Suggesting that there is a potential link between diabetes and hair loss is not a new hypothesis, but rather well established medical theories that revolve around the metabolic abnormalities the condition brings.
The existence of the link is pretty much a scientific consensus, despite the fact that relevant studies are surprisingly still few and far between.
Hair Loss Could Be Caused by a Declined Circulatory System
Some of the scientific theories do not link diabetes – be that type 1 or type 2 – directly to hair loss. They do, however, believe it to be a secondary symptom.
Considering the fact how devastating the disease can be and how negatively it affects various bodily processes, this is really not a surprise. When the whole system is compromised, symptoms can appear literally anywhere within the human body.
Diabetes does the most damage to the body’s circulatory system, which results in a decreased ability to transport nutrients and oxygen. The circulatory system was developed to be close to the most important organs like the heart, lungs, brain, etc. Even when it loses some of its efficiency, it can keep the body alive by providing blood for these major organs.
Bad circulation often results in cold limbs – especially cold feet – and hair loss, simply because of the location of these two areas. While the circulatory system can still deliver enough blood to the main organs helping them keep us alive, the upper and lower extremities can suffer from not getting enough blood and nutrients.
In these cases the decreased blood circulation is a secondary effect of diabetes, but really the primary reason for the hair loss that occurs. From a hair loss standpoint, the main problem with bad circulation is that it not only makes you lose your hair, but it also makes it harder for your body to grow new ones.
Early Stage Baldness As A Clinical Marker Of Insulin Resistance
There is evidence that pattern baldness could be a clinical marker of insulin resistance. This would mean that eating foods with a high glycemic index, which causes spikes to your blood sugar levels could contribute to hair loss – these are exactly my findings.
This is also why, one of the first things I recommend is that you adjust your diet to remove foods with a high glycemic index. This means in particular refined carbs and sugars which digest to quickly.
Natural and unprocessed foods typically have low glycemic indices and are absorbed slowly into the bloodstream because of the fibre present in these foods. This is much better for you, and if you do this for a long time you’ll notice substantially less hair loss and even hair re-growth.
Drug Induced Hair Loss
Another likely scenario where diabetes can cause hair loss in an indirect way is when you take certain drugs for it. Many diabetes drugs are known for their side effects, some of which include hair loss.
There is vast scientific evidence that links drugs to hair loss, including alpha-glucosidase inhibitors, biguanides and dopamine agonists like Bromocriptine. Despite the studies, the link is often still hard to establish mainly because of the nature of the disease.
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From a diagnostic and side effect identification standpoint, diabetes is tricky because many of the drug-related side effects are also the side effects of diabetes.
When it’s possible that the cause is a drug, trying a different one can help, but sometimes the symptoms won’t go away even if they were caused by the previous medication.
A Hormonal Imbalance Created By Diabetes
Diabetes creates a hormonal imbalance in the body – while also often being caused by a hormonal imbalance -, and these changes often manifest through hair loss. While most people are familiar with the role of the hormone called insulin, there are at least three additional hormones that play a crucial role in blood sugar regulation.
These three additional hormones are: glucagon, cortisol and human growth hormone. Diabetes does a number on the whole process and not just these individual hormones, and that can cause an imbalance that in return will negatively affect various other bodily processes, possibly including hair growth and regeneration.
The result can unfortunately be thinned and steadily degrading hair, which sometimes leads to gradual and permanent hair loss.
Negatively Affecting Hair’s Growth Phases
For healthy people, 5 to 15% of their hair will be in a resting phase at any given time. This means that the hairs that are in that phase stop growing for a while. The problem is that when someone has diabetes, that number could become significantly higher.
When a high percentage of the hair gets stuck in that resting phase for too long we call this telogen effluvium, which is basically a condition that causes many hairs decide to go on a strike simultaneously. This doesn’t necessarily result in permanent balding, but it can lead to excessive shedding and hair loss (usually temporary).
Reduced Healing Factors
It is well-known that diabetes leads to diminished healing within the body. This happens due to a combination of factors like decreased blood flow and a degrading growth factor response.
These two combined diminish the body’s ability to successfully trigger a quick and efficient response to injuries. The reason why this negatively affects hair growth has everything to do with our hair’s own cyclical growing phase which involves natural hair damage.
Your body replaces the damaged hairs with new ones, using the same follicle for the growing process. When you have diabetes this process is unfortunately much slower, in fact it is often sluggish enough that instead of being able to replace the hair with another one, it simply falls out.
Oxidative stress is one of the main culprits of diabetes. Oxidative stress implies the individual or simultaneous presence of certain conditions including hyperglycemia, hyperlipedemia or hypertension. Hair loss is just one of the many symptoms that can arise from these conditions, and the more serious ones can unfortunately lead to severe organ damage.
Compromised Immune System
Another side effect of having diabetes is the presence of a likely compromised immune system. When blood sugar levels are much higher than normal, the body’s immune system has to put in extra work, leaving it more vulnerable to outside attacks.
Infectious diseases are more likely to find a crack through the shield, and once they do, they cause even more problems. The dilemma is twofold. First, many of the potential diseases and infections can cause hair loss on their own.
Even if they do not, however, they can still affect various bodily processes negatively, likely affecting the growth rate and quality of the hair. As with most problems within the human body, we are talking about a chain reaction.
Diabetes is often not the primary cause of hair loss, rather the first domino that starts the process. On the plus side, hair loss that is triggered by some kind of infection – even if that infection is a result of diabetes -, tend to correct itself after the cause has disappeared.
There is also a condition called alopecia araeta, where our own immune system turns against us, or more precisely our hair. The condition doesn’t leave scars, but causes baldness on certain areas of the scalp by telling the immune system to attack the hair follicles by causing inflammation.
Most of the time this only affects a couple of patches here and there, but sometimes it leads to complete loss of hair and in some extreme cases, complete bodily hair loss including the eyebrows, lashes and pubic hair.
While the condition is not caused directly by diabetes, people with diabetes are more prone to it, and its effects tend to be more serious when they involve a person with the disease.
Diabetes is a serious, often undiagnosed disease that can have devastating long term effects on our health. The link between the condition and hair loss is well established and built on overwhelming empirical evidence, evidence that recognizes diabetes both as a primary and secondary cause.