Is There a Connection Between Hair Loss and Coeliac Disease?
When you suffer from a gluten intolerance or full-blown coeliac disease there are several symptoms you can suffer from. There is a strong connection between hair loss and coeliac disease
Alopecia areata starts with hair thinning at the crown of the head to form a bald, round patch. This quickly causes total baldness if left untreated, and may even progress to alopecia universalis which is the loss of all hair on the body.
Alopecia areata usually begins early in life. Unlike other age-related causes of hair loss, it is sometimes found in children and teenagers.
What the research says
One of the earliest links between alopecia areata and celiac disease was found in 1995 by a group of Italian doctors. They found that the hair loss experienced by a 14-year old patient was completely reversed when he was moved to a gluten-free diet.
Since then a lot of research has been carried out into the connection between gluten intolerance and alopecia. There is some great in-depth information on this page.
Subsequently, it became common to test patients suffering from alopecia areata for antibodies which could indicate the presence of celiac disease. Usually, if the antibodies are present and the patient changes their diet things improve. However, it is important to realize that this is not a quick fix. With nutritional hair loss, recovery takes several months and full recovery of hair can take close on two years.
In addition, the fact that all of the new hair reappears around the same time means that the hair follows the same life cycle. That means it all dies and falls out at more or less the same time. This translates into periodic thinning of the hair every few years. The hair comes back all together provided you continue with a gluten free diet.
How celiac disease leads to hair loss
Read on to find out how celiac disease leads to baldness:
The autoimmune reaction triggered by celiac disease does not stop at the villi. The cells of the body’s immune system can go on a rampage and destroy other cells. This is why celiac disease often presents with other autoimmune diseases like arthritis. The body’s resources are zapped by having to deal with this stress, leaving fee resources and nutrients to send to your hair follicles. As each hair dies as part of its natural lifecycle it is not replaced as normal. Over time, bald patches appear.
In addition, the autoimmune theory of alopecia establishes that hair loss can be a direct result of the body defensively turning against itself. In this case, the immune system kills off the hair follicle cells, therefore, causing hair loss.
Nutritional deficiencies caused by coeliac disease
Celiac disease can also lead to hair loss by the nutritional deficiencies it causes. Hair growth depends on a number of essential vitamins and minerals which are suddenly poorly absorbed when celiac disease sets in.
Celiac disease affects the absorption of minerals such as calcium and iron as well as fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, D, E and K. The B vitamins such as folic acid and Vitamin B12 are also poorly absorbed.
Gluten intolerance causes malabsorption of these micronutrients in two ways:
By killing off the villi responsible for transporting nutrients from the gut to the blood stream
By encouraging bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine
Iron deficiency leads to hair loss because the production of DHT (dihydrotestosterone) is increased in the absence of iron.
The mitochondria in hair cells turn to testosterone for their energy needs when there is no iron left to catalyze the production of the default energy molecule, ATP (adenosine triphosphate). This leads to the increased production of DHT which then kills off hair follicle cells.
Vitamin deficiency and hair loss are also intertwined.
Folic acid is needed for the proper division and growth of hair follicle cells. Vitamin D deficiency slows down the hair growth cycle. Vitamin A deficiency leads to dry scalp and the clogging of hair pores.Treating Hair Loss Caused by Celiac Disease
Treating baldness caused by gluten intolerance
The only treatment for celiac disease is abstinence from foods containing gluten. You can find a comprehensive list of foods that contain gluten, by clicking the link.
While the villi heal, the absorption of vitamins and minerals will improve and the autoimmune reaction destroying cells all over the body will die off.
Therefore, hair regrowth can be encouraged by taking vitamin and mineral supplements to make up for nutritional deficiencies. This will help get essential nutrients to hair follicle cells quickly and speed up the reversal of hair loss.
Gluten and alopecia
Unfortunately, not eating gluten will not stop natural baldness. Male pattern baldness will still happen, and a woman’s hair will still thin as they get older. If you are losing your hair in patches like in the photo above there is a chance that your hair loss is being caused by imbalances in your body. However, if you are losing your hair in the classic baldness pattern changing your diet is not likely to help. Although it could be worth a try especially if you would like to lose weight too.
The connection between hair loss and coeliac disease is still being researched. If you have experienced alopecia as part of your problems with gluten we would like to hear from you below. We are particularly interested in how you treated it and how long it took to reverse your hair loss.
If you want to find out even more about the connection between gluten and hair loss, and the other ways this problem can affect you visit these other pages on this site –
Intolerance to gluten fully explained – what it is, how to live with it, how it can be treated.
Gluten free eating – quick overview of what you can eat and the foods that you need to avoid