthy hair, skin, and nails. Foods rich in biotin include eggs, nuts, salmon, avocado, and sweet potatoes. While biotin supplements are widely available, it’s important to consult with a doctor before starting them to ensure they are necessary and to avoid any potential interactions with other medications.

Will Hair Loss from Diabetes Grow Back?

A hairbrush with some hair loss

Yes. Hair regrowth is possible for people with diabetes-related hair loss, but it depends on several factors. The key is to get blood sugar levels under control through effective diabetes management. When diabetes is well-managed and blood sugar is stabilized, the disrupted hair growth cycle may be restored, allowing for significant hair regrowth in some cases. However, the rate of regrowth can be slower compared to before. If hair does not start growing back after blood sugar is controlled, medications like minoxidil or hair transplants may be considered as additional treatment options. The duration and severity of the hair loss can also influence the regrowth process. 

What are the Other Effects of Diabetes on the Body?

Diabetes affects the body in several profound ways beyond blood sugar irregularities and hair loss. Its impact can be widespread, affecting various organs and systems:

  • Nervous System: Diabetes commonly affects the nervous system, leading to diabetic neuropathy. This condition results in a loss of sensation, tingling, pain, or burning feelings, especially in the feet and hands. Over time, high glucose levels can damage the delicate nerve fibers, causing these symptoms.
  • Cardiovascular System: People with diabetes are at a higher risk for cardiovascular problems, including heart attack, stroke, and coronary artery disease. Diabetes contributes to these conditions by promoting the buildup of plaque in the arteries, leading to reduced blood flow and potential blockages.
  • Kidneys: Diabetic nephropathy is a serious complication where the kidneys’ filtering systems are progressively damaged. This damage can lead to kidney failure or irreversible end-stage kidney disease, which may require dialysis or kidney transplantation.
  • Eyes: Diabetic retinopathy is another common complication where the blood vessels of the retina (the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye) are damaged. This condition can lead to blurred vision, sudden vision loss, and eventually, blindness if not properly managed.
  • Immune System: Diabetes can weaken the immune system, making the body less able to fight off infections. This is why individuals with diabetes may experience more frequent infections, particularly skin infections and urinary tract infections.
  • Skin and Appendages: Diabetes can cause changes in the skin, such as bacterial and fungal infections, dryness, and poor wound healing. Skin conditions like diabetic dermopathy (light brown, scaly patches) and necrobiosis lipoidica diabeticorum (painful, swollen red patches) can also develop.
  • Digestive System: Gastroparesis is a condition that affects people with diabetes, where the stomach takes too long to empty its contents. This is due to damage to the vagus nerve, which controls the movement of food through the digestive tract. Symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, bloating, and loss of appetite.
  • Mental Health: Diabetes significantly impacts mental health, with increased rates of depression, anxiety, and diabetes-related distress. Managing diabetes is complex and demanding, which can lead to feelings of frustration and depression over time.

Final Thoughts

Diabetes can affect your body in many ways, including causing hair loss. If you’re dealing with hair thinning and you have diabetes, focusing on managing your blood sugar levels might help improve your hair condition. By keeping your diabetes under control, eating a balanced diet, reducing stress, and caring for your scalp, you can potentially see an improvement in hair growth. Remember, while diabetes management can help, the results may vary, and it’s about finding what works best for your body and health

FAQs About Diabetes And Hair Loss

Does diabetes cause hair loss in the legs?

Yes, diabetes can cause hair loss in the legs. This occurs because high blood sugar levels can damage the small blood vessels and nerves that supply hair follicles, leading to decreased hair growth and increased hair shedding, not just on the scalp but also on other parts of the body, including the legs.

Can prediabetes cause hair loss?

Prediabetes itself is less likely to cause hair loss directly. However, the same factors that contribute to developing diabetes, such as hormonal imbalances and metabolic issues, may also influence hair health. It’s essential to monitor blood sugar levels and maintain a healthy lifestyle to prevent both prediabetes progression and potential hair loss.

Can diabetes hair loss be reversed?

Diabetes-related hair loss can sometimes be reversed if blood sugar levels are well-controlled and overall health is improved. However, it might take time for hair to grow back.

Can type 2 diabetes cause hair loss?

Yes, type 2 diabetes can cause hair loss. Poor blood circulation and hormonal imbalances associated with diabetes can affect hair follicles, leading to hair loss.

Does the duration of diabetes affect the risk of severe hair loss?

Yes, women who had diabetes for 10 years or longer had a higher risk (2.05 times greater) of developing severe hair loss compared to those with a shorter duration of diabetes.

What is the significance of early diabetes diagnosis in relation to hair loss?

Women diagnosed with diabetes before age 50 had a higher risk of severe hair loss compared to those diagnosed at an older age.

What are the best dietary changes to prevent hair loss from diabetes?

To prevent hair loss from diabetes, focus on a balanced diet that supports blood sugar control and hair health. Include:

  • Low-glycemic foods: such as whole grains, leafy greens, and other fibrous vegetables to help manage blood sugar levels.
  • Lean proteins: like chicken, fish, and legumes, which provide the building blocks for hair growth.
  • Healthy fats: found in nuts, seeds, avocados, and fish, which can improve hair texture and prevent dryness.
  • Vitamins and minerals: Ensure adequate intake of iron, zinc, and vitamins A, C, E, and B-vitamins, which are crucial for healthy hair follicle function.

How effective are scalp massages in combating hair loss due to diabetes?

Scalp massages can be quite beneficial. They improve blood circulation to the scalp, enhancing the nourishment received by hair follicles, which can promote hair growth and reduce hair loss. Regular scalp massages, especially when done with nourishing oils, may help mitigate hair loss associated with diabetes.

Can stress management techniques help reduce hair loss in diabetics?

Yes, stress management techniques can help reduce hair loss in diabetics. Stress can exacerbate hair loss by pushing more hair follicles into the resting phase of their growth cycle. Techniques like mindfulness, yoga, and regular exercise can lower stress levels, thereby helping to stabilize hair growth cycles and reduce hair loss.

Are there any natural remedies for hair loss associated with diabetes?

Several natural remedies can support hair health in diabetics:

  • Essential oils: such as rosemary and peppermint oil, can stimulate hair growth when massaged into the scalp.
  • Aloe vera: can soothe the scalp and condition hair, improving hair health and reducing hair fall.
  • Onion juice: Applying onion juice to the scalp might help boost hair growth due to its high sulfur content, which is said to improve circulation.
  • Green tea: Rich in antioxidants, rinsing hair with green tea may help to reduce hair loss by reducing scalp inflammation.

Can topical medications stop hair loss permanently?

Most topical medications, like minoxidil, only work while a person is using them and may not provide long-term solutions.

What is the role of blood circulation in hair growth?

Good blood circulation ensures that hair follicles receive enough oxygen and nutrients, promoting healthy hair growth.

Coping With Diabetic Hair Loss

Most people’s hair begins to thin as they age, some as young as their 20s. It is unlikely that people suffering from diabetic hair loss find comfort in this fact; they desire only to do whatever they can to ease their distress. One such solution is to try wearing a wig or hairpiece.

There are charities that provide wigs to women who suffer from cancer. Is there anywhere that people can turn to get help maintaining their self-esteem and dignity?  Actually, there might be. 

Wigs for Kids is a charity that provides wigs for kids who have lost their hair – no matter how. The wigs stay put (they are for kids, after all), and they’re made entirely from human hair. Parents must apply for a wig, which is totally custom-made for each child. 

Women who have lost their hair can find refurbished wigs from Ebeauty under certain circumstances. Wigs are donated to women who cannot afford the cost of a wig. If the woman lives in an area without access to the wigs, she just needs to call and learn whether she’s close to a hospital or organization that’s been designated as a drop-off center. 

Hair We Share has wigs for kids, women, and men who experience hair loss. The wigs are free for children under 18, as well as for adults, based on financial need. 

The charities are 501(c)3 organizations, founded to help hair-loss sufferers find confidence. It’s good to know there’s support for diabetics’ medical, nutritional, and psychological needs, too.

Women's Wigs

Sources

Gude, D. (2011, July-December). Hair – A yardstick for diabetes. International Journal of Trichology, 3(2), 131. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3250018/

National Center for Biotechnology Information. (2019). Association of type 2 diabetes with central-scalp hair loss in a large cohort study of African American women. PubMed Central. Retrieved June 21, 2024, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6831789/