According to myth and urban legend, there are countless reasons why you may lose your hair prematurely. While only a few of these have a foundation in scientific fact, however, it’s fair to suggest some of them have a greater semblance of truth than others.
While the argument that regularly wearing hats can trigger hair loss is absurd, for example, the suggestion that elevated levels of testosterone are the enemy represents more of a half-truth. In fact, male pattern baldness may occur in instances where your hair follicles are overly sensitive to a hormone called dihydrotestosterone (or DHT to you and me).
The same principle can be applied to the suggestion that weight loss causes premature balding, as there is at least some scientific truth to be found here. We’ll explore this further below, while also looking at some of the common and proven causes of hair loss.
What are the Common Causes of Hair Loss?
Before we delve further into the direct links between weight loss and sudden or premature balding, it’s important to separate fact from fiction and determine the most common causes of hair shedding.
There are several triggers that have been supported by diverse scientific findings, each of which are capable of causing either short or long-term hair loss. These include:
Hereditary Hair Loss (Male Pattern Baldness)
When it comes to hereditary hair loss, we’re talking primarily about male pattern baldness. Despite its name, this condition can impact on women too, with an estimated 40% of females experiencing noticeable hair loss by the time that they’re 40.
This term refers to a genetic and unstoppable cycle of hair loss, which follows a rigid pattern over a sustained period of time.
In simple terms, your hairline will begin to recede gradually while the hair around the temples and the crown also starts to thin, causing continuous hair loss which leaves the remaining strands in a horseshoe shape on the scalp.
This obvious sequence makes it relatively easy to distinguish between male pattern baldness and regular hair loss, while the rate at which your scalps sheds hair may also offer an insight into your condition.
On average, adults lose around 10,000 scalp hairs each and every day, but those in the latter stages of male pattern baldness will shed at a far higher rate. Losing a high proportion of hair from your scalp is also a tell-tale sign and one that’s usually indicative of hereditary baldness.
Both men and women may be predisposed to male pattern baldness, thanks to their unique genetic make-up and any history of premature (and permanent) hair loss that exists within the family.
While figures vary, it’s estimated that male pattern baldness accounts for between 90% and 95% of hair loss in men, making it the dominant trigger for irreversible hair loss across the globe.
We’ve already touched on how male pattern baldness and premature hair loss can be exacerbated in instances where hair follicles are particularly sensitive to DHT.
With this in mind, it stands to reason that hormonal changes and imbalances can also contribute to premature hair loss, with women particularly vulnerable to this type of issue.
According to the National Institutes of Health, even relatively subtle shifts in your hormone levels can contribute to hair thinning. However, the risk for women increases substantially with age and as they enter the menopause, particularly if there’s a history of hair loss on either side of the family.
During this period, women are vulnerable to what is known as androgenetic alopecia, which as the name suggests involves the action of a specific group of hormones called androgens.
These hormones, which are essential for regulating sex drive and hair growth in both genders, tend to decrease as women age and become menopausal. As a result, their scalp hair is likely to thin while facial hair begins to feel increasingly coarse, while the rate of growth during the anagen stage will also slow considerably.
Ultimately, it’s thought that almost two-thirds of women experience pronounced and sustained hair loss during the postmenopausal stage of life. This remains one of the most common hair loss triggers in women, particularly older females who have experienced considerable hormonal changes.
Physical or Emotional Stress and Nutritional Deficiencies
At this stage, you’re probably asking whether there’s any correlation at all between weight loss and hair loss.
However, the next factors that we’ll discuss provide tangible and scientifically proven links between these two traumatic events, and understanding this can help you to protect your hair follicles in the future.
The first factor is physical or emotional stress, which can have a cumulative impact on the body and mind and trigger sudden (if temporary) hair loss.
If you undergo a serious illness or considerable physical trauma, for example, studies have shown that the body can showcase the effects of this up to three months after the events.
Prolonged periods of mental stress and anxiety can also trigger hair loss, as this may trigger a response secretes hormones like cortisol into the bloodstream. From here, these stress hormones travel to targeted spots and trigger a number of physiological and psychological changes throughout the body.
This may also impact the functionality of the aforementioned androgenic hormones, impacting on follicle growth and causing hair to thin considerably.
Suffering from stress and anxiety can also coincide with unintentional weight loss, which is one of the many reasons why people have drawn a link between this and hair shedding.
Similarly, continued weight loss may lead to a nutritional deficiency within your body, which is capable of both triggering sudden hair loss and exacerbating existing systems.
Low or inadequate levels of iron can certainly cause your hair to fall out, for example, and while vegetarians and vegans may be predisposed to this condition it can also affect people with poor eating habits or a conscious desire to seek out low-calorie diets that are not nutritionally balanced.
Unsurprisingly, a lack of Vitamin D can also trigger hair loss, as this is a group of fat-soluble secosteroids that play a pivotal role in regulating bodily functions and the absorption of key minerals.
Studies have proven that Vitamin D also stimulates hair follicle growth, while deficiencies have been linked to a condition known as alopecia areata. This is an autoimmune condition that causes temporary and patchy hair loss, while both men and women are predisposed to this issue.
This is a growing concern in the UK, with several national surveys having revealed that approximately one-in-five Brits are deficient in Vitamin D. If unresolved, this condition may lead to diminished hair growth and loss in the future.
According to some experts, people on a low-protein diet may also experience unexpected weight loss.
Interestingly, individuals often commence this type of diet in an attempt to lose weight, in the mistaken belief that this will aid their cause.
However, experts argue that eliminating protein from your diet is unnecessary, as it can cause you to lose both weight and nutrients in a way that damages your body and provides a potential trigger for hair loss.
Introducing Telogen Effluvium – Weight Loss and Temporary Hair Loss
As we can see, the failure to maintain a balanced diet and identify key sources of iron and Vitamin D can have a detrimental impact on all bodily functions (including hair growth).
After all, nutritional deficiencies can follow both deliberate and unintentional periods of weight loss, while they can also underpin illnesses that cause symptoms of stress, anxiety and ultimately hair loss.
In these instances, it’s interesting to note that any hair loss you experience is likely to be temporary in nature. This means that the effects will be reversed once you tackle the underlying issue, or recover from an associated illness or trauma.
This type of temporary hair loss is often referred to as Telogen effluvium, which is linked to the telogen (or resting) stage of the growth cycle.
Typically, just 5% to 10% of a person’s hair is in the telogen phase at any given time, but with this condition, the anagen stage slows considerably and causes up to 30% of follicles to shift into the resting part of the cycle.
As a result, your hair thins considerably while the growth cycle is severely hampered, creating sudden shedding and bald patches on your head.
Telogen effluvium is almost exclusively caused by the factors we discussed earlier, including stress, physical trauma, a nutritionally deficient diet and sudden weight loss.
In the case of the latter, this may be the result of eating disorders and chronic conditions like Anorexia nervosa in addition to calorie restricted diets, which can be dramatic in their nature and have a profound effect on the human body.
How to Avoid this Type of Hair Loss Through Diet
Ultimately, if you experience Telogen effluvium as a result of a physical trauma or an eating order over which you have no control, you’ll need to seek out expert medical advice and treatment if you’re to resolve the underlying issue.
However, in instances where you’ve lost weight as the result of a poor or nutritionally unbalanced diet, there are actionable steps that you can take to correct this issue and restore hair growth to its normal levels.
The key thing to remember is that hair follicles require core nutrients, minerals and proteins to thrive, including Vitamin D, iron and zinc. Vitamin A is also integral, although this is true for all bodily cells and not specifically hair follicles on the scalp.
The only way to secure this nutritional intake is to eat a rich and varied diet, and one that is balanced with protein, carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables. If you’re a vegan or have a similarly restricted diet, you’ll also need to seek out non-traditional sources of protein and iron, including lentils, tofu, legumes and leafy green vegetables.
In the case of Vitamin D and the complex B vitamins, we’d also recommend taking a dietary supplement to ensure that you’re receiving the necessary nutrients to support bodily functions and hair growth.
At the same time, you’ll need to avoid the type of fad diets that are often advertised for the purpose of triggering quick weight loss. We’ve seen some famous examples of popular but ultimately unsustainable fad diets in recent times, with many of these typically deficient in some areas and incapable of delivering a balanced range of nutrients to the body.
Take the controversial Adkins diet, for example, which placed considerable restrictions on carbohydrates from the outset and was also believed to be significantly lacking in calcium.
So, by avoiding fad diets and working hard to consume a balanced intake of nutrients over an extended period of time, you’ll give your hair the best possible chance of growing in the future.
Even if you don’t have a nutritional deficiency, this type of diet will help to optimise growth and the condition of your hair over time.
Just keep in mind that it will not prevent hair shredding if this is not being caused by a nutritional deficiency or deliberate weight loss, and in this instance, you may need to seek out advice from a medical professional.
The Last Word
As we can see, there is a link between weight loss and hair loss, particularly in instances where our bodies are suddenly deprived of nutrients that play a central role in bodily functions.
This instance is commonly referred to as Telogen effluvium, and the good news is that this type of hair loss is temporary and usually resolved once the underlying issues have been tackled.
In this instance, you’ll be required to restore your mineral pools and potential take supplementary treatments from a doctor while cultivating a diet that is balanced, nutritionally rich and capable of maintaining a healthy weight.
Ultimately, there’s obviously some truth in the assertion that weight loss can be a trigger for hair loss, but once again there’s a great deal more to this than initially meets the eye.