While new cases have decreased over the last decade, diabetes still affects lots of people. As of 2020, 34.2 million Americans have diabetes, while 88 million (about 1 in 3 people) have prediabetes.
Diabetes and prediabetes are conditions that can impact the body in many different ways, with hair loss being one of them.
Read on to understand the connection between diabetes, insulin resistance and hair loss, along with what you can do to improve hair loss caused by these conditions.
About Diabetes, Prediabetes & Insulin Resistance
Whether it’s prediabetes or diabetes, hair loss connected to these conditions is caused by higher than normal sugar levels in the blood. The difference between prediabetes and diabetes is just how high these sugar levels actually are; so think of prediabetes as a step down from diabetes on the blood glucose scale.
Blood sugar levels become unnaturally high when cells cannot take sugar out of the blood to convert it into energy. Insulin is a key player in this process since its job is to help cells take sugar from the bloodstream and into the cells.
High blood sugar levels can result from a lack of insulin in the body due to the pancreas not producing enough. Elevated blood sugar might also happen when a cell becomes unresponsive or insensitive to insulin, which is called insulin resistance. High blood sugar can also be caused by a combination of a lack of insulin and insulin resistance.
When blood sugar levels remain high, it can cause a wide range of negative impacts on your body, including damage to various tissues, organs and blood vessels. It can also cause hair thinning, hair fragility or decreased hair growth speed. In fact, some research suggests that hair loss might even be an early sign of type 2 diabetes, especially for folks who are already prediabetic. Another study also suggested that type 2 diabetes might pose a particular risk for hair loss in Black women.
Diabetes & Hair Loss: What’s The Connection?
Hair loss that is associated with diabetes can happen for a number of reasons. Here are a few of the most common causes for diabetes-associated hair loss.
Immune System Disorders
Type 1 and type 2 diabetes have historically been differentiated as autoimmune and metabolic conditions, respectively, though newer research is suggesting that there may be autoimmune mechanisms at play for folks with type 2 diabetes, too.
While this theory needs to be confirmed with more research, we do know that certain autoimmune conditions have been linked to diabetes and hair loss and that people with autoimmune issues are more likely to have multiple autoimmune conditions.
People with diabetes have a higher chance of already having or developing thyroid disease. When normal thyroid function is disturbed, it can impact the production of hormones that are important for regulating hair growth cycles. Typically, this kind of hair loss happens gradually, with hair over the entire scalp thinning over time.
Another type of autoimmune disease that is associated with type 1 diabetes is called alopecia areata. This occurs when the immune system attacks the hair follicles, leading to patches of hair loss on the scalp and other parts of the body.
Some people may be more genetically predisposed to alopecia areata. Aside from being linked to type 1 diabetes, AA appears to be more common in those with other autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, hay fever and thyroid disease.
One of the most common problems with diabetes is damage to blood vessels and arteries, which leads to poor circulation that could cause or exacerbate existing hair loss.
“A prolonged elevated blood sugar level can cause damage to the blood vessels around the body, restricting blood flow and depriving hair follicles of the oxygen and nutrients they need for a healthy hair growth cycle,” explained Dr. Chun Tang, General Practitioner with Pall Mall Medical in the United Kingdom.
Poor circulation to the very small blood vessels that supply our hair follicles with nutrients and oxygen is also the underlying cause for another common form of hair loss: androgenetic alopecia. Research suggests that there might be a connection between androgenetic alopecia and insulin resistance.
Since high blood sugar levels can cause hair loss, treating diabetes with medication designed to manage blood glucose should also help treat diabetes-related hair loss. “Medications used to treat diabetes tend to improve the impact diabetes has on hair loss by bringing blood sugars under better control. Metformin and pioglitazone have actually been shown to improve hair growth,” explained Dr. Erum Ilyas, board-certified dermatologist and founder of AmberNoon.
But can diabetes medication cause hair loss? Possibly. “The most commonly prescribed drug for type 2 diabetes is metformin, and this does not list hair loss among its possible side effects. It can, however, decrease vitamin B-12 absorption, which may affect hair growth in the long term, especially if it leads to anemia,” explained Dr. Sarah Brewer, a General Practitioner and Medical Advisor at CuraLife.
Aside from metformin, many other medications that might cause hair loss, such as:
- Acne medications
- Certain antibiotics
- Cholesterol-lowering drugs
- Epilepsy drugs
- Thyroid medication
- Mood stabilizers and antidepressants
- Anticoagulants or blood thinners
- Chemotherapy medication
It’s important to remember that hair loss, and in particular telogen effluvium, can happen with any new diagnosis or medication. Since TE can be spurred on by any major change or shock to our bodies, you might experience hair loss alongside the bodily changes that happen when diabetes develops or when starting a new medication to treat the disorder.
“In my experience, any new medication has the potential to trigger telogen effluvium, stress-induced hair loss, temporarily. It would not be a reason to avoid treating diabetes as the consequences of uncontrolled diabetes are far worse than the risk of hair loss,” added Dr. Ilyas.
How Is Diabetes-Related Hair Loss Diagnosed?
There are many reasons that a person might experience hair loss, so your doctor will likely examine your head and any other areas where you’re experiencing the loss.
Conditions like telogen effluvium and alopecia areata (two forms of hair loss that can be associated with diabetes) present in specific ways, which means the pattern of hair loss can provide clues as to what is causing it. Is the hair loss on your scalp, your legs or elsewhere? Does it fall out in patches or clumps? Is it thinning all over?
If you’re not yet diagnosed with diabetes but worried that perhaps you might have insulin resistance or prediabetes, your best bet is to speak with your doctor. According to the American Diabetes Association, if your doctor wants to explore the possibility of diabetes or prediabetes, you can expect a blood test to determine your blood sugar levels, like a fasting plasma glucose test and an A1C test.
How To Manage Hair Loss Caused By Diabetes
First and foremost, you'll want to follow the treatment plan prescribed by your doctor to treat your diabetes. But you can also take action to improve your general health and well-being, which can help support healthy hair growth.
Monitor Blood Sugar Levels
If you have diabetes or prediabetes, blood glucose control is the primary goal. The target range for your blood sugar will vary depending on a variety of personal factors, but your doctor can help you sort it all out.
As discussed, elevated blood sugar can cause vascular disruption or damage, poor circulation and hormonal imbalances—all of which can lead to hair shedding and loss. Maintaining your blood sugars within your normal range can help keep your hair growth cycles humming along.
A direct link exists between stress and hair loss, and dealing with health conditions like diabetes or prediabetes can be highly stressful. If you’re already experiencing hair loss linked to diabetes, adding more stress to your plate should not be on the menu.
Do your best to manage stress by adding a few tools to your toolkit, like mindfulness and journaling, for example. Paying attention to your feelings and thoughts can go a long way in identifying sources of stress in your life, and awareness is the first step in actively managing stressors. Other mindfulness tools, like meditation, have also proven to be effective ways to manage stress and anxiety.
Since stress can beget more hair loss, consider using a daily treatment like VEGAMOUR's GRO+ Advanced Hair Serum with CBD to help encourage healthy, fuller and thicker-looking hair. If CBD isn't for you, then opt for the original GRO Hair Serum that contains all the same powerful phyto-active ingredients without CBD. You can expect results in as soon as 90 days of consistent, daily use.
Eat A Healthy Diet
Eating a balanced, healthy and diverse diet is an important part of diabetes management. Diets rich in high-fiber foods, vegetables, fruits and lean proteins are beneficial for controlling blood sugar levels. Avoid high-sugar foods and refined carbohydrates, too.
With or without diabetes, a healthy diet is really important for general hair health. “Follicle cells need a constant supply of protein and nutrients. Because they are nonessential structures, however, precious nutrients are diverted away from hair in times of deficiency; this can lead to thinning hair that is dull, lacks luster and looks limp and lifeless,” said Dr. Brewer.
Make sure your diet is rich in nutrients that support hair growth, such as:
- Essential fatty acids
- Vitamins B-7 (biotin) and B complex
- Vitamins C, E and A
Also consider daily supplements, like VEGAMOUR's GRO Biotin Gummies, which contains biotin, folic acid, multiple B-vitamins, and vitamins A,C and E to nourish your scalp and encourage healthy-looking hair.
Exercise is not only good for managing stress, but it’s also great for promoting better circulation. Because circulation is something that is often impacted in folks with diabetes or insulin resistance, exercise is a great way to get the heart pumping and increase blood flow to all parts of the body, including your hair follicles.
Don't go it alone. Dealing with conditions like diabetes and prediabetes can be difficult, stressful and frustrating. Managing glucose levels and making changes to your diet and routines, while also trying to manage day-to-day life and responsibilities can be a lot to handle.
“Having a chronic illness like diabetes can feel overwhelming at times, especially when you are first diagnosed. It’s important to get your loved ones involved, keep active and build a support network with your doctor, friends and family — this will also reduce the potential for stress-related hair loss,” said Dr. Tang.
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