Can celiac disease cause hair loss?

In this article, we discuss hair loss associated with celiac disease, and the steps you can take to prevent it.

What is celiac disease?

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that affects around 1 in 133 Americans (about 1% of the population).

The condition develops over time because of a sensitivity to gluten, a protein found in certain cereal grains including wheat, rye, and barley, and commonly used in food products including bread, cereal, and pasta.

When a person with celiac disease eats gluten, this causes the body’s immune system to attack its own tissue, damaging the gut lining and preventing the body from adequately absorbing nutrients from food.

Symptoms of celiac disease can range from mild to severe depending on the person, and can include flatulence and bloating, constipation or hard stools, diarrhea or loose stools, indigestion, nausea and stomach cramps.

Learn more about celiac disease

Although not as well-known as other celiac disease symptoms (bloating, flatulence etc.), there is a known link between celiac disease and those who experience hair loss.

Hair loss is the term used to describe the excess shedding of hair, usually from the scalp.

On average, every person loses 50 to 100 hairs from their head each day. However, a person experiencing hair loss can lose much more than this.

There are many different types of hair loss caused by a variety of factors, including certain medications, changes to the diet, and even stress.In people with celiac disease, hair loss is commonly caused by vitamin deficiencies and malnutrition.

This is because when you have celiac disease, eating gluten causes damage to the intestinal wall, which impacts the body’s ability to absorb vital nutrients over time.

When the body cannot absorb enough nutrients, this can lead to malnutrition, which in turn can cause problems with the structure of the hair shaft as well as hair growth.

Sudden weight loss and reduced protein intake can also cause a type of hair loss called telogen effluvium, while vitamin B3 (also called niacin) deficiency can lead to diffuse alopecia, a type of alopecia areata, a disease that attacks the hair follicles.

There are also genetic links between many autoimmune conditions, meaning that if you have an autoimmune disease (e.g. celiac disease), you are more likely to develop other autoimmune conditions.

Two of the autoimmune diseases that are linked to celiac disease and hair loss are underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), where your thyroid gland does not produce enough hormones, and alopecia areata.

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What causes hair loss?

The average person loses 50 to 100 hairs from their head each day. This is a normal part of the cycle of hair growth, which consists of four phases: the anagen phase, catagen phase, telogen phase and exogen phase.

The anagen phase, which can last for many years, is where the hair is actively growing. The anagen phase can last for many years.In the catagen phase, which usually lasts about 10 days, the hair stops growing and detaches from the follicle.

After this stage, the follicle enters a rest period for two-to-three months (telogen phase) before the hair falls out (exogen phase), and the cycle is repeated.

However, some people experiencing hair loss can lose much more than 50 to 100 hairs each day, for a variety of reasons.Known causes for hair loss include:

Pattern baldness

Androgenetic alopecia, also known as pattern baldness, is a genetic disorder and the most common cause of hair loss worldwide.

The condition can affect both men and women, and usually runs in families. It is believed to be caused by an excessive response to androgen, or ‘male sex hormones’, and can occur any time after puberty.

Pattern baldness describes a gradual loss of hair – in men, this may be first noticed as a receding hairline or loss of hair on the crown, whereas women may notice a slightly wider central parting to begin with.

Telogen effluvium

Telogen effluvium is a temporary loss of hair that can be caused by a variety of factors, including:

  • Changes to the diet
  • Hormonal changes (e.g. childbirth or menopause)
  • Weight loss
  • Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
  • Certain medications
  • Surgery
  • Physical or psychological stress/illness
  • Injury

People with telogen effluvium can lose up to 300 hairs a day. This is because more hairs enter the telogen (two-to-three month resting) phase.

Telogen effluvium can last for months or years before the hair recovers. However, in rare cases, not all the hair will grow back. You can learn more about telogen effluvium by visiting https://www.aad.org/public.

Alopecia areata

Alopecia areata, also known as spot baldness, is an autoimmune condition where the body’s immune system attacks the hair follicles, causing hair loss to varying degrees.

The condition usually causes hair to fall out quickly, in small, round patches. It can affect hair growth on any part of the body, but it mostly affects the scalp or beard.

The location and severity of alopecia areata varies greatly. On one end of the scale, an individual may only have one small patch of hair loss or baldness and, on the other, a person may experience total hair loss.

Some people with alopecia areata may go into remission: a period where the severity of disease is diminished. However, others may experience permanent hair loss.

There are a variety of treatments available for people with alopecia areata, although the efficacy of these treatments varies between treatment, delivery method (injection, cream, pill etc.) and person.

You can learn more about alopecia areata at https://www.naaf.org/.

Celiac disease

Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition that develops over time because of a sensitivity to gluten and is known to cause hair loss in some people.

Several minerals and vitamins, such as vitamins A, B and C, zinc, iron, and the macronutrient protein, are important for healthy hair growth in a normal hair cycle.

When a person with celiac disease eats gluten, this causes the body’s immune system to attack its own tissue, damaging the gut lining and preventing the body from adequately absorbing nutrients from food.

Sometimes referred to as a ‘silent symptom’ of celiac disease, hair loss or thinning hair may be noticeable in some people, even when they have mild or no gastrointestinal symptoms. In the absence of other causes of hair loss such as stress, illness or other autoimmune conditions, hair loss from celiac disease can usually be attributed to nutrient malabsorption or malnutrition.

This is because celiac disease damages the intestinal wall over time, impacting the body’s ability to absorb the nutrients it needs to function correctly. However, people with celiac disease who are experiencing hair loss may see some or complete improvement of hair growth when gluten is removed from the diet.

Removing gluten from the diet can help prevent further damage to the gut, allowing the gut to heal itself over time, and ensuring the body can adequately absorb the nutrients needed for successful hair growth.

How can I stop hair loss from celiac disease?

Since hair loss from celiac disease is most likely caused by nutrition deficiencies, following a strict gluten-free diet should restore most if not all the hair lost.

However, this change does not happen overnight. Damage to the intestine caused by gluten consumption takes some time to heal, so it is important to completely eradicate gluten from your diet if you have celiac disease, allowing your gut to heal.

Additionally, since hair grows in cycles, you may not see new hairs growing for several months. It is important for your health (and your hair) that you continue to adhere to a strict gluten-free diet if you have celiac disease.

While this will not prevent male or female pattern baldness (androgenetic alopecia), which is a genetic condition, it should help prevent telogen effluvium hair loss and, most importantly, help lessen any other symptoms associated with celiac disease (bloating, flatulence, nausea).

Can gluten cause hair loss?

Gluten itself does not cause hair loss in people who do not have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.

However, if you have celiac disease and eat gluten, you may experience hair loss, brittle hair, or thinning hair.

When a person with celiac disease eats gluten, this triggers an autoimmune response which causes the body to attack its own tissue, damaging the gut lining and preventing the body from adequately absorbing nutrients from food.

When the gut is damaged, it struggles to absorb the nutrients that we need for our bodies to function correctly (including for hair to grow). This means that people with celiac disease may experience thinning or brittle hair that is prone to breaking, or even excess hair shedding.

The hair loss is usually diffuse, meaning that it occurs throughout the scalp rather than in patches. People who have celiac disease and are following a completely gluten-free diet should see an improvement in hair growth.

How can I get tested for celiac disease?

If you are experiencing symptoms that could indicate celiac disease (e.g. bloating, flatulence, stomach pains etc.) you should speak to your physician, who will be able to provide guidance on next steps for testing and diagnosis.

Diagnostic testing for celiac disease usually includes blood testing for antibodies and, depending on the results of the blood test, a gut biopsy to assess any damage to the gut lining. However, before undergoing more invasive testing, an at-home genetic test for celiac disease can also be a helpful option for determining whether you are at risk of having or developing celiac disease in the future.

The results of this test can also be shared with medical professionals, which can be useful when trying to secure a diagnosis more quickly.

For $179, an AlphaBiolabs Genetic Celiac Disease Test uses Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) typing to confirm or rule out the potential of developing celiac disease by analyzing six DNA markers for the HLA-DQ2 and HLA-DQ8 genes.

If the test results show that an individual has one or both genes (HLA-DQ2 and/or HLA-DQ8), this indicates that they could be at risk of developing celiac disease in the future. The test results will show either a negative result or that the person is at very low, low, moderate, or high risk of developing celiac disease, depending on which genes they have.

However, it is important to remember that having these genes does not guarantee that a person will develop celiac disease or indicate that they are currently suffering from it.

If the test results show that neither of these genes are present, this means that the individual is unlikely to develop celiac disease in the future.

Genetic Celiac Disease Testing

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