HAIR LOSS IS ONLY ONE OF THE MANY DAMAGING EFFECTS THAT CAN RESULT FROM DIABETES.
When people begin to experience hair loss for the first time, they may wonder how other health conditions they might have, such as diabetes, may relate to the problem. We talked with Joel Zonszein, M.D., director of the Clinical Diabetes Center at Montefiore Medical Center in New York, about diabetes and how it contributes to hair loss.
How diabetes can cause hair loss
Diabetes is a chronic but treatable disease in which there are high levels of sugar in the blood. With type 1 diabetes, the body makes very little or no insulin, so daily insulin injections are needed. With type 2 diabetes, the pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin or the cells don’t respond properly to insulin. Type 2 diabetes is often treated with oral medications. The symptoms of diabetes can include excessive thirst, frequent urination, blurred vision, fatigue, and many other symptoms. Diabetes can lead to a number of serious health problems, including both emergency complications and slowly developing long-term issues. The only way to know for sure if you have diabetes is through a blood test.
“Patients with diabetes that is not well treated or is poorly controlled can develop devastating complications, and hair loss can be one of them,” explains Dr. Zonszein. “Persistent elevation of blood sugar can cause damage to the small and large arteries, and damage to the peripheral nerves, particularly the longer nerves. These complications can result in dry skin and slow wound healing. Patients with poor metabolic control can initially express hair loss in their extremities, particularly their legs. Lack of hair growth in the shin (tibia area) is expressed by a shiny skin without hair. This is a clear manifestation of vascular disease and often nerve disease as well.”
The stress factor and hair loss
People with diabetes can be experiencing tremendous stress due to the disease and to other factors in their lives. This stress can exacerbate hair loss, and it can become cyclical.
“Clumps of hair left on the pillow or hair loss in the shower can cause anxiety and distress, and I have found that this creates a vicious cycle resulting in more hair loss,” says Zonszein. “To make things worse, many women use unproven solutions and treatments that, in addition to being expensive, can cause further damage to the hair.”
How hormones relate to hair loss
A hormonal imbalance or disorder can cause myriad health problems, some of which can be related to diabetes (or prediabetes) and hair loss.
“Another cause of hair loss in women is excessive androgens — too much male hormone. This is something that can be found in individuals having polycystic ovarian syndrome (often referred to as PCO or PCOS),” Zonszein explains. “This condition results from insulin resistance, and these individuals are at high risk for prediabetes or diabetes. The pattern of hair loss is frontal hair loss (forehead baldness) and excessive hair growth in the upper lip, chin and sideburns.
“In patients with diabetes, we often screen for thyroid disease, particularly in type 1 diabetes. Thyroid disease is relatively easy to diagnose and can be treated by an endocrinologist.”
It’s essential that a person experiencing hair loss gets medical help to try to identify the cause and to start a treatment plan. The diagnosis, care and medication for PCO/PCOS, thyroid disease or other health issues, along with proper treatment of diabetes, can help reduce hair loss or improve hair growth in many people. “As is the case with any chronic medical condition, early diagnosis and aggressive treatment are best, thus maintaining a normal or close-to-normal blood sugar, which prevents many complications, including hair loss.”
The World Health Organization estimates that more than 350 million people will have diabetes by the year 2030. If you are one of the many who have been diagnosed with the disease, it’s important to realize that diabetes may play a role in your hair loss.