Is Celiac Disease damaging my Hair?
Let’s look at hair loss first
It’s a common – and often ignored – complaint from celiac patients: I’m losing my hair, what can I do? Is celiac disease damaging my hair? Actually, there are several types of hair loss associated with celiac disease, from mild hair loss due to nutritional deficiencies to a condition known as alopecia areata, which is an autoimmune disease.
Let’s have a look at causes of hair loss caused by celiac disease and what you can do to prevent or treat this condition:
Celiac disease and Alopecia areata
The relationship between celiac disease and alopecia should not come as a surprise: after all, they’re both immune conditions (even though researchers don’t really understand what triggers alopecia). This condition, which may affect both men and women, usually manifests as several bald patches all over the head. In extreme conditions, it may even lead to complete baldness. Luckily for those patients suffering from these bald patches, embarking on a gluten-free diet seems to do the trick and patients very happily report hair growth within a few months. Curiously, one patient reported re-appearance of bald patches after accidental exposure to gluten, which disappeared again after finding and eliminating the source of contamination.
Nutritional deficiencies can lead to severely damaged hair and hair loss
The second cause for hair loss – and perhaps more common among celiac disease patients – is caused by nutritional deficiencies and weight loss. Malabsorption of vitamins and minerals can cause an array of nutritional deficiencies, which can affect many parts of the body, including hair growth.
Even in cases of mild nutritional deficiencies, where patients may not necessarily experience hair loss, hair may develop a lifeless and brittle appearance. It’s almost impossible to pinpoint exactly what nutrient is causing the problem, as there are multiple examples of vitamins and minerals that are involved in the synthesis of proteins essential for hair growth. For celiac patients, complaints of brittle and thinning hair, dandruff, dermatitis and itchy scalp, excessive gray hair, slow growing hair with split ends and generally damaged hair may all be signs of nutritional deficiencies.
Let’s look at the vitamins and minerals critical for hair growth
Both vitamins and minerals play a vital role in hair growth and, either caused by immune alopecia, or nutritional deficiencies, their deficiencies can cause not only hair loss but a variety of other hair-related problems as noted above. If you are experiencing brittle, damaged hair as well as hair loss you may need to supplement your diet with the following:
- Vitamin C: This vitamin is essential for the production of collagen, which is a key ingredient for hair growth. Low levels may cause hair loss, anemia and high risk of infections.
- Vitamin D: Vitamin D promotes hair follicle differentiation, and studies have shown that its deficiency can cause hair loss.
- Complex B: Several vitamins in the B complex have an impact on hair growth. For example, folic acid is not only an essential ingredient to grow hair, but it’s also needed to re-build hair follicles, prevent gray hairs, and regulate sebum glands in the head. In addition, vitamin B5 is also involved in stimulating hair follicles and accelerates pigment production.
- Biotin (Vitamin B7): This enzyme is essential for your body to metabolize fats, and deficiency symptoms include hair loss, brittle nails, and fatigue. About half of the biotin in our body is produced by the bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract, so it should not come as a surprise to say that celiac disease patients may have low levels, which may end up causing hair loss. Interestingly, studies have shown that biotin supplementation seems to have a positive effect and reduce hair loss.
- Zinc: This mineral plays a role in hundreds of reactions in the body, including the production of collagen, which is essential to growth. Its deficiency in the diet can lead to brittle and dry hair and excessive loss.
- Iron: Deficiency of this mineral – so common in celiac disease patients – is associated with both alopecia areata and hair loss due to nutritional deficiencies. It may also cause hair to grow very slowly as well as thinning and brittle hair.
- Copper: Copper is vital for keratin fiber strength. As a consequence, its deficiency may result in weak and fragile hair with a tendency for early graying.
- Selenium: This element is a component in many chemical reactions in the body, including hair growth. Studies have shown that deficiency may cause alopecia and pseudoalbinism, which can be reversed with adequate diet supplementation.
- Silicon: This mineral is responsible for the production of connective tissue, and it’s an essential ingredient in hair formation. Oral supplementation in patients with silicon deficiency showed a marked improvement in hair strength and elasticity.
- Calcium: Curiously, concentration of calcium is about 200 times higher in hair that in the bloodstream, which means cases of deficiency will undoubtedly affect hair growth.
When there’s a problem….
If you start noticing excessive hair loss or brittle and lifeless hair, talk to your health care provider. You may need to see a dermatologist to ascertain the root of the problem but, the good news is that for most cases, a gluten-free diet, and adequate supplementation should promote healing. We have seen severely damaged hair return to beautiful, healthy hair with strict adherence to a gluten-free diet accompanied with targeted supplementation. However, it’s important to note that it will take some time for the body to find its balance again and you may not see shiny and healthy hair for a while.