Hair loss can be upsetting and frustrating. It is a symptom that can occur in people who have type 2 diabetes. It can happen for several reasons, including side effects from medications or changes to blood flow. In this article, we’ll explore common causes of hair loss in diabetes, how it is treated, and how to cope. We’ll also discuss how you should know when to see a medical provider.
The Link Between Diabetes and Hair Loss
Diabetes is not just a condition of disrupted insulin response or elevated glucose levels; it also affects many other activities in the body. Because blood sugar is the fuel for the entire body, changes in how your body can use this fuel can lead to many physical symptoms. Diabetes can also affect blood vessels, which is how the body delivers nutrients to cells, tissues, and organs.
Causes of Hair Loss
There are several ways that type 2 diabetes can affect the body, which can lead to hair loss. There are also indirect causes, as well as possible reasons for hair loss, that are not caused by type 2 diabetes directly.
Restricted Blood Flow
When blood sugar levels are too high, that means the energy that cells need isn’t available to them because it can’t get out of the bloodstream. The more blood vessels get damaged, the more difficult it becomes for oxygen and nutrients to travel through the body, especially to areas farther from the heart: feet, eyes, and hair follicles. This can result in hair that is undernourished, brittle, and may not regrow as quickly as it otherwise would.
Hair goes through several phases, including natural periods of growth as well as shedding. Type 2 diabetes can affect healthy hair growth, making it appear as if the hair is shedding for longer periods of time. In other cases, type 2 diabetes can trigger specific hair loss outside of the normal growth and shedding phases.
There are many types of medication that may be used to treat type 2 diabetes. In some cases, these can cause side effects of hair loss, although that is not the typical patient experience.
Very rare case reports have been made of patients who experience extreme hair loss after certain medications, like Janumet, but this is not common. Metformin, one of the most common diabetes medications, can indirectly affect hair loss if it is taken long-term. Metformin may deplete the body of B vitamins, which could play a role in losing hair. But this can be offset by supplementing with B vitamins. A healthcare provider can test vitamin B12 and folate levels if you take metformin to monitor for possible deficiency.
Stress can lead to hair loss in a few ways. When the body is under extended periods of stress, cortisol, the stress hormone, can trigger a long resting phase for hair follicles. This means that while it continues to shed at normal rates, it is not being replaced as quickly as it otherwise would. The overall effect can be a feeling that your hair volume is dropping.
Type 2 diabetes and any other chronic condition can increase stress. They take time and energy to manage. But many other life factors can also contribute to stress. Overall, mild to moderate stress on its own may not trigger noticeable hair loss. But if you have been managing a high load of stress or chronic health challenges for many years, it could be contributing.
Hormones are important chemical messengers in the body. Stress can impact them, but they may also change based on blood sugar balance. Both stress and type 2 diabetes can influence hormones that could affect hair health.
While type 2 diabetes is not an autoimmune disorder, people who have it may also have other health conditions. Autoimmune disorders are common. They are the third most diagnosed health condition in the U.S., behind cancer and heart disease. They impact as much as 8% of the population or around 22 million people. People assigned female at birth experience autoimmune disorders in a ratio of 2 to 1 compared to persons assigned male at birth.
Some autoimmune disorders are associated with hair loss. These include alopecia areata, where the immune system directly attacks hair follicles, as well as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, a hypothyroid autoimmune condition where the immune system attacks the thyroid gland. This has a roundabout impact on hair. The thyroid regulates many aspects of metabolic function, so when it is not working properly, it can lead to dull and brittle nails, hair loss, dry skin, and many other physical symptoms.
Treating Hair Loss in People with Diabetes
If hair loss has become an issue in a person with type 2 diabetes, there are possible ways to treat it or prevent further loss.
Manage Blood Sugar
The first step in addressing hair loss in diabetes is to make sure that blood sugar is being properly managed. If you are losing hair because glucose levels are consistently too high, a medical provider may suggest more specific dietary and lifestyle adjustments, as well as medication to provide support for better blood sugar levels.
By testing your glucose levels regularly after meals, you will be able to understand whether certain foods are making it harder to control your blood sugar. The solution could also be increasing exercise, getting better quality sleep, or adjusting your medication dosages.
There are some medications that can be used to support hair growth. They usually come with many potential side effects, but if hair loss is a concern, ask your medical provider if you are a candidate for any hair growth medication. Some options are:
If blood sugar or stress is part of the hair loss trigger, in addition to diet, exercise, and medication, there are other lifestyle changes that could support overall health. This, in turn, could support healthy hair growth.
- Deep breathing and meditation
- Maintaining proper hydration
- Taking an iron or biotin supplement, if your healthcare provider says you are low in this mineral or vitamin
- Getting good quality sleep
- Using gentle hair products
- Taking extra care when you comb, brush, wash, and style your hair
Coping with Hair Loss
Hair loss can be traumatic. It is understandable if you feel deeply upset over changes to your hair. Speak with your medical provider to let them know about your symptoms and to explore your options for finding support.
When to See a Healthcare Provider
If you notice that your hair seems or feels thinner, bring it up with a healthcare provider. They can run basic lab tests to look for and rule out any underlying nutrient deficiencies that could be involved. They can also consider your diet, medications, and other factors. A healthcare provider can identify a plan to minimize hair loss and support healthy conditions for regrowth or management.
How K Health Can Help
Did you know you can get affordable virtual primary care with K Health?
Check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and if needed, text with a healthcare provider in minutes.
K Health’s AI-powered app is based on 20 years of clinical data.
Frequently Asked Questions
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
Vascular complications of diabetes: mechanisms of injury and protective factors. (2013).
Association of type 2 diabetes with central-scalp hair loss in a large cohort study of African American women. (2019).
Loss of Eyebrows and Eyelashes During Concomitant Treatment with Sitagliptin and Metformin. (2017).
Long-term Metformin Use and Vitamin B12 Deficiency in the Diabetes Prevention Program Outcomes Study. (2016).
The Role of Vitamins and Minerals in Hair Loss: A Review. (2019).
Stress and hormones. (2011).
Endogenous Sex Hormones, Metabolic Syndrome, and Diabetes in Men and Women. (2015).
Women and Autoimmune Diseases. (2004).
The Prevalence of Autoimmune Disorders in Women: A Narrative Review. (2020).
Alopecia areata: more than skin deep. (2013).
Brittle Nails and Hair Loss in Hypothyroidism. (2018).