Hair loss is a natural part of the hair's life cycle. As hair reaches the final stage of the cycle, it will fall out. A new hair will typically grow from the same hair follicle to replace it. At times though, a new hair may fail to form. If there are large areas of the scalp in which new hairs do not appear, this hair loss can be noticeable.
In this article, we discuss how diabetes can affect the hair and explain the treatment options for hair loss. We also cover other effects that diabetes can have on a person's body.
Can diabetes cause hair loss?
Diabetes can affect hair growth.
Diabetes can cause hair thinning and hair loss in some people as it can have the following effects on the growth cycle of the hair:
- impairing hair growth
- causing more hair to grow than normal
- stopping new hair from forming
Several different factors may cause a person with diabetes to lose hair, but the most common causes include those below.
High blood sugar levels
Uncontrolled or untreated diabetes can result in a person's blood sugar levels becoming too high. Persistently high blood sugar levels can lead to damage in various tissues, organs, and blood vessels within the body.
Damage to blood vessels can restrict blood flow, resulting in certain cells getting less oxygen and nutrients than they need. This deficiency can negatively impact the normal growth cycle of hair follicles, which can lead to hair loss.
Hormones and stress
Diabetes can put a great deal of stress, both physical and emotional, on a person's body. Persistent stress can cause hormone fluctuations that can affect hair growth.
Alopecia areata is a condition in which the immune system begins to attack healthy hair follicles by mistake. People with type 1 diabetes are more likely than people without this condition to develop alopecia areata.
Alopecia areata causes patchy hair loss on the head, arms, and other areas of the body where hair usually grows.
Is hair loss from diabetes reversible?
Regular exercise can help control blood sugar levels and relieve stress.
In some cases, hair loss is reversible. Several treatments are available, some of which differ for males and females. However, even when hair loss treatments are effective, most of them are temporary solutions that only work while a person is using them.
Some people can slow or stop hair loss that results from diabetes. The most effective way to do this is by maintaining good control of blood sugar levels and managing stress.
A person can control their blood sugar by:
- monitoring their blood sugar levels regularly
- taking all medications as their doctor directs
- eating a balanced and healthful diet
- exercising regularly
Strategies that can help an individual minimize and manage stress include:
- seeking the support of friends and family
- having counseling or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- practicing mindfulness
- using relaxation techniques, such as meditation, yoga, and deep-breathing exercises
Treatments for hair loss
Treatment options for hair loss include topical medications, biotin, and lifestyle changes. However, the results of most of these treatments are rarely long-term.
Minoxidil (Rogaine) is a popular over-the-counter treatment for hair loss. A person applies the medication directly to the areas of the body where hair loss has occurred.
Both males and females can use minoxidil. It is essential to follow the instructions on the label to get the maximum benefit from this product and to avoid unwanted side effects.
Topical minoxidil products are available to purchase online.
Finasteride (Propecia) is a prescription medication for treating hair loss in adult males. It is available as an oral tablet that a person needs to take daily. The United States Food and Drug Administration have not approved finasteride for use by females.
For alopecia areata, a doctor may recommend steroid injections, a steroid tablet, or another oral immunosuppressant, such as methotrexate or cyclosporine. However, some of these treatments carry a high risk of side effects.
Biotin is a subtype of vitamin B that occurs naturally in many foods. Some people with diabetes have lower levels of biotin in their body. According to a 2014 review, there is evidence to suggest that biotin may help slow hair loss in some people.
Foods that are rich in biotin include:
- whole eggs
- liver and kidney
- nuts, including almonds, walnuts, and peanuts
- sweet potato
It is also possible to purchase biotin supplements. However, people have very different biotin needs, and too much can be harmful, so it is crucial to always speak to a doctor before taking these supplements.
Although exercise may not prevent or reverse hair loss, it can help the body maintain good blood circulation. Regular exercise can help increase blood flow to different parts of the body, including the hair follicles and the upper and lower extremities. It can also help a person control their blood sugar levels.
Eating a balanced, healthful diet is also an important part of diabetes management. Diets rich in high-fiber foods, vegetables, fruits, and lean proteins are beneficial for controlling blood sugar levels.
When to see a doctor
A person with diabetes should discuss any new medication or treatment with a doctor.
People with diabetes should see a doctor regularly for checkups. Individuals with particular concerns about hair loss should ask the doctor for recommendations on how to reduce or stop hair loss.
It is vital to speak to a healthcare professional before taking any new medications or supplements or making any significant lifestyle changes.
A person should also seek medical attention if they experience any adverse reactions to their hair loss treatment. A doctor may be able to recommend an alternative treatment method.
Other effects of diabetes on the body
Diabetes can impact the body in many ways, particularly if a person is unable to control their blood sugar levels. Some common issues that diabetes can cause include:
- increased risk of stroke
- higher risk of heart disease
- increased risk of peripheral arterial disease
- nerve damage
- dry, cracked skin on the extremities
- foot problems
- excessive urination
- fatigue and lack of energy
- greater likelihood of infection
- increased risk of high blood pressure
- eye problems
- extreme thirst
Diabetes is a chronic condition that can have a wide range of effects on a person's body. In some people, diabetes can cause hair thinning or hair loss.
The primary causes of hair loss in people with diabetes are uncontrolled blood sugar levels, emotional and physical stress, and hormone imbalances.
Using medications and lifestyle interventions to get blood sugar levels under control may help reverse or slow down the effects of hair loss. Some medications are also available for the treatment of hair loss, although their effects may be short-lived.