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
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 :)