Diabetes is associated with many health-related complications. Hair loss, or alopecia, is one of them.
Cause of Diabetic Hair Loss
Heart disease, increased LDL (“bad” cholesterol), and high blood pressure are some of the major complications that diabetics often suffer. These diabetes-related complications can interact and develop into other complications. High blood pressure damages arteries, for example, decreasing blood flow. This means that the heart must work harder to pump blood, leading to artery disease, increased risk of heart attack, and arteriosclerosis.
Diabetes can also lead to dysfunction of normal hair growth. This occurs when sugar builds up in the blood. Excess sugar—called hyperglycemia—can damage organs, nerves, and even the eyes. Hyperglycemia can also damage blood vessels that carry oxygen across all parts of the body, including the small blood vessels that nourish hair follicles.
Lack of oxygen and decreased blood flow may lead to thinning hair or hair loss among diabetics. However, there are other possible causes, such as a thyroid hormone imbalance, some medications, and even the physical and mental stress of living with diabetes. Other links to diabetic hair loss include B-12 deficiency and anemia, a lack of red blood cells.
Skin and Hair Physiology
Lack of oxygen and decreased blood flow may lead to thinning hair or hair loss among diabetics. However, there are other possible causes such as thyroid hormone imbalances, some medications, and even the physical and mental stress of living with diabetes. Other links to diabetic hair loss include B-12 deficiency and anemia.
Diagnosing Diabetic Hair Loss
Though uncommon, one cause of diabetic hair loss is linked to the drug metformin, a Type-2 diabetic treatment.
Hair loss might also be a telltale sign of diabetes that hasn’t yet been diagnosed. In this case, an individual might comment to the doctor or dermatologist, “I don’t understand why my hair appears to be thinning,” only to learn that a blood test comes back with a diagnosis of diabetes.
There is another clue that relates hair loss to undiagnosed diabetes. This involves what is called peripheral arterial disease (PAD). When the heart has trouble pumping blood throughout the body, the peripheral areas—arms, hands, and especially the lower legs and feet—are most affected. These peripheral areas are farthest from the heart, so restricted blood flow would naturally affect these areas first. Any unusual observation of thinning hair on the legs, wounds that heal slowly, broken blood vessels, or pain below the knees could indicate diabetic-related PAD. Following up on such clues quickly can determine the cause, and also provide a treatment plan for diabetes and other ailments. Moreover, hair loss can be addressed.
Treatment for Diabetic Hair Loss
Many treatments are available to help people overcome diabetic-related hair loss. Most important among them is ensuring that diabetics manage their disease. The best management involves talking with the doctor, who will review and encourage the importance of sustaining blood sugar levels between 70-130 mg/dl, though some higher numbered outliers are expected after meals. Because keeping track of blood glucose levels is very important for diabetics, the doctor will remind you that eating nutritious food – and getting plenty of exercise are essential.
A cornucopia of foods containing essential vitamins and minerals that promote hair growth include:
- Amino acids (proteins): eggs, yogurt, cheese, tofu, edamame, chicken, fish, turkey, nuts, nut butters, seeds
- Fatty acids: fatty fish, flaxseed, sunflower, pumpkin, and chia seeds, canola oil, walnuts
- Iron: seafood, legumes, nuts/seeds, animal proteins, whole grains, spinach
- Niacin: seeds, almonds, wheat products, fish, organ meats (like kidney, liver), prawns or pork, dairy products, rice bran, turnips, carrots, celery, green leafy vegetables, chicken, turkey
- Selenium: grains, legumes, fish, poultry, meat
- Vitamin D: fortified milk, fish, liver oils, fortified cereals, tuna, mackerel, trout, salmon, egg yolks, orange juice
An essential source of Vitamin D is sunlight. Therefore, if sunlight is not abundant during some times of the year, be certain to consume an array of foods with the vitamin
- Zinc: fortified cereals, whole grains, dairy, poultry, red meat, shellfish
People with diabetes can also buy vitamins, such as biotin, in pill form. However, knowing that these vitamins and minerals are available naturally in almonds and peanuts, eggs, and sweet potatoes is a much safer bet. Diabetics should use caution with supplements, and be certain to get advice from a doctor before taking them to combat thinning hair, hair loss, or any nutritional deficiency. Supplements aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. In fact, too many dietary supplements can be harmful.
A final word on food: it is thought that inflammation is a trigger for such autoimmune diseases as diabetes and celiac. Consuming gluten is linked to developing inflammation, which in turn can cause hair loss. This presents a double whammy for the diabetic. Therefore, following a gluten-free diet is typically a smart move.
Another helpful expert who helps slow, reverse, or treat hair loss is your dermatologist. S/he might prescribe Rogaine that you simply rub onto the scalp, or a pill called Propecia (for men only at this time). Other medications include corticosteroid injections for adults only or creams for youth.
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