Does Weight Loss Cause Hair Loss

Losing weight is often a path to better health and increased confidence, but it can sometimes come with the unwelcome side effect of hair loss. This connection between weight loss and hair health can be distressing, impacting self-esteem and overall appearance.

This phenomenon is primarily attributed to nutritional deficiencies, hormonal imbalances, and the physical and psychological stress associated with weight reduction. The body’s complex systems react to changes in diet and exercise, which can disrupt the normal growth cycle and lead to conditions such as telogen effluvium.

Person measuring waist with a tape measure, symbolizing weight loss

Let's briefly outline the hair growth cycles and the types of hair loss.

Hair Growth Cycles:

  • Anagen Phase: The active growth phase lasting 2-7 years.
  • Catagen Phase: A short transition phase lasting about 10 days.
  • Telogen Phase: The resting phase where hair is shed, lasting about 3 months.
  • Exogen Phase: The shedding phase where old hair falls out, making way for new growth.

Types of Hair Loss:

  • Male Pattern Baldness (Androgenetic Alopecia): Characterized by a receding hairline and thinning on the crown, typically hereditary and hormone-related.
  • Female Pattern Baldness (Androgenetic Alopecia): General thinning over the top of the scalp without a receding hairline.
  • Telogen Effluvium: Temporary hair loss where many hair follicles enter the resting phase simultaneously due to stress, illness, or drastic weight loss.
  • Alopecia Areata: An autoimmune condition where the immune system attacks hair follicles, leading to patchy hair loss.
  • Traction Alopecia: Caused by repeated pulling or tension on the hair from tight hairstyles.

How Nutritional Deficiencies Impact Hair Loss

Hair follicles are among the most metabolically active tissues in the body, requiring a steady supply of nutrients to maintain proper function. When essential nutrients are lacking, hair strength and health can decline.

Vitamins and minerals support various physiological functions that are important for maintaining healthy hair. Among the most important are biotin, folic acid, vitamin C, zinc, and protein.

Biotin, also known as vitamin B7, is a water-soluble vitamin that plays a role in the synthesis of keratin, the primary structural protein of hair. Sources of biotin include eggs, nuts, seeds, and certain vegetables like cauliflower and avocado.

Folic acid, or vitamin B9, is essential for DNA synthesis and cell division. Rich sources of folic acid include legumes, leafy green vegetables, and citrus fruits.

Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that protects from oxidative stress. It also plays a role in collagen synthesis, which strengthens the hair shaft. Citrus fruits, strawberries, and green vegetables like broccoli and kale are excellent sources of vitamin C.

Zinc is a trace mineral that supports immune function, protein synthesis, and cell division, all of which are necessary for maintaining healthy hair. The body cannot store zinc, making it essential to consume adequate amounts daily. Zinc-rich foods include meat, shellfish, dairy, and nuts.

Protein is importantl for hair health because hair is primarily made up of keratin, a protein. Amino acids, the building blocks of protein, are necessary for producing keratin. Good sources of protein include meat, eggs, dairy products, and legumes.

How Calorie Restriction Can Lead to Deficiencies

Calorie restriction, often used as a strategy for weight loss, can inadvertently lead to nutritional deficiencies that negatively impact hair health. When calorie intake is significantly reduced, it can be challenging to meet the body's requirements for essential nutrients. This is particularly true for very low-calorie diets (VLCDs) and crash diets, which can deprive the body of the energy and nutrients needed for optimal functioning.

During periods of calorie restriction, the body prioritizes vital functions necessary for survival, such as maintaining organ function and energy production. As a result, less critical processes, like hair growth, receive fewer resources.

Restrictive eating plans that eliminate entire food groups can exacerbate nutrient deficiencies. For example, low-carb regimens may limit the intake of fruits and vegetables, which are rich in vitamins and minerals necessary for hair health. Similarly, low-protein approaches can lead to amino acid deficiencies, hindering the production of keratin and affecting hair structure and strength.

To prevent nutritional deficiencies and support hair health during weight loss, it is essential to follow a balanced eating plan that includes a variety of nutrient-dense foods.

Low-Carb Diets (e.g., Keto, Atkins)

Low-carb diets, such as the ketogenic (keto) and Atkins diets, are popular for their effectiveness in rapid weight loss.

These eating plans drastically reduce carbohydrate intake, which is a primary source of energy for the body. Their restriction can lead to decreased overall caloric intake and nutritional deficiencies.

Low-carb regimens often limit the intake of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, which are rich sources of vitamins and minerals. This can result in deficiencies in biotin, vitamin C, and folic acid.

Carbohydrates play a role in regulating insulin levels, and their reduction can affect hormonal balance.

Low-Protein Diets

Protein is a fundamental building block of hair, composed primarily of keratin. Low-protein eating plans can severely impact hair health due to insufficient intake of amino acids necessary for keratin production.

Essential amino acids such as histidine, leucine, valine, and cysteine are important for maintaining healthy hair.

Crash Diets and Very Low-Calorie Diets (VLCDs)

VLCDs involve extreme calorie restriction to achieve rapid weight loss. This calorie restriction deprives the body of the energy needed to support all physiological functions. The body shifts its focus to vital processes, neglecting less critical ones. This can lead to increased hair shedding and slow regrowth.

Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting involves alternating periods of eating and fasting. While it has gained popularity for its potential health benefits and weight loss effects, it can also impact hair health if not managed properly.

The body's response to intermittent fasting can vary. For some, it can induce stress and hormonal changes. Prolonged fasting can trigger telogen effluvium, where hair sheds more rapidly due to stress on the body.

How Weight Loss Surgery Impacts Hair Loss

Weight loss surgeries, collectively known as bariatric surgery, typically fall into two categories: restrictive surgeries and malabsorptive surgeries. Each type can impact nutrient absorption and hair health differently.

Gastric banding involves placing an adjustable band around the upper part of the stomach to create a small pouch that limits food intake. This restrictive procedure reduces calorie intake, which can lead to nutrient deficiencies if not managed properly.

Gastric bypass surgery involves creating a small stomach pouch and rerouting the small intestine to this pouch. This procedure reduces food intake and alters digestion, leading to significant weight loss.

Sleeve gastrectomy is another type of restrictive surgery that involves removing a large portion of the stomach, leaving a sleeve-shaped stomach about the size of a banana. This smaller stomach can hold less food, promoting weight loss by reducing overall caloric intake.

Iron deficiency is common after bariatric procedures due to reduced stomach acid and altered absorption mechanisms. Similarly, the altered digestive tract after surgery can impair the absorption of vitamin B12, a crucial nutrient for DNA synthesis and red blood cell formation. A deficiency in vitamin B12 can cause hair loss, fatigue, and neurological problems.

How to Prevent Hair Loss During Weight Loss

When you're on a weight loss journey, ensure that your body receives all the essential nutrients, including vitamins and minerals. Aim to include lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in your eating plan to provide the necessary building blocks for healthy hair.

Make sure you’re getting adequate vitamins and protein in your eating plan. If necessary, consider taking supplements under the guidance of a healthcare provider. These supplements often contain a mix of biotin, vitamins A, C, D, and E, along with minerals like zinc and selenium.

Avoid restrictive eating plans that cut out entire food groups. Instead, focus on balanced, sustainable eating patterns that include all macronutrients—carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.

Opt for gradual weight loss strategies rather than rapid methods. Slow and steady weight loss minimizes the shock to your system, reducing the risk of stress-induced hair loss and allowing your body to adjust steadily to dietary changes.

Lifestyle Tips

  • Drinking at least eight glasses of water a day helps maintain the moisture balance in your scalp and hair, preventing dryness and brittleness.
  • Adequate rest is equally important. Aim for 6-8 hours of sleep each night to allow your body to repair and regenerate. Quality sleep helps regulate the hormones that minimize stress, a common cause of hair loss.
  • Regular exercise is beneficial for both your physical health and your hair. It improves blood circulation, ensuring that the scalp receives an adequate supply of oxygen and nutrients. Aim for at least 300 minutes of moderate exercise per week. Activities like walking, cycling, yoga, and swimming are excellent choices.
  • Excessive use of hair styling tools and products can damage your hair. If you must use these tools, always apply a heat protectant spray and use the lowest heat setting possible.
  • Chemical treatments, such as coloring, perming, and straightening, can also weaken hair. Try to limit these treatments and opt for more natural hair care routines. Use gentle shampoos and conditioners, and avoid products with harsh chemicals that can strip your hair of its natural oils.
  • Wearing tight ponytails or braids can cause traction alopecia, where hair is pulled out from the root. Opt for looser hairstyles and avoid using elastic bands that can create concentrated pressure on your hair.
  • The texture of your pillowcase can cause friction and hair breakage. Cotton pillowcases, in particular, can absorb moisture from your hair, making it dry and brittle. Consider switching to satin or silk pillowcases, which are gentler on your hair and reduce friction.

Is There a Solution for Hair Loss

Yes, there are several solutions for hair loss that can help you maintain or restore your hair's health.

One promising solution is red light laser therapy. This non-invasive treatment uses low-level laser light to stimulate hair follicles, promoting hair growth and reducing thinning. Devices like the Red Light Laser Cap are convenient and can be used at home, making it an accessible option for many.

Medications such as minoxidil (Rogaine) and finasteride (Propecia) are commonly prescribed for hair loss. Minoxidil is a topical treatment that stimulates hair growth, while finasteride is an oral medication that reduces the hormone responsible for hair thinning in men.

The market is increasingly favoring herbal hair growth products that are free from sulfates and parabens, which can cause allergies and irritations. Products that contain aloe vera, known for its soothing and moisturizing properties, and Capilia Longa, a turmeric-based extract, are particularly popular.

These products come in various forms, including serums and ampoules, making them easy to incorporate into your hair care routine. Serums and ampoules provide concentrated doses of active ingredients, ensuring that your scalp and hair receive maximum benefits. Other effective herbal ingredients commonly found in these products include rosemary oil, which stimulates blood circulation to the scalp, and ginseng, which strengthens hair follicles.

Before and after results of hair growth treatment using Nordic Biolabs ampoules. The image shows significant improvement in hair density and thickness over 120 days, with noticeable progress at 1 month, 3 months, and 6 months.

For those experiencing significant hair loss, hair transplant surgery is another option. This procedure involves moving hair from one part of the body to the balding areas, providing a permanent solution to hair loss.

Concerns About Hair Loss from Weight Loss Medications (Ozempic)

Recent social media claims and news stories have raised concerns about hair loss when using weight loss medications such as Mounjaro, Ozempic, and Wegovy. However, dermatologists and endocrinologists do not support these concerns, stating that the risk of developing temporary hair loss is low.

FDA Approvals and Usage:

  • Wegovy, containing semaglutide, is FDA-approved for weight management in individuals with obesity or those overweight with related conditions like high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, or high cholesterol.
  • Ozempic, also containing semaglutide, is primarily marketed for type 2 diabetes but has been used for weight loss during Wegovy shortages.
  • Mounjaro (tirzepatide) is approved for type 2 diabetes but not yet for weight loss.

Clinical Trial Observations:

  • Hair loss was a rare side effect in clinical trials, more common after bariatric surgery. For Wegovy, 3% of patients reported hair loss compared to 1% on placebo. For Mounjaro, 5.7% of those on the highest dose reported hair loss versus 1% on placebo. No hair loss was reported in Ozempic trials for type 2 diabetes.
  • A review of 18 studies found 57% of patients experienced hair loss after bariatric surgery.

What Are Other Health Risks

When engaging in weight loss efforts, particularly through restrictive or extreme eating plans, several health risks can arise. Here are some key health risks associated with these approaches:

Iron Deficiency Anemia

Diets that do not provide adequate iron can result in iron deficiency anemia. This condition is characterized by hair loss, fatigue, and impaired brain function. It can also lead to heart conditions, developmental delays in children, pregnancy complications, infertility, and altered immune system function. Iron deficiency anemia is a common issue post weight loss surgery due to reduced stomach acid and altered absorption mechanisms.

Calorie Restriction Problems

Severe calorie restriction can lead to malnutrition, decreased muscle function, cardiorespiratory problems, and intestinal issues. It can also suppress immune function and increase the risk of depression and anxiety.

Hormonal Imbalances

Hormonal imbalances caused by extreme dieting can lead to conditions such as telogen effluvium. Conditions like pregnancy, menopause, and testosterone replacement therapy can further exacerbate hormonal imbalances, contributing to hair loss.

Digestive Issues

Restrictive diets can lead to digestive problems, such as malabsorption, which affects the body's ability to absorb essential nutrients. This can result in deficiencies in vitamins and minerals crucial for hair health.

Autoimmune Conditions

Dieting can sometimes trigger or exacerbate autoimmune conditions, leading to hair loss. Autoimmune conditions can cause the body to attack its own hair follicles, leading to thinning and shedding.

When to Seek Professional Help

While some hair shedding is normal, excessive hair loss can be a sign of underlying issues that require medical attention. If you notice a significant increase in hair shedding or if your hair appears noticeably thinner over a short period, it may be time to seek professional help. Signs that warrant a consultation include:

  • Persistent Hair Loss: If you continue to lose hair despite following advice
  • Bald Patches: The appearance of bald spots or patches on your scalp
  • Scalp Issues: Redness, itching, or scaling on your scalp

For those experiencing significant hair loss, consulting with the doctor and considering treatments like herbal supplements, serums, and medical interventions can provide effective solutions.

Ultimately, the goal is to achieve a healthier body without compromising hair health. By understanding the potential risks and taking proactive measures, you can enjoy the benefits of weight loss while maintaining strong, healthy hair.