There is a definite connection between diabetes and hair loss. Some women are not even aware that they have the condition and a loss of hair can be one of the first signs.
On this page I’ll take a look at the symptoms of diabetes, why it causes hair loss, and what to do if it’s affecting you.
NOTE: This information is provided for guidance purposes only and should not be seen as medical advice. You should always discuss ANY concerns about your health with a qualified medical professional.
Could Your Hair Loss Be a Sign of Diabetes?
According to recent statistics, 24% of diabetes cases go undiagnosed. Data from the National Diabetes Statistics Report 2014 shows that there are 29.1 million Americans with diabetes – but only 21 million people are aware of it.
There are lots of different reasons that diabetes causes hair loss, which I will cover later in this article. But it’s also worth knowing that thinning hair can also indicate two other related conditions –
- insulin resistance
Insulin resistance is a precursor to pre-diabetes and BOTH conditions are precursors to type 2 diabetes.
More About Insulin Resistance and Pre-Diabetes
When insulin levels in the body remain sufficiently high over an extended period of time, the body’s sensitivity to the hormone begins to decline. This is called insulin resistance.
A difficult condition to reverse, insulin resistance causes symptoms that include high blood pressure, lethargy and hunger. It’s a ‘vicious circle’, because the increased insulin levels and weight gain make the insulin resistance even worse.
Eventually it can develop into pre-diabetes, which doctors can identify by increased glucose levels in the blood.
Research supports the fact that women with insulin resistance are at risk of hair loss – so it’s certainly worth discussing this possibility with your doctor if your hair loss is unexplained.
Source: Insulin Resistance – MedicineNet
So What Exactly IS Diabetes?
Understanding the Role of Insulin
Insulin is a hormone that the body produces in order to utilize carbohydrates.
Sugars from the foods you eat go to the bloodstream and insulin moves those sugars from the bloodstream to the cells, where they are either stored or used as energy.
People with diabetes either don’t produce this vital insulin, their bodies don’t use it properly, or both.
The result is that sugar can build up in the blood, causing multiple problems.
- The sugar can damage the body’s organs, such as the kidneys, nerves and eyes.
- The sugar can damage the blood vessels, preventing them from delivering enough oxygen to nourish the body’s tissues and organs.
There are two different kinds of diabetes – Type 1 and Type 2.
Type 1 Diabetes
This type occurs when the immune system destroys the cells of the pancreas that produce insulin. The result is that the body can no longer regulate blood sugars properly.
The condition, which cannot be cured but CAN be managed, is generally diagnosed in childhood. It is also known as juvenile diabetes or insulin dependent diabetes. It is far less common than Type 2 diabetes.
Type 2 Diabetes
This type occurs when the pancreas doesn’t make ENOUGH insulin to properly control the amount of sugar in the blood.
90% of diabetics have Type 2 diabetes.
Unfortunately, the condition is on the rise, because it can be triggered or made worse by bad food choices, lack of exercise and being overweight.
It’s this type of diabetes that many people have without even knowing.
The good news is that the condition can be improved – and sometimes even reversed – by doing more exercise, losing weight and eating healthily.
Both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes can cause hair loss.
Why Does Diabetes Cause Hair Loss?
Unfortunately, the reasons for diabetes-related hair loss are complicated and varied. This can make it quite difficult to identify just what might be causing YOUR issues.
Here’s a summary of potential reasons – but it’s important to talk to your doctor to see which might apply to you, and – if appropriate – to discuss what action to take.
- Physical stress. The impact of diabetes on the body is considerable, so the sheer physical stress (not to be confused with emotional stress) can disrupt the normal cycle of hair growth.
- Hormones. The regeneration process of the hair follicles can be negatively affected by fluctuating hormone levels.
- Poor circulation. As described earlier in this article, diabetes can damage the blood vessels. This makes it hard for them to deliver all the necessary nutrients to the body’s tissues and organs. When the hair follicles don’t get all the nutrients they need, hair growth can be affected. This can cause a loss of body hair, too.
- Infections. High blood sugar levels affect the body’s immune system, leaving people with diabetes more prone to infection, and with a reduced ability to FIGHT infection. Infections can disrupt the healthy hair growth cycle.
- Emotional stress. Diabetes is an ongoing condition and you may find it stressful to deal with, particularly at first. Emotional stress can trigger hair loss (you’ll find some tips for coping with it here).
- Medication. Certain medications can cause hair loss in some individuals (see this page for more information).
- Thyroid disease. This is quite common in people with diabetes, but it can be treated. You’ll find more information about thyroid problems here.
- Zinc deficiency. Zinc is critical for healthy hair growth, but many people with diabetes are low in this essential mineral. Visit this page for more information about zinc.
- Rapid weight loss. If you are diagnosed with diabetes, your doctor will recommend a healthy diet and exercise. This can cause significant weight loss (which is, of course, a good thing). The only problem is that rapid weight loss sometimes causes increased hair loss (you can’t win, can you?). The good news is that this is likely to be temporary.
What Can You Do if You Are Suffering From Diabetes-Related Hair Loss?
If diabetes is the ONLY cause of your thinning hair, then the good news is that it’s probably a temporary problem.
Once you start receiving treatment, and your hormones start working properly again, your hair growth cycle should begin to settle down and return to normal, although the rate of growth may be a little slower than before.
Nevertheless, here are some positive steps you can take to address the issue.
- Talk to your doctor to establish the cause. Your doctor will be able to help you identify whether other factors besides the diabetes itself – such as emotional stress of thyroid problems – are at play.
- Visit this page and apply the techniques suggested to keep emotional stress to a minimum.
- Eat the foods known to promote healthy hair growth (within the guidelines of the diet recommended by your doctor)
- Discuss your medication with your doctor if you feel it may be causing hair loss as a side effect. It may be possible to amend your dose, or your doctor may suggest a different brand.
- Speak to your doctor about taking a biotin supplement. People with diabetes sometimes have low biotin levels.
- Get lots of exercise. Not only will this reduce your blood sugar levels, it also improves the delivery of oxygen to the body’s cells (including the hair follicles), prompting hair growth. Be sure to support your exercise with adequate nutrition (see this page for more information).
- If your hair loss is particularly severe, ask your doctor if Minoxidil (Rogaine) might be suitable for you. Also, try different camouflage techniques, such as using a hair piece or a fill-in powder until things improve (see it as make-up for the hair!).
- Think about coloring your hair, which can ‘plump it up’ and make it look thicker. Coloring it a lighter color can be useful if you want to minimize the contrast between dark hair and your scalp.
If you have been affected by diabetes-related hair loss and have any advice or experiences you’d like to share,
please do get in touch with me here.
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