There is a connection between hair loss and celiac disease, but what exactly causes it?
As celiac disease (CD) continues to be a hot topic, more people are becoming to understand its many symptoms. Everyone knows that CD can cause gastrointestinal problems, headaches, skin issues, and weight loss. But, with all the ‘common’ and well-known symptoms, there is also a few not-so-well effects of the disease, including hair loss.
Hair loss can be devastating for anyone, but for someone who is already dealing with a lifetime of special diets, it can be particularly hard to deal with. For many of us, our hair —how it’s styled, the color, the texture and the overall look, is part of what defines us to the world.
Many use their hair as a way to express themselves, and when that is taken away, so is part of their identity. Thankfully though, hair loss caused by a celiac disease or other factors can often times be nipped in the bud.
Before getting into how to reverse hair loss caused by celiac disease, it’s important to understand just why it happens. When you think about it, hair loss for those with CD makes perfect sense. Celiac disease is considered to be an autoimmune disorder and more often than not, hair loss is also caused by some form of autoimmunity. By far, the most common autoimmune disorder that might cause hair loss is alopecia areata.
Another reason why someone might suffer from a milder form of hair loss is tied to nutritional deficiencies, which is when the body is unable to absorb the good nutrients out of the food that is consumed. People with celiac disease often find themselves malnourished, which is because the disease is making it so that the body is not getting what it needs, vitamins. Finally, another cause of hair loss for someone with celiac disease is the development of Hashimoto thyroiditis, a condition that causes the immune system to attack the thyroid.
What is alopecia areata and how does it relate to celiac disease?
Alopecia areata is when the immune system decide to wage war on the body’s hair follicles, causing the hair to fall out. Typically, people with alopecia will suddenly notice small round bald patches on their head. Over time, depending on the severity of the alopecia, patients can lose all of their hair from their head and body. The disorder typically begins at some point in childhood and like celiac disease, there is no cure. This means that those with alopecia have to learn to live with it and how to manage it.
The first-ever study on the relationship between alopecia and celiac disease was released in 1995. This was after doctors in Italy had noticed that a number of their patients with alopecia were also suffering from celiac disease. At first, the connection wasn’t clear, but after a few patients reported that their hair began growing back after adopting a gluten-free diet, it became obvious that there was a connection between alopecia and celiac disease.
Doctors are trying to unearth exactly what the connection is and how the disease work together—or maybe against each other. However, the study and patient reports have to lead to many doctors recommending that their patients be tested for celiac disease if they begin to lose their hair due to alopecia.
What about nutritional deficiencies?
The second most common form of hair loss, and likely the main reason why those with celiac disease (aside from the whole autoimmunity thing) lose their hair, is nutritional deficiencies and extreme weight loss. Before someone is diagnosed with celiac disease, they could potentially spend years suffering from cramps, diarrhea, unexplained weight loss and just feel constant fatigue. Over time, key nutrients will no longer be absorbed and the patient will find themselves severely malnourished.
Typically, when nutritional deficiencies are the root cause of hair loss, the patient will not wake up one morning with a bald spot. Instead, they may notice that their hair begins changing, and not for the better. Hair may begin to appear brittle and very dry; texture changes will appear and volume will disappear. Dandruff and an itchy scalp may also become part of the equation. They may notice that every time they shampoo their hair or run a brush through it, more and more strands come out. No amount of beauty products will help. Eventually, hair will become extremely thin and hair loss will become evident over time.
There are a number of vitamins and mineral that plays a role in keeping hair healthy:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Complex B
- Vitamin B7 - also called Biotin
Deficiencies in one, some, or all of these will impact the body in a number of ways including hair loss, slow or poor hair growth and the overall health of someone's hair.
Someone who is suffering from hair loss from nutrition deficiencies should consider supplementing their diet with vitamins and minerals. Talk to a doctor to figure out what is needed and be sure to only take supplements that are gluten-free. Thankfully, this kind of hair loss is easily treated and can quickly be turned around.
Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis and Celiac Disease
Patients who find themselves suffering from wide-ranging symptoms like weight gain, weak or hoarse voice, joint pain, puffy eyes, and fatigue might be dealing with Hashimoto's thyroiditis, another autoimmune disorder that causes the body to attack the thyroid and subsequently the hormones that are needed to live a healthy life.
Again, although rarer than the cases of alopecia and celiac disease, there seems to be some kind of connection between Hashimoto and CD. The combination of these two disorders could lead to hair loss and dry skin.
Your Hair Is A Good Way to Monitor Your Health
Anyone who starts to notice significant hair loss or a sudden change in the texture of their locks needs to talk to their doctor. Hair, just like skin and nails, can sometimes be considered a window into someone’s health. Meaning that if something is amiss with those parts of the body, there is likely a reason. Whether the hair loss is caused by stress, hormone imbalance or other conditions, it’s something that needs to be addressed.
Someone with celiac disease who is suffering from hair loss also needs to reach out to their medical team. There are a number of factors that could be causing the hair loss, such as any of the three mentions above, or, it could simply be that they have been exposed to gluten.