Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Losing Weight & Hair Loss

When I was in my 20's and still relatively thin, I had a friend in her 30's who lost a lot of weight, really fast, using a liquid diet that was very low in calories. "You look great!" everyone said, until her hair fell out. When she was left with very thin, patchy hair, the compliments stopped, and the concern began.

What causes hair loss in dieting? Is it a sign of poor nutrition? If you lose a bunch of weight are you destined to also lose a bunch of hair?

Back in 2008 when I had lost about 40 or 50 pounds counting calories, I noticed that my hair was falling out more rapidly. I knew because:

a) I found stray hairs that fell out and hung on my clothing more often
b) the shower drain was clogged with hair
c) I started finding hair in my food (yuck), and
d) I could see my hair was not as thick as it used to be.

It made me nervous. I was eating quite nutritious foods: lots of fresh, local, organic fruits & vegetables, lean meats, whole grains, and not much junk. So I asked my doctor what was up.

"People just lose hair when they drop a significant amount of weight," he said. "It will grow back. Don't worry." And he was right. Within a few months it was back to (almost) normal. I stopped shedding (much) for about a year and a half. And then I started Medifast. Lower calories than usual, but higher in protein, and rich in fresh, local, organic veggies and lean grass fed local meat. But guess what? When I'd lost about 40 pounds, my hair started to fall out again.

It's called telogen effluvium, and according to the Mayo Clinic website:

"...it may occur when some type of shock to your system — emotional or physical — causes hair roots to be pushed prematurely into the resting state. The affected growing hairs from these hair roots fall out. In a month or two, the hair follicles become active again and new hair starts to grow. Telogen effluvium may follow emotional distress, such as a death in the family or a physiological stress, such as a high fever, sudden or excessive weight loss, extreme diets, nutritional deficiencies, surgery, or metabolic disturbances. Hair typically grows back once the condition that caused it corrects itself, but it usually take months."

So, yes. It's basically an altered hair shedding cycle due to stress. And please note the weight loss references and possible causes, which you *should* explore with your doctor if this is an issue:

sudden/excessive weight loss
extreme diets
nutritional deficiencies
metabolic disturbances

Very important here not to make assumptions, but to check with your doctor. My doctor has ruled out metabolic disturbances and nutritional deficiencies. "Extreme" diets could be, I suppose, in the eye of the beholder. What is extreme to one person is not to another. For example, if you'd been eating 2500 calories a day and cut back to 1500, your body may find it extreme and stressful. So be sure your doctor has approved your diet (mine has).

This leaves, for me, "sudden/excessive weight loss." My rate of loss in both cases when I started to shed more (2008 and 2010) were similar: 50 pounds in 8.5 months in 2008, and 50 pounds in 6-7 months this year. Both times I lost hair. In fact most people I have spoken to who lose over 40 pounds do start to see more hair loss. That's a big change for the body. It's a stressful thing. But the weight loss can be permanent, and the hair loss is usually temporary.

So what can you do if you are losing hair? Or how can you minimize hair loss? I have some things I am doing as a result of research I have done on the topic, but your results may vary. Many people get good results taking a biotin (vitamin B7) supplement. I had heard rave reviews about Super Biotin (which is just high potency biotin) from people who said it helped regrown their hair faster and strengthen their nails. It's also supposed to assist with metabolism. So I got myself some Super Biotin and have taken it daily for the past 3 months or so. I also take fish oil every day (I use Barlean's brand "Omega Swirl" because it tastes fantastic, but I buy it at the grocery store). But is it working?

Well, I noticed the thinning a couple months ago and so did my hairdresser. It is not TERRIBLE. I do not have bald areas or anything like that. You can see some decent shots of my hair in my 100 Pounds Gone pictures. But yeah, the handfuls in the shower were a bit distressing. So I started the supplements and waited to see what would happen. Today, I went in for a haircut. I said to my hairdresser, "I don't like that my hair is thinning," and he said, "But look at this! You have a LOT of new hair growing in... lots of it!" And he showed me a really large amount of shorter hairs growing in all along my hairline and on top of my head, each one about 2 inches long! When I look in the mirror I can see them sticking up if I don't comb them down! And he said, "That is great, are you taking some kind of vitamins for hair growth?" And I told him about the Biotin. Pretty cool.

Now, one aside: women over 40 *do* often start to have thinning hair. A quick Google search will pull up sites like Prevention.com that state that 50% of women over 40 have excessive hair loss. Hormonal, I guess. Part of aging. So, I don't really expect to get back the full thick head of hair I had in my 20's, but I feel better knowing I am doing what I can to regrow as much as possible.

To me, it is not a worry anymore. I know it will grow back. And I am pretty sure the weight will stay off, too :)


41 comments:

Anonymous said...

i think a shorter hair cut would make your hair look a lot fuller and be more youthful... how about some side swept bangs - your body is a whole new you - why not do a total new you haircut... probably more regular hair color as well... i think when you have light colored roots it makes your scalp more visible... just my 2 cents - you look fantabulous lynn... my best Patty

Anonymous said...

thank you so much for this post! I have lost significant weight (about 30 lbs last year and recently 40 lbs over the last 5 months) and I shed major amounts of hair both times. I am still shedding hair. I think last time I lost about half of my hair and it looks like I'll make it to that point this time too. It really freaked me out, but my hair grew back with a vengeance after about 3.5 months of loss. I am banking on that happening again. It's so comforting to read that this happens to others. (not that I'm happy that it is!)

Holly

Anonymous said...

Yes, thank you for posting about this. I've lost a huge amount of weight, and twice during the process I've experienced telogen effluvium. It freaked me out badly the first time, because I had NO idea it was a possibility. It's like the dirty little secret of weight loss, and it would be really helpful if it were more commonly known. Once I knew what it was, I was still kind of upset, because like a lot of fat women, my hair was one of the few things I truly liked about my body, but the terrible FEAR that I was going permanently bald diminished, and I think it's verging on irresponsible for diet books to generally not even mention this happening as a possibility. Thanks again for using your platform and reach to publicize it.

carla said...

This is one of the many reasons Ill never compete in bodybuilding again too!
when I lost weight it was so sloooooow I never noticed hairloss.
when I competed I didnt necessarily lose any weight but changed my shape and HOLY LORD three months *after competition* I shedded like there was no tomorrow (and Im fine haired to begin with ;)).

I vote for a new haircut or just super BLUNT across bottom.

Barbara said...

I have issues with my hair falling out already and I haven't really lost alot of weight yet. My doctor said it was due to PCOS and stress, I did some research on my own and found biotin, I've been taking it for awhile now and I seem to be losing less hair and growing some new hair.

Those Barlean's brand "Omega Swirl" look cool. There are different ones too, different flavors. How do they work? You take a few drops or a teaspoon? Do you mix it in water or something? I've never seen those anywhere around here, I would probably have to order offline if I wanted to try them. Do you use the lemon one?

Vee and the Kid said...

My hair has been thinning for years, but I assumed that was because of my yoyo dieting. I hadn't noticed it since I started this massive weight loss (June 2010) but thanks.. now I will!

And am taking a hair and skin supplement from the health food store. No clue what's in it. Will have to check.

Vee at http://veegettinghealthy.blogspot.com

Vickie said...

At the time, I lamented my SOOOOOOOO SLOOOOOOOW weight loss, but I didn't have hair loss problems. So maybe it was an advantage. It didn't seem so at the time!

I think it is wonderful you posted about this. It is a major issue for many people and does not get discussed as much as it should. I think people are embarrassed. Good that you just accept it as reality and are dealing.

who ever suggested shorter hair had a good point. Maybe not something you want to do, but might be anwser for someone else.

Anne H said...

Wow - I hardly ever lose hair.
Except when I pull it out - from frustration!
Seriously, tho -
My hair is sooo short...
I wonder if that has some thing to do with
my not losing much hair. Or maybe all the
protein and fat in Atkins?
Good post, Lyn!

icannotweight said...

Just a warning, it does NOT always all grow back. When I lost weight the first time my hair got EXTREMELY thin on top. I have lost a lot slower this time and I haven't lost any hair (yet.. I am still 20lbs higher than I was at my lowest last time). I did NOT get all my hair back when it grew back. It is still really thin, but you can no longer see my scalp, so I've decided that is good enough. I do not have enough hair to do many popular hairstyles!

Dillypoo said...

Count me as another unhappy member of the thinning hair club.

I also take biotin and fish oil supplements, but I decided about 2.5 months ago that I needed more fat in my diet (in the form of healthy oil and not cheeseburgers). So I started taking a teaspoon of olive oil twice a day.

I know it sounds gross, but it really isn't. It's a small amount and has no flavor. Since adding the oil to my morning and bedtime routines, I've finally reached my goal weight and my hair is starting to regrow!

Anonymous said...

lyn, biotin is one of the b vit. your b vit. are mostly ground out of our grains because of processing. B vit are found in nature together..so a b complex vit should be recommended. It is not always best to isolate vitamins but to use them the way they are found in nature..the way the creator created them. Supplementing is good for everyone because we don't get (on a daily basis) everything our body needs. You have truly become a great teacher through trial and error of good health. You have inspired many. Thanks

Anonymous said...

In the past my hair thinned when I lost weight! :(

However, since starting my diet along with you this year (March), I have lost almost 90 lbs with no corresponding loss in hair. I eat a lot of fat and protein, very little sugar (2-3 fruits per day), and only one serving of grain a day, which I guess is a modified Paleo diet. I'm over 50.

However, I also started reading more poetry, writing a novel, and take a nap during the day now and then whenever I crave one.

Ain't correlation great! For all I know, the weight loss and my glorious thick hair are caused from all that extra poetry I read. :)

xoxo
Jill

Twix said...

Hey thanks for helping me connect the dots. I have Graves disease and part of that results in hair loss. But I have been losing more hair than usually of late. I keep joking I will be bald before I hit 35, yikes. But thanks to you I have a term and some knowledge to go look this up. Thanks! :D

r.bates said...

When on any diet program, a person must be careful not to rush things. The body reacts differently to dieting with different people. Hair loss is one of many side effects that can happen.

It is important to take the time to research and decide what might be the best program for you. Then, take the time to do things right.

Good post. You are looking well and obviously are doing something right! definitely. Keep up the good work.

Susan said...

I've had this issue too, Lyn, and figuring out which supplements to take has been a challenge, as some of the other recommendations I've had I haven't tolerated well. How many Super Biotin do you take a day? Thanks for sharing this info, as one of your other commenters so rightly said "the dirty little secret of weight loss".

Lyn said...

Anne H~

I have read that it *seems* like more hair loss, the longer your hair is, simply because it looks like more hair in a pile and you are more likely to notice a long hair than a short one when it falls out. But if you are avoiding the hair loss altogeter that is GREAT too! It is important to get enough fat in our diets to keep healthy hair.

Barbara~

The Barleans is a liquid in a bottle, and depending on which one you get (fish oil, flax oil, there are a couple others) you take a measured amount per day. The lemon is 2 teaspoons per day. You can take it straight from a spoon or mix it in something like yogurt. It is actually YUMMY, tastes nothing like fish, actually tastes like a lemon Starburst (no sugar, it is sweetened with xylitol). I should do a post on Barleans, I think they are excellent products.

Lyn said...

Susan~

I take one super biotin each morning. 5000 mcg.

gracies tough journey said...

I cant tell you how timely this post is. I just started HMR 3 weeks ago, lost 20 lbs, so far but I need to loose over 100 lbs. My biggest fear is hair loss. I feel my hair each day and wonder if it is getting thinner. I am going to speak to the doctor about biotin. I am going to get some since I am just in the beginning stages of the diet. Prevention is the key. On another note,you are such an inspiration. I read your post daily. Thank you..Gracie

spunkysuzi said...

All the time i had short hair i never noticed anything different with my hair. Since i've been growing it long i find my hairs everywhere!! I don't notice it thinning but it must be by all the hair i find.

Tricia @ Saving Room for Dessert said...

Being 51 years old, I am currently fighting that battle of the hormones thing. Hair loss is supposed to be part of it. But i found that if I am diligent with taking vitamins, the hair loss is minimal. Hopefully it will stay that way. I am not a medical professional but recommend consulting one before making any changes, etc. but don't overlook the obvious - a daily vitamin!

The Captain's Daughter said...

Great post, Lyn! I went through this too and agree with everything you offer as guidance!

Barbara said...

Thanks for answering my questions Lyn. I would love to read more about Barlean's products and what you think of them before I buy any of them. You haven't steered me wrong yet with your suggestions..lol.

Tammy said...

I ordered the super biotin...thanks for the link and the info. :)

thegardenweigh said...

Thanks for posting this. I will say that back a decade ago, when I lost 62 pounds in a year, I did not notice any hair loss. But of course I am older now at 53 and in the menopause stage of life, so I suppose it could happen and it's best to know in advance. Thanks for the biotin tip!

I didn't have any issues in the early 1990 when I lost 35 pounds in a year. And that time, I *was* starving myself. So it also might be a genetic thing and not everyone will be prone to it?

On the plus side, I'm not doing anything extreme for cutting calories, I do get adequate fat in my diet, around 30%, I do take fish oil (Carlson's Finest - lemon flavor) and I take a daily vitamin and eat pretty healthy. Mostly what I worry about is the steadily increasing grey hairs, sigh!

My hair is shoulder length, but sometimes I get tempted to go short again.

Anonymous said...

Thank you SO MUCH for "Losing Weight & Hair Loss" I have been going through that and when I spoke to my Dr. about it he said nothing. I will try your solution. I am now hopeful.
N~

Anonymous said...

there was a phase in my life when I was losing so much hair in the shower. I had no idea what was going on. Eventually it stopped. Looking back I wonder what was going on in my life to cause it. Maybe just puberty but it was so crazy seeming at the time.

Shauna said...

This information helps. I've recently lost 40 pounds and have noticed some hair loss starting to happen. This certainly clears things up for me!

Kristine said...

Hey Lynn
I feel your pain. I had my baby in January and by March I started to notice significant hairloss, like hair in the shower, brush ect.
I didn't think much, maybe I needed more strength, like a protein treatment I thought.
The hairloss became extreme, like 200 hairs a day. I have lost about 1/4 of my hair and it is still falling out. (Although I have a ton of hair and no one can tell) So that is 8 months of hairloss.
I began taking Super biotin, B50, biosil, multi, msm(for longer growth time) and omega-3's. Nothing helped at all. I took the stuff religiously and there was no difference at all. I finally gave up and decided what will be will be. I know my body suffered tremendously from having a boy, I am allergic to everything now!!
I just hope it finally stops and the weight loss does not contribute to it.

w0rld4vamps said...

This is great to know. I've been losing my hair for years now.. but it's not due to weight loss (unfortunately) it's due to a hormonal imbalance. I'll have to email my doctor about Biotin.

Thanks for sharing!

-w0rld

Ice Queen said...

I am shedding a lot. I knew it would happen and I was expecting it. I know that in time, my bod will adjust and the shedding will taper off and my hair will grow back. But I am not liking the thinning around my hairline and my overall loss of thickness. One bit. But I am not going to stop and gain my weight back just to get more hair.

D said...

Lyn,
Thanks so much for this post. I am also dealing with this issue and I wasn't getting any answers. It is great to know I am not the only one. Thanks!

Moni said...

I'm glad I found your blog and, as a result, this post. I've lost about 30 pounds since March of this year, and I guess my body has found this to be extreme, as I've begun to lose a lot of hair myself. I didn't notice at first, but now I'm really beginning to when I use the blowdrier and I can actually see large portions of my scalp as my hair is blow aside (which before wasn't quite as obvious as it is now). Thankfully I'll be seeing my doctor next week for other reasons, so I can discuss this with her as well and bring up a few of the topics you've mentioned. I'm fairly sure it has to do with "extreme diets", as I just sort of went nuts and decided to really, REALLY cut back on what I was eating (to an unhealthy degree) and now it's just catching up with me.

But anyway! Thank you for this. :)

Emily said...

Thank you so much form this - I have been worried about additional hair loss due to diet and now I know I am not alone!! I am so happy with the weight loss and everything else is great, so I don't want to stop, but I do want my hair! I will try the biotin and keep working to make sure my protein intake stays up. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this. I started out at 276 and have lost 80 so far. My hair is half as thick as it was when I started 9 months ago. I've started taking Biotin but will also look into Super Biotin. Congratulations on getting healthy. With my starting weight being so close you your original weight, you truly are an inspiration for those next 20 pounds!

Lisa Moore said...

Thank you so much for posting this, I swear I was going crazy trying to figure out what was happening to me. The doctors and dermatologists keep testing me for things and we get nowhere. I have lost 60 lbs in 6 months and my goal is to lose 130 total. I'm not even half way there yet and I certainly don't want to stop, .......but my hair! I am losing so much. More and more everyday. I take all kinds of vitamins and I think there is some hair growth too, because I see some baby hairs but my hair is getting thinner. I wonder if I keep going with my weight loss and hair loss, if maybe it will continue to grow back at the same time I'm losing it?........

Aman said...

Hey everyone, I am a 27 year old female, I have been overweight/obese for most of my life, and am working super hard to lose weight.

I started at 231, and have lost 50 pounds in 6 months.

I had thin hair before, but in the past couple months have really noticed that I am losing a more and more hair and am unfortunately developing some bald spots.

Kinda glad to see that I'm not the only one in this boat, thanks for all your comments and information. I've started taking Biotin supplements, in addition to multivitamin, B-complex and iron pills.

I hope it helps.. I love losing the weight, but this hair loss is very distressing!!

Amee said...

Thank you for writing. I lost 22 pounds but that was enough for my hair to shed massively three months later. My doctor checked my thyroid (normal) but did not mention or know that the weight loss might be responsible. I am very relieved to know the possible cause and that it will likely grow back. I lost a third to a half of my hair volume in a few weeks and it was the most frightening, anxiety-producing experience. I ate protein and fat when I dieted, just cut my portions of a normal diet. For me the calorie restriction must have been hard on my body although I still ate 1500 calories a day.

Anonymous said...

Finding this blog post has given me so much hope! I have lost 40 pounds in four months by eating very clean & working out. This is the healthiest I've ever been & the best I've ever felt! No sugar, no starchy carbs. Tons of fruit, veggies, lean proteins & healthy fats. And then about a month ago, my hair started shedding like crazy. This has NEVER happened to me before. I have been sick to my stomach & crying every day for the past month. My bloodwork is normal & there is no obvious cause for the hair loss. Seeing that this happens to so many other women... and that it probably is the weight loss, makes me feel so much better. I still have to lose 100 more pounds & I'm just hoping & hoping that the hair loss tapers off soon, it's been so scary.

Caitlin Connellan said...

I'm so glad I came across this, here I was in the throngs of extreme anxiety thinking I was about to go bald within days at the rate of shedding I'm experiencing at the moment.
I only lost about 15lbs within a few months, but that itself was clearly enough to cause this stress. Now I feel my ponytail is about half as thick as it used to be, luckily I had thick hair to begin with but I still feel extreme patchy spots all through my scalp.
Blood tests showed anemia which I was tested for during the time of losing the weight and showed up fine, but it seems afterwards the onset of low iron combined with possibly too low protein intake and B vitamin deficiency made it worse.
I wish this aspect of weight loss would be more widely discussed, as then I wouldn't have had the extreme anxiety when it started to become so noticeable- as a 20 year old girl I could not deal with losing that much hair.
Now I'm only hoping that soon the rate of shedding goes down, I will increase my intake of meat since I was semi-vegetarian, and try these Biotin supplements.
Thank you so much for starting this conversation and making me feel slightly better about what I will face in the future, really do appreciate it

hjj said...

Thank you! 5 years ago, I went on a very calorie restricted diet (700 a day) high in protein and shed 50 pounds in 4 months. By the 6 month mark, my hair started coming out - big time! I lost 50%of my hair, freaked out, and threw the diet out the window! I figured I'd rather be fat than bald. About 6 months ago, I decided I was tired of the extra weight but knew I'd have to take the weight loss slower than before and take vitamins so as to avoid the hair loss. I lost 35 pounds this time and my hair started to thin again! This time, very noticably (at least to me) on the top of my head. Once again I'm freaking out and have been for the past month! I've been taking 9,000 mg of Biotin a day and I think the thinning might be slowing. Needless to say, I hope at least some of it grows back and now I know I can't afford to cut calories like that again in my lifetime! I've often wondered how high profile folks (movie stars, models, and such) don't lose their hair - you hear stories of their crazy dieting all the time. Anyhow, glad I'm not alone but it stinks for all of us!

Aparna Nair said...

M 17yrs old and i lost almost half of my weight,and sooner i started noticing my hair loss which was really depressing and at the moment m taking some vitamin supplements and stuffs..losing hair is losing life but still i dnt want gain weight though i my hair is thinning and developed patches...itz gud to noe dat der ppl who face this ugly truth weight loss!!!...and m waiting get my hairs back :'(

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