Does Diabetes Cause Hair Loss? — An In-Depth Guide

Braden G. Barnett, MD

2022 Apr 25

13 min read

Diabetes is one of the more popular conditions that can be life-threatening and put people having it in danger. The condition—which is commonly associated with adults aged close to 45 and above—can lead to many undesirable complications that range from moderate to severe and life-threatening. However, of the many conditions that diabetes can cause, one with which it’s usually associated is hair loss.

Hair loss is typically a natural process, with the average person losing anywhere between 50 to 100 hair per day. As hair is lost, new ones grow in the hair follicles and compensate for the loss. This phenomenon is known as the hair growth cycle.

However, in instances where a person has diabetes, the natural occurrence of this cycle experiences some disruption. Namely, many factors mediate the cycle of hair loss and growth, and diabetes can impede their occurrence.

A normal sugar level is one of the conditions with which the normal hair growth process can be achieved. However, because people with diabetes usually experience high blood sugar, they may experience more hair thinning because they’re losing more hair than they’re growing. 

Other factors that could trigger hair loss include stress, hormonal imbalance, and more. This article considers the relationship between diabetes and hair loss. It particularly highlights how the condition leads to hair loss and the possible treatments and lifestyle changes that one can adopt.

Can Diabetes Cause Hair Loss? 

diabetic hair loss

Diabetes can cause hair loss. There have been many studies on the condition, and increased loss of hair is one of its symptoms and risks. While hair loss isn’t usually talked about as much as other complications that people with diabetes experience, the situation has always been a noticeable phenomenon and concern.

Both male and female diabetics experience the condition. However, hair thinning tends to be more prominent in the former. Experts claim this gender-inclined increase could be due to the more natural male pattern of hair loss that occurs naturally with age. It only gets worse when males have diabetes.

The American Hair Loss Association estimates that about 67% of men in the US aged 35 will encounter considerable hair loss. What’s more, at age 50, nearly 85% of males experience significant hair thinning. The Association also revealed that women lose their hair irrespective of diabetes. Reportedly, in America, women make up to 40% of people that suffer from hair loss.

For both men and women, some of the ways that diabetes usually affects hair growth include impairing hair growth and completely halting the growth of hair from hair follicles. Many factors caused by diabetes trigger these two hair loss mechanisms, and the following sections consider them.

High Blood Sugar Levels

High blood sugar is, by far, the most common evidence that a person has diabetes. While people with pre diabetes do experience high blood glucose, people who already have the condition are exposed to many risks.

High blood sugar spikes result from insulin resistance that makes the pancreas produce insufficient insulin that controls and regulates the effect of too much glucose in the body. When this happens, the body has more sugar than it needs, and these extras get into the bloodstream and have the potential to cause many problems.

Consistent high blood sugar causes blood vessels damage and destroys other delicate organs and tissues in the body. One of the tissues that are affected is the hair follicle. The cells that trigger hair growth are typically starved of oxygen when the body’s blood vessels are damaged by too much glucose, which automatically triggers extreme hair thinning.

High blood glucose level is one of the major conditions that cause hair loss. It usually has its major effect when diabetes has been left untreated for a long time and has become somewhat severe. When this happens, visiting a doctor is extremely important as damage to blood vessels precedes life-threatening conditions like heart failure and stroke.

Hormones and Stress

In women, hormonal changes usually lead to different bodily reactions. Some common causes of hormone change are pregnancy, menstruation, and diabetes.

Hormonal changes triggered by diabetes can lead to poor growth of hair. Due to the prevalence of diabetes in women, when not properly damaged, the hair thinning it causes can seem permanent because of the consistent hormonal changes. However, effective management of the condition can reduce the effect of diabetes.

Stress is another symptom that disrupts the cycle of hair growth. Experts have found that persistent stress can lead to hair thinning.

Stress is usually caused by both physical, psychological, and emotional discomfort. Lack of sleep is one of the common causes of stress that could lead to hair loss. Having relatively short sleep can have a physical, emotional, and psychological toll on a person’s health and body functioning.

Apart from sleep, other stress-related activities like extreme physical work, unhealthy levels of exercise, and depression can also seriously affect a person’s hair health. Summarily, stress is a condition that both men and women can suffer and may need a therapist and serious lifestyle changes to avert.

Immune System Disorder

This is one of the major conditions that come with diabetes. An immune system disorder usually triggers what’s known as an autoimmune disease.

An autoimmune disease occurs when the immune system attacks the human body due to a misinterpretation of the cells being attacked as diseases and viruses that seek to destroy the body. When this self-attack happens, the body reacts negatively, with different symptoms manifesting in the outer body.

Diabetes worsens the possibility of autoimmune disease and is known for causing two hair-related conditions, namely thyroid disease and alopecia areata.

Thyroid disease is a condition that causes hair loss when the thyroid hormone has a disruption in its normal functioning. This situation affects the proper process of the human hair cycle, leading to hair thinning.

Alopecia areata is another condition that leads to hair loss. This particular disease is one of the common causes of hair loss, and diabetes is a prominent risk factor. Most baldness and extreme hair thinning are termed alopecia areata. Surprisingly, many males and females have this condition globally, and to date, there’s no real cure.

Alopecia areata happens when the human immune system directly attacks the hair follicles and causes a steady loss of hair in patches. While there’s also hair loss all over the body, that of the hair is the most noticeable. The condition usually worsens over time and could lead to partial or total baldness.

Androgenetic alopecia is the steady form of baldness in most men and women and is simply an inherited form of the alopecia areata.

Medication Side Effects

Another cause of hair loss for people with diabetes is the effects of medications. Medications usually have one side effect or the other, and some affect hair growth. To corroborate this claim, people with diabetes have often complained about stagnancy in hair growth after being subjected to certain medications.

While it’s difficult to accurately determine if it’s diabetes medications that are responsible for the issue, there’s been an established pattern of hair loss following the use of certain medications by people with high blood sugar.

One of the common medications associated with this phenomenon is the angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors (ACEIs) class used to manage hypertension — a diabetes complication. There are also speculations that the anti-diabetic medication, metformin, could initiate some processes that mediate hair loss.

Experts believe that diabetes medication may lead to hair loss due to their interaction with other drugs that people with the condition may be taking simultaneously. Some drugs that are believed to interact negatively with diabetes medications, such that they cause hair loss, include:

  • Arthritis medications
  • Antidepressants
  • Medications for gout
  • Cholesterol-lowering medication
  • Anticoagulants (blood thinners)
  • Acne treatment medications
  • Antifungals
  • Antiarrhythmics
  • Anticonvulsants
  • Psoriasis medicines
  • Steroids

Signs to Look Out For

hair loss signs

Hair thinning for diabetes comes with several symptoms that precede it, and these signs can help patients know when they should get help. Generally, one of the major symptoms that should give people with diabetes the red flag is their hair loss pattern.

Hair loss may, in certain instances, just be a natural phenomenon and may not be directly related to diabetes. This is particularly true as even healthy people experience decreased hair growth speed as they age. So, it’s critical that people with diabetes understand the pattern with which they’re losing hair and determine if it’s diabetes-related or not.

One major sign diabetics should look out for is if handfuls of hair are lost during bathing or combing. If the hair loss leaves uneven patches over the scalp, it’s likely a case of alopecia areata triggered by high blood sugar.

Proactive treatment with effective formulas can help curtail such hair loss in its infancy. However, remission or continuous recurrence is likely. Most people with diabetes who overlook these signs are extremely likely to permanently lose a significant amount of their hair.

Another sign that people with diabetes should look out for is if there are noticeable hair decreases all over their body. While the inability of a hair follicle to regrow hair is the major sign of impending baldness, loss of hair over the body is a common occurrence for people that have diabetes.

Apart from issues with hair growth, diabetics can experience certain skin-related issues that usually precede increased hair loss. These symptoms are one of the first signs that herald an increased loss of hair. Some of these symptoms include itchy and dry skin and sudden vulnerabilities to skin diseases.

Also, an increased infection rate is a red flag for impending hair loss. A common infection that diabetics experience is folliculitis decalvans, a bacterial skin disease that damages the hair follicles and leads to stagnant hair growth.

Knowing how to identify the common symptoms that could lead to hair loss as a diabetic is key to quickly implementing your treatment and management. It’s essential to notice these symptoms as they’re crucial in helping people accurately paint the right picture to their physicians. That way, their healthcare provider knows exactly what to treat and possibly helps them regrow hair strands.

Meeting a Doctor

While there are many treatments that people with diabetes can take to mitigate the effects of lost hair or disguise the appearance of bald patches, visiting a doctor is imperative. The reason for this is that the situation isn’t just about any type of baldness but one that’s possibly triggered by diabetes. Meeting a doctor can help patients know to what extent their condition affects their hair and if they’re also at risk of any life-threatening complications.

The major advantage that diabetes experts offer is their ability to diagnose whether the condition causes the issue of hair loss or not. They can also help you check if you need a hair loss treatment or drug and how it could interact with other high blood pressure medications. With an expert suggestion, you increase your safety by far and ensure that you have a better and safe chance of handling your hair loss.

Typically, a medical doctor will be the best person to determine the hair loss pattern by going through your whole body to know how the patches look and if you’re also losing hair in other parts of your body. In certain instances, you may eventually discover that your hair loss is more of a natural baldness process than a diabetes complication.

When performing a diagnosis, other factors that a medical expert may consider include:

  • Race
  • Medications
  • Possible interacting health conditions
  • Pregnancy
  • Stress level
  • Past traumatic experiences
  • The type of hair loss: sudden or gradual

Finally, when making a diagnosis, some medical practitioners may perform blood tests to help patients know if they have any deficiency that could worsen their diabetes or if the lack is also a contributing factor to their hair loss.

Hair Loss Treatments

hair loss treatments

Hair loss treatment is a common option that people with diabetes having hair growth difficulty usually opt for. After meeting a doctor, there are certain proven common options that you’re more likely to get. These could be topical or other medications that mitigate or slow hair degradation.

Some common hair treatments and managements products include:

  • Biotin
  • Corticosteroid creams and injections
  • Anthralin
  • Rogaine (minoxidil)

Lifestyle Changes

Apart from possible treatments that patients can take for diabetes, natural lifestyle changes are one of the effective options that could curtail hair loss if the former is a causative factor. Lifestyle changes usually include eating patterns, choice of food, and exercise.

The above three major factors are essential in regulating high blood sugar and providing the body with essential fatty acids needed for proper growth. Let’s examine in detail how they do this.

Exercise

Proper exercising can mitigate how diabetes affects hair regrowth. Exercise is one of the major options that many diabetics implement to reduce their dependence on drugs and other treatments. These exercises could be moderate or extremely intense depending on endurance and diabetes complications. It could range from brisk walking to more intense resistance training and running.

Meals

Meal choice is also critical when handling diabetes, and nutrient-filled foods with significantly low carbs are the perfect options for people with diabetes. A medical expert and dietitian can help diabetics get the right meals for their condition to reduce the possibility of raised blood sugar. Fiber and vitamin-containing meals are among the top food options to go for.

Conclusion

There’s a direct association between hair loss and diabetes. This means that people with diabetes could find themselves open to losing hair quicker than the average cycle as their diabetic condition worsen. Generally, while hair loss doesn’t cause health complications, it’s a sign that the person with diabetes isn’t practicing the best management plan for handling blood sugar levels.

Hair loss could be a tell-tale sign that diabetes is at an advanced stage, and there’s an extremely likely chance that there are damaged blood vessels that affect the supply of oxygen to the hair follicles for proper hair growth. Therefore, if you’re experiencing a significant loss of hair, you should quickly seek medical help to control your condition. Besides meeting a doctor, implementing important lifestyle changes such as exercise and healthy eating is key.

Incorporating healthy eating helps you get the healthy nutrients that promote a healthy immune system, reduce blood sugar and encourage a fit lifestyle. Typically, you can get a food plan from your doctor that provides you with all these benefits. You could also use a professionally designed digital meal planner, like our expert-recommended Klinio app, that provides you with the best food from a vast result of healthy choices. The good thing about our Klinio app is that aside from being extremely reliable for planning healthy eating, it helps you monitor your progress.

Written by

Braden G. Barnett, MD

Dr. Braden G. Barnett is an endocrinologist in Los Angeles, California and is affiliated with multiple hospitals in the area, including Keck Medical Center of USC and USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center. He received his medical degree from University of Southern California and has been in practice around 8 years. A skilled professional, Dr. Barnett holds certification from the American Board of Internal Medicine with a special focus on endocrinology, diabetes, and metabolism. He is also a recipient of several awards and honors.

Start managing your diabetes today!

Find what will work for you with this 60-sec quiz approved by experts and get your Klinio app.

Take quiz