One of the most common concerns following weight loss surgery is hair loss. Our hair is a large part of our appearance and body image. Having that image altered in any way is stressful for most of us. But while our hair is important to us for many psychological reasons, it is not vital to our body function.
During certain types of bodily stress, our body will make a choice. That choice is to shift nutritional stores away from our hair and toward vital organs. Reactive hair loss from metabolic and/or hormonal changes (like we see in weight loss) is called telogen effluvium.
Telogen effluvium does not occur from a change in your hair follicles. All hair strands go through the same life cycle— the anagen phase (growth phase) and the telogen phase (dormancy or resting phase). Each hair begins the cycle in the growth phase, then will shift into dormancy for about 100 to 120 days. After the dormancy cycle, the hair will fall out. There are no supplements or medications that you can take that will change this natural hair cycle.
During a typical period, approximately 90% of hairs are in a growth phase, which leaves 10% in dormancy. This means you do not notice a great deal of hair loss because you are growing more hair than you are losing. However, during hair loss after weight loss surgery or other bodily stressors, your body shifts nutrients towards vital functions causing the percentage of hair in the growth phase to decrease and dormancy to increase. Stressors that can cause telogen effluvium include surgery, hormonal disruption, acute weight-loss, certain medications, chronic illness (i.e. cancer), heavy metal toxicity, and high fever.
With weight loss surgery, you have hit a trifecta of these short term ’causes’. The actual surgery, hormonal disruption, and acute weight-loss are likely the cause of the majority of hair loss. Since your body is losing hair in this acute reactive process, adding a particular vitamin or protein supplement will not aide in hair growth or hair retention.
So what is the good news here?! Well, the reactive hair loss after weight loss surgery is not a long term condition. Typically hair loss of this sort will last between three to six months post op. Once all of the hairs that have shifted into dormancy have fallen out, you will start to notice regrowth. This regrowth is an indicator that your body has shifted back into an anagen (growth) phase.
Now, if you notice an increase in hair loss when you are more than 1 year post op from weight loss surgery, this can be a concern for vitamin deficiencies. If you are experiencing this, please contact your surgeon and/or dietitian for care.