If you have diabetes, your body doesn’t produce insulin, doesn’t use it effectively, or both. Insulin is a hormone that moves the sugar from the foods you eat from your bloodstream into your cells to be stored or used as energy.
When you don’t have insulin or it isn’t used effectively, sugar can build up in your blood. That excess sugar can damage organs all over your body, including your eyes, nerves, and kidneys. It can also damage your blood vessels. These vessels carry oxygen around your body to nourish organs and tissues. Damaged blood vessels may not be able to deliver enough oxygen to nourish your hair follicles. This lack of oxygen can affect your normal hair growth cycle.
Hair usually goes through three phases. During the active growing phase, which lasts for two years or more, hairs grow at a rate of 1 to 2 cm per month. Hair then goes into a resting phase, which lasts for about 100 days. After this phase, some of the resting hair falls out.
Diabetes can interrupt this process, slowing down your hair growth. Having diabetes can also cause you to lose more hair than usual. That hair loss isn’t only on your head. You can lose hairs on your arms, legs, and other body parts, too. When hair regrows, it does so at a slower-than-normal rate.
People with diabetes are more likely to have a condition called alopecia areata. With alopecia, the immune system attacks the hair follicles, leading to patches of hair loss on the head and on other parts of the body.
Diabetes itself can lead to hair loss. You may also lose hair as a side effect of stress from living with a chronic illness, or from medicines you take to treat your diabetes. Some people with diabetes also have thyroid disease, which can contribute to hair loss.
Speak with your doctor if you’re having any bothersome diabetes symptoms, including hair loss. Hair loss from your arms and legs is especially important to report because it could be a sign of poor blood flow.
If the hair loss is related to diabetes control, you may need to adjust your diet, lifestyle, or medicine to get a better handle on your blood sugar. Once your diabetes is under control, you should notice a reduction in hair loss. You’ll lose fewer hairs and you’ll regrow more of the ones you’ve lost.
Here are a few other ways to keep your hair lush and full, and compensate for diabetes hair loss.
Your dermatologist may prescribe a topical drug like minoxidil (Rogaine), which you rub onto your scalp and other areas where there is hair loss. Men can also take a pill called finasteride (Propecia) to regrow hair. Finasteride hasn’t been approved for women to use. If alopecia is causing your hair loss, your doctor may prescribe steroid medicines to reduce inflammation.
Biotin is a vitamin found naturally in foods like peanuts, almonds, sweet potatoes, eggs, onions, and oats. People with diabetes may have lower-than-normal levels of biotin.
There’s some evidence that taking biotin supplements by mouth may slow hair loss. Just talk to your doctor first. The recommended adequate intake for adults is 30 micrograms per day, but supplements usually contain much higher amounts. Ask your doctor what is a safe amount for you.
If the hair loss covers a large area of your scalp, you may want to temporarily cover it with a wig or hairpiece. The cost is fairly small, and you can remove the wig when you no longer need it.
Losing your hair can be scary, but you have options. To better manage your blood sugar, engage in daily exercise. This is a great way to bring down blood sugar and encourage oxygen delivery to your body’s extremities and even your scalp! Speak with your doctor to learn more about what you can do to manage your hair loss.