Bariatric Hair Loss: Causes & Treatments

Have you recently had weight loss surgery and now your hair seems to be falling out? Bariatric hair loss is quite a common phenomenon, but we understand it can be a scary thing to deal with, especially for women. While excessive hair loss can be quite traumatic, In most cases, your hair will grow back. We outline why this might be happening and what you can do to help it.

Why am I losing my hair?

There are many causes of hair loss but the most common reason after bariatric surgery is a condition called telogen effluvium, which is abrupt hair loss in adults following a stressor. So why does it happen? To understand this, we first have to explain how hair growth occurs.

Our hair follicles exist in two states, a growth phase (anagen) and a dormant phase (telogen). Usually the dormant stage of the hair follicle lasts for about three to four months, after which the hair falls out. Usually approximately 85-90% of our hair is in anagen stage, which can last for 3-4 years. In cases of telogen effluvium, stressors cause significantly more hair follicles to shift into the dormant stage. The average increase is from 5-10% to around 30%.

This rapid increase in dormant hair follicles leads to rapid hair loss a few months later. Some people describe pulling out chunks of hair at a time. Or seeing clumps in the brush. Other people see a gradual loss which is less noticeable and manageable. Diffuse hair loss persisting more than six months is considered chronic.

What are the risk factors?

Telogen effluvium has a number of risk factors, unrelated to bariatrics, these include:

  • Pregnancy and childbirth
  • Hormonal disorders including thyroid disease
  • Menopause
  • Underlying health conditions
  • High stress
  • Medication and drug intake

Bariatric risk factors

Not every bariatric patient experiences significant and noticeable hair loss, but there are risk factors which are particular to weight loss surgery which may increase your risk. These include:

  • Major surgery
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Nutritional deficiencies

Will my hair grow back?

The good news is, in most cases this condition is not permanent and your hair will begin to grow back 3-6 months after the stressor has been removed. So if the condition surfaced simply due to rapid weight loss, or the surgery itself, then there is every chance it will improve in time, often in the following 6 months.

How can I prevent hair loss after surgery?

There may be no specific way to prevent it. One thing you can do, is ensure you are eating a nutritious diet, and taking your bariatric vitamins as prescribed. Getting your bloods monitored regularly works hand in hand with this. Follow up visits with your surgeon is the best way to reduce or prevent health problems after you’ve had weight loss surgery. 

Diet tips

  • A diet rich in protein is not only good for weight loss, it is one of the most important building blocks for our cells, including hair. With your new limited stomach size, prioritising high quality protein at every meal is advisable.
  • Eat plenty of green leafy vegetables and include red meat to ensure adequate iron levels. Accompanying these foods with those high in Vitamin C also help the body absorb iron.
  • Zinc-rich foods are also great – oysters, shellfish, poultry, seeds, nuts and eggs can be incorporated into more meals.
  • Your dietitian can recommend certain foods for you, as well as help with planning interesting meals to satisfy your individual nutritional needs.

What can I do to help the condition?

The things which help prevent bariatric hair loss, can also be implemented to help improve an existing condition. We cannot stress enough how important regular blood work and nutritional monitoring is for the bariatric patient, and this includes for cases of telogen effluvium. Poor nutritional status, due to vitamin malapsorption can bring on the condition or prolong it. Chiefly, iron deficiency is a common cause, but also inadequate levels of protein, zinc, B12, fatty acids and other vitamins may also be the cause. Adjustments to your current levels if required could lead to improvement. It is important to note that excessive intake of some vitamins can have detrimental health effects so any supplements should always be prescribed by your surgeon, or dietitan who have access to your individual history and lab results. 

Help for the condition may also be required on a mental and emotional level as well as physical. If you are struggling with the impact of bariatric hair loss, chatting to a Psychologist who has experience with bariatric patients might help. 

Further reading

For more extensive information on the condition, you may find this Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research Article, titled Telogen Effluvium: A Review interesting. 

Please note: this article is of a general nature and intended for information only. It is not intended to be comprehensive and does not constitute medical advice. Any person with a specific medical concern should seek the individual advice of a medical practitioner. 

 

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