Hair loss and diabetes
October 25, 2018 | By Dr. Sangay Bhutia (Hair Transplant Specialist in Delhi)
The World health organisation estimates that more than 400 million people around the world live with diabetes. A chronic disease, diabetes is related to the production of insulin, a hormone, which regulates blood sugar. Diabetes is caused when the pancreas stops producing enough insulin, or when the body is unable to use the insulin that is being produced.
Over a period of time, uncontrolled diabetes can lead to damage of kidneys, blood vessels, eyes and nerves, and even heart problems. Genetics, a poor diet, lack of exercise, and obesity are all the causes behind diabetes. The two commonly occurring types of diabetes are type I and type II. People with type I cannot produce insulin, whereas people with type II have insulin resistance, which means they either cannot produce or use the insulin that the body is producing. Then there is also prediabetes, a condition in which the blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be classified as diabetes.
One of the side effects of diabetes is hair loss. Since diabetes causes high blood sugar levels, it results in issues with the blood circulation. Poor circulation of blood in the body means that essential nutrients and oxygen will not reach some parts of the body. And as such, hair follicles, which rely on these nutrients for nourishment, will be deprived, causing hair loss.
Poor circulation also means that the healing process in the body slows down, so any kind of bacterial or fungal infections in the scalp will take longer to heal, and the process of regrowth of hair is disrupted. In diabetic patients, fungal infections can cause hair loss.
Diabetes can also lead to alopecia areata, a condition which leads to hair fall in patches. Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease, which means that the body’s immune system, which usually protects the body from viruses or bacteria and illness, starts attacking healthy cells. The immune system starts mistaking body cells for foreign substances. Normally, the immune system defends your body against these substances, such as viruses and bacteria. Among others, in alopecia areata, the immune system attacks the hair follicles. Alopecia areata or other kin of hair fall caused by diabetes can be treated with topical medicines like Minoxidil, which is applied to the affected areas once or twice a day.
Although Minoxidil is a slow process, it will help the patient hold on to the hair they have. Doctors also recommend steroid injections for mild, and cortisone tablets for extensive alopecia. But all these treatments have to be done after consulting a doctor as they can have side effects especially for people suffering from diabetes.
The kind of hair loss caused by diabetes is best controlled by addressing the root cause, which is the illness itself. Patients have to control their diabetes to address this type of hair loss. Type I diabetes patients need regular injections of insulin, as they don’t produce the hormone. These injections are taken on arm, stomach or the buttocks. The other way to get insulin is to use insulin pumps.
People with type II diabetes can control it through a doctor-recommended nutritious diet and regular exercise. In fact this type of diabetes is even reversible. Cutting out carbs from the diet and exercising regularly helps people with type II diabetes. Avoiding junk food and getting on a weight loss regime, if you are obese is also recommended. The doctor will also put the patient on a course of medication, along with lifestyle changes, which are key to fighting diabetes.
For both kinds of diabetes, regular blood sugar testing to check the levels is important.
It is also important for everybody to remember that if they notice a sudden increase in hair fall, it could possibly be happening because of diabetes. In such cases a visit to the doctor is a must for a proper diagnosis. Any delay in starting diabetes treatment can mean serious hair loss, which in some cases might become permanent if the diabetes is not controlled.