We’re all aware that ageing can cause hair loss—so too medical treatments such as chemotherapy and bariatric surgery. But there are less well known reasons that contribute to hair thinning and balding, including eating disorders.

Dr Jennifer Martinick says, “hair loss is not uncommon after extreme dieting and rapid weight loss due to eating disorders. Protein malnutrition can lead to hair loss no matter the age or gender of the sufferer.”

The degree of hair loss varies from thinning hair and loss of coverage to full-on patches of baldness. So how and why do eating disorders affect our hair? What signs and symptoms should we be looking out for in ourselves and others who may be affected? And crucially, what can be done to mitigate the impact these eating disorders have on our health and our hair?

Eating disorders and hair loss

Eating disorders are defined as conditions in which someone limits their food intake or cannot digest it in a normal way. Bulimia, for example, will see a sufferer bingeing on food from time to time and then expelling the food from their bodies, usually by making themselves vomit, taking excessive exercise or consuming laxatives. The symptoms caused by eating disorders such as bulimia can be both physical and psychological. Common physical problems include poor circulation, dehydration, and high acidity levels in the stomach.

Each of these symptoms on its own can be enough to cause hair loss. But when you add the psychological symptoms that accompany eating disorders such as anxiety and stress to the mix, unfortunately, you create the ideal conditions for hair loss.

Why a connection between eating disorders and hair loss?

Hair isn’t something you’d immediately associate with the process. It’s a fair question. After all, eating and digestion involve the mouth, stomach and other vital organs, right? To find the answer, we need first to take a closer look at the constitution of hair follicles. Each is formed of keratin, a protein present in the skin and our fingers and toenails.

Eating disorders starve our bodies of crucial vitamins and proteins. When this happens, our body’s natural defences kick in, prioritising the safety of our vital organs to keep us alive. This means ensuring what nutrients and proteins our bodies are getting are used to help keep things like our hearts and lungs functioning properly. In this situation, the importance of feeding vitamins and proteins to our hair follicles is relegated pretty low down the pecking order.

Having a good head of hair may be vital to our appearance and our self-confidence, but it’s not crucial to keeping us alive. So, the growth of hair from the root and shaft is disrupted, leading to hair loss. This change in the body will become noticeable through thinning hair or areas of balding when our bodies cannot replenish our hair at the same rate as we are losing it – and that usually happens at a rate of between 50 and 100 follicles per day.

But what about the other eating disorder symptoms we mentioned? What’s their link to hair loss and the length of time it takes for hair growth to return to normal? Well, dehydration is known to lead to dry and brittle hair, which is more prone to damage and falling out. High acid levels in our bodies do not help with hair growth, and it’s the same with bad blood circulation – it limits the amount of nutrients our hair gets.

Symptoms to look out for

If you are concerned that you or a friend or loved one may have an eating disorder, the symptoms shouldn’t be ignored, as the condition can lead to serious health problems that can be long-term. These include heart, liver, kidney and stomach complications.

Be sure to look out for noticeable weight changes in someone you’re concerned about. So too changes in the way they act. Maybe they are more tired or moody than usual? Brittle, dry and thinning hair is one of the symptoms of an eating disorder that’s more difficult for someone to hide. Still, others can easily be overlooked or mistaken for something less serious. These symptoms include:

  • Dizzy spells
  • Issues with blood pressure
  • Extreme sensitivity to cold
  • Bad breath and severe tooth decay
  • Persistent movement of fingers or toes
  • Brittle and damaged finger and toenails
  • Episodes of an irregular heartbeat
  • Fatigue and general loss of energy
  • Inability to fully concentrate
  • Pale, dry and flaky skin
  • Delays to the normal menstrual cycle, or loss of it altogether in older women

Help Hair Eating-Disorders-and-Hair-Loss

What can be done to reverse hair loss caused by eating disorders?

Almost everyone with an eating disorder, primarily anorexia nervosa, will be affected by hair loss at some point. The good news is some steps can be taken to improve the situation, but it’s important to get a proper diagnosis of what’s causing the hair loss. If it’s proven to be bulimia or another eating disorder, then the hair loss associated with it will be temporary. However, getting back to a full head of hair may take some time to achieve – between 6 to 12 months in most cases.

Of course, getting back to a nutritious diet is a crucial step to regaining healthy hair. Clinically validated supplements like hair growth promoting Help Hair Shake can also help. Consulting a doctor and getting the right treatment will be critical to an eating disorder sufferer’s recovery. Any course of treatment will need to deal with both the physical and mental symptoms associated with eating disorders. It’s essential to treat the whole body, and from this, over time, hair growth should return to normal.

For more information about eating disorders, including symptoms and treatments for bulimia, check out the Centre for Clinical Interventions (CCI) Eating Disorders Program. For help with all kinds of hair loss and to discover the proper treatment for you, please call 1800 689 939 or email info@helphair.com.au.