Hair Loss Due to Malnutrition

By A.G. Watson

Hair loss affects both men and women and is not restricted to aging individuals. One cause of hair loss is malnutrition. Hair loss indicates a nutritional deficit, and both hair loss and malnutrition are often symptoms of an underlying serious mental or physical health concern.

The Hair-Growth Cycle

The normal, healthy hair-growth cycle is two to six years, and hair grows consistently during this phase, followed by a rest phase and, finally, a shedding phase, when old hair is replaced by new hair. According to FamilyDoctor.org, approximately 90 percent of hair on the scalp is growing at any one time. On its Web page, the Mayo Clinic indicates that the average healthy person sheds 50 to 100 hairs per day. The growth process can be easily interrupted by external and internal factors, from cosmetic procedures to illness and medication. Malnutrition takes many forms and often leads to excessive hair loss, which can be reversed, in many cases, if appropriate measures are taken to diagnose and address the underlying malnourishment.

Symptoms

Hair loss is generally a straightforward problem. However, different patterns of hair loss can mean different things. Receding hairlines in men and women are related to genetics and aging, and sudden widespread thinning happens after chemotherapy. More subtle thinning that seems to be an acceleration of the normal hair-shedding process is the type associated with malnutrition.

Causes

There are countless causes of malnutrition. Some common ones associated with hair loss are eating disorders (undereating or overeating), poor diet (lack of protein, crash diets or drastic weight loss), anemia (iron, zinc, etc.), too much vitamin A, thyroid diseases, diabetes, lupus and a variety of medical treatments, including chemotherapy and radiation.

Why does it result in hair loss?

The hair-growth process is tied to hormone levels and certain nutrients. Malnutrition can throw multiple body systems into states of chemical imbalance. Too little protein (an essential building block of hair) or too much vitamin A, even too much stress, can upset the balance that allows the hair-growth cycle to proceed normally.

Treatment options

If the cause of malnutrition is unknown or not clinically obvious, blood tests should be done to determine the nutrients that are lacking. A dermatologist can also take a medical history and perform tests and examinations to rule out other causes of hair loss.

Once causes are determined, supplements or dietary modification can be undertaken to remedy the specific type of malnourishment and balance out nutrient levels. In cases of malnutrition-induced hair loss, this should reverse the effects. Additionally, prenatal or other high-dose vitamins can be prescribed to help boost the body’s supply of the deficient nutrient(s).

If malnutrition and subsequent hair loss are due to an eating disorder, behavior modification and therapy should be implemented to insure the long-term health of the individual.

Prognosis

Many of the commonly listed causes for hair loss related to malnutrition are either reversible or manageable. While not all hair loss can be reversed, hair loss due to malnutrition generally ceases when the deficiency is corrected. Hair loss can also be a symptom of an underlying disease, such as diabetes and lupus. Underlying diseases cause stress to the body and may cause malnutrition, which in turn causes hair loss. But these may only be the early signals of a more severe illness, so it is important to pay attention to these symptoms.

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