Diabetes and Hair Loss: Why It Happens and What to Do

A lesser-known side effect of diabetes is an increased risk of hair loss. This is usually owed to the impact of diabetes on the body, but can also be caused by certain medications.

Hair loss can begin with the onset of diabetes and, for some individuals, is an early diabetes warning sign. Anyone with unusual hair shedding should talk to a doctor.

Potential Causes of Hair Loss

There are several reasons why diabetes may cause thinning hair.

Poor circulation. Any damage to the small blood vessels limits oxygen and nutrients reaching the extremities, including feet, hands, and the scalp. Undernourished hair follicles (roots) may weaken and loose their grip on hair strands, and if the situation persists, will not be able to generate new shafts.

Hormone imbalance. Diabetes can cause fluctuations and glitches in our body’s hormone production. An imbalance in hormones affects the growth cycle of hair. This is why some women experience hair loss while pregnant or during menopause.

Compromised immune system. If the immune system is weakened by stress or illness, the scalp is more susceptible to disease. Many scalp conditions such as fungal and bacterial infections can lead to patches of hair loss.

Slow cell rejuvenation/telogen effluvium. Diabetes can slow the body’s cell regeneration time, disrupting the growth cycle of hair.

At any give time, most of our hair is in a growth phase called anagen, while up to 15 percent of our hair is in a resting phase called telogen. Illness, stress or hormonal fluctuations can cause a larger percentage of the hair to enter telogen (the resting phase), leading to telogen effluvium – a diffuse thinning of the hair.

What You Can Do

The main preventive and treatment for diabetes-related hair loss is, naturally, good glucose management. Controlled blood sugar allows hormones to balance, the immune system to strengthen, and the hair growth cycle to get back on track.

If you notice unusual hair loss, see your doctor to determine whether the shedding is related to diabetes.

  • If your hair loss is diabetes-related, your doctor may adjust your diabetes management plan and possibly recommend seeing a dermatologist. If the shedding is a medication side effect, a prescription change is the obvious solution.
  • The hair loss could be caused by conditions not related or indirectly related to diabetes. For instance, the inherited condition of patterned baldness, an autoimmune disease called alopecia areata, or thyroid dysfunction may be responsible – requiring treatment by a specialist.

Hair loss becomes permanent when the hair follicles are destroyed, so early diagnosis and treatment are important. Many conditions are temporary, but a few are cyclical or long-term. Specific treatment options require an accurate diagnosis.

Thinning Hair Care Tips

To care for thinning hair and facilitate new hair growth, specialists recommend the following:

  • Use hair brushes with widely spaced bristles, and limiting the use of hair dryers and curling irons.
  • Keep the hair a shorter length (above the shoulders); avoiding braids or ponytails that pull on the scalp.
  • Limit or avoiding products with harsh chemicals such as perms, hair straighteners, or dyes.
  • Use gentle non-toxic hair care products.
  • Protect the hair from sun, wind, and chlorine exposure.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet, and talking to your physician about taking supplements.
  • Exercise regularly to promote optimal circulation
  • Use relaxation techniques for stress reduction.

Hair shedding can diminish self-esteem and sometimes leads to social anxiety or depression. Most affected individuals require strong emotional support from family, friends, support groups and, sometimes, professional counselors.

Source: The Health Site
Photo credit: ishawalia (@flickr)

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