Diabetes and its comorbidities affect almost every single organ of your body. Experts opine that it could even have a role to play in weakening hair follicles and leading to hair loss. High blood sugar, nerve damage and hormonal imbalances associated with diabetes are attributed as the main factors that could lead to hair loss.
According to Dr Shireen Furtado, consultant – medical and cosmetic dermatology, Aster CMI hospital, the growth cycle of hair goes through 4 phases: anagen (period of growth), catagen (transition phase), telogen (resting phase) and exogen (shedding phase).
“The telogen phase is significantly prolonged in people with diabetes, due to which the hair doesn’t grow and remains static. It also occasionally falls out excessively,” she adds.
Alopecia areata, one of the most common scalp and hair loss conditions, shares a close association with both variants of diabetes.
“People with type 1 diabetes have high risk of developing alopecia areata,” says Dr Sachith Abraham, MD Consultant Dermatologist, Manipal Hospital, Old Airport Road, Bangalore. A study shows that people with alopecia areata are more likely to develop insulin resistance.
“Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks the healthy hair follicles that results in sudden loss of hair and it may leave an oval bald patch on the scalp,” Dr Ashwin Karuppan, Senior consultant- internal medicine, Gleneagles global health city, Chennai.
A large cohort study on association of type 2 diabetes with central-scalp hair loss in African American women published in International Journal of Women’s Dermatology shows type 2 diabetes was associated with an increased risk of severe central scalp hair loss.
There are a few other conditions associated with diabetes which could lead to hair loss.
1. Poor blood circulation
Experts say that good blood circulation is required for hair growth. Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to poor blood circulation throughout the body. Dr Mehr Prasad, Endocrinologist, Fortis Hospital, Vadapalani, Chennai, says, “High blood sugar can damage blood vessels inside the body that can affect the supply of blood to hair follicles.” The blood vessels carry oxygen and other nutrients around your body to nourish your organs and tissues. “If the blood vessels are affected, the nutrients required for hair growth will also be affected which further impacts the hair growth cycle,” he adds.
2. Hormonal imbalances
Experts say that diabetes can cause hormonal imbalances. Abnormal levels of thyroid hormones can contribute to hair loss.
“People with diabetes are at a higher risk of developing thyroid problems, which can lead to hair loss,” says Dr Abraham. The thyroid gland produces hormones that regulate metabolism and can affect hair growth, he adds.
Dr Mehr, says high blood sugar can affect the male hormone (androgens) and can cause hair loss in both men and women. Excessive androgens can cause hair follicles to shrink, leading to thinning hair and eventual hair loss, he adds.
“Hormonal imbalance can affect the hair growth cycle and cause weak hair to grow,” says Dr Furtado. She further adds, hair fall due to hypothyroidism is more relevant compared to hair fall due to diabetes.
Stress can cause hair loss in diabetics. According to Dr Mehr, stress produces hormones such as cortisol, which affects hair growth and leads to hair loss or thinning.
According to Dr Kiran Godse, dermatology & cosmetology, Hiranandani hospital, Vashi, Mumbai, diabetes may not directly cause hair loss, but stress associated with diabetes can cause hair loss leading to alopecia areata.
4. Nutrient deficiencies
According to Dr Abraham, people with diabetes may be more likely to follow restrictive diets, which can contribute to nutrient deficiencies. “They tend to have a higher risk of low hemoglobin levels in the body that can cause hair fall.”
Low hemoglobin levels result in insufficient oxygen and nutrient supply, causing hair loss.
Dr Mehr says, “People with diabetes are at a higher risk of nutrient deficiencies, particularly vitamin D and B12.” A study shows that diabetic children have reduced hair shaft diameter compared to normal children of similar age. Both male and female diabetics have previous nutritional deficits and females may continue to have nutritional problems.
Is hair loss from diabetes reversible?
According to Dr Furtado, “Hair fall can be reduced, if diabetes is controlled with good monitoring of sugar.” Supplementing your diet with a good amount of nutrition such as multivitamin, omega 3 fatty acids helps provide further nutrition required for better hair growth, she adds.
Dr Mehr recommends adopting lifestyle changes such as exercise routines, a healthy diet that can improve blood circulation and reduce stress to reduce hair loss.
Chronic diabetes could lead to weakening of hair follicles and hair loss. Diabetes induced problems like poor blood circulation, hormonal imbalances and stress are some of the factors that affect your scalp and hair health. Managing diabetes and maintaining healthy blood glucose levels could help to reduce hair fall caused due to diabetes, opine experts.