Q: Is there a connection between diabetes and hair loss?
A: Hair loss can result from many factors. Age is a universal reason. All of us lose hair as we grow older. Some people inherit the tendency to lose hair early or excessively.
Medications, stress, infections, skin conditions, nutritional deficits and pregnancy can affect hair growth. So can many medical conditions. Lupus, lichen planus, seborrheic dermatitis, psoriasis and thyroid problems are some of the reasons for hair loss. Straightening, bleaching, blow-drying, or pulling hair can be the main problem. Also, hair growth is often influenced by hormone changes or imbalances.
Diabetes and its treatment can definitely play a role in hair loss. Diabetes results when the blood sugar rises because the pancreas cannot produce enough insulin. Insulin lowers blood sugar (glucose) by moving sugar from the blood into the body's cells.
In type 1 diabetes, the body is not able to produce insulin. In type 2 diabetes, the insulin produced by the pancreas does not work as it should. It's called insulin resistance. Initially, the pancreas can partially overcome insulin resistance by making and releasing more of the hormone. Eventually the pancreas can't keep up.
Hair loss can be associated with changes in hormone balance, stress and medications, all of which may be relevant to diabetes. Because there are so many other causes of hair loss besides diabetes, you should see your doctor to consider any other factors that may be involved. He or she may suggest examination of some hairs under a microscope or a scalp biopsy to help determine the cause of hair loss.
To help preserve the hair you have, treat your scalp and hair gently. Avoid vigorous combing, curling, or pulling hair back. Eat a healthy diet, get adequate rest and reduce stress as much as possible.
(Rebecca Campen, M.D., J.D., is an assistant professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School. She divides her time between clinical practice of dermatology at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, and private practice in Savannah, Ga.)
(For additional consumer health information, please visit http://www.health.harvard.edu.)
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