Why am I Losing Hair after WLS?November 21, 2022
I know it seems hard to believe this right now, but it’s totally normal to lose 5-15% of your hair after bariatric surgery and the rapid weight loss that occurs as part of it. But there is good news: hair loss is very common and your hair should grow back. Losing hair after WLS is not a permanent condition. It may last about six months and then start to grow again. It’s just no fun to experience this loss along with so many other changes to your body.
Good news: hair loss is very common after bariatric surgery and your hair should grow back.
Why am I Losing Hair after WLS?
Hair loss happens for a number of different reasons that include; rapid weight loss, stress, thyroid issues, extreme diet changes, too little protein, too few calories, hormonal imbalance and iron or zinc deficiency. Even medications like a beta-blocker, some antidepressants and blood thinners, or even too much vitamin A, can cause hair loss. If you take any of these medications, speak with your pharmacist about side effects or check online at sites such as drugs.com.
Think about your situation. You’ve had surgery, rapid weight loss, cut your calories very low, possibly too little protein and/or maybe an underactive thyroid. Sprinkle in low levels of vitamins and minerals, including iron, zinc, biotin or folate and you have a perfect storm for hair to fall out.
There are three stages in hair follicles known as anagen or growth phase, catagen or the transition or degradation phase, and telogen or dormant, hair loss phase. Bariatric surgery hair loss is tied to the telogen or dormant hair loss phase. The hair follicles seem to be pushed, maybe forced, into this dormant phase which typically lasts 3-6 months and then the hair falls out. Are you within this window now?
Hair Loss is More Common With Gastric Bypass and Gastric Sleeve
Specific to weight loss surgery, hair loss is more common with gastric bypass and gastric sleeve because there can be enhanced rapid weight loss and increased chance of vitamin / mineral deficiencies. The physiological stress of surgery and rapid weight loss can cause the body to focus the use of vitamins and minerals on the heart, brain and other functions instead of hair growth. So the growth phase ends and the telogen or dormant phase starts. The dormant or telogen phase kicks in, causing hair loss to occur. As the body adjusts to the many changes, hair loss slows and then stops. Don’t miss this. There is one very important caveat. Your hair should grow back normally if there are no vitamin and mineral deficiencies and you are consuming adequate protein of 60-80 grams or more per day depending on your specific needs.
3 Tips to Encourage Hair Growth
Stay up-to-date on lab work and make sure there are no underlying health issues such as hypothyroid that could affect hair growth and loss. Lab work can check for vitamin and mineral deficiencies, such as iron or zinc. A zinc deficiency can coincide with hypothyroidism, leading to hair loss.
Try not to skip your supplements. Take your bariatric-specific vitamin and mineral supplements daily or as your product recommends. It should contain iron, zinc, biotin, copper, and other nutrients tied to healthy hair. Biotin is highly promoted as the answer to hair loss and is included in many supplements touted to grow hair and nails. Yes, hair loss is a symptom of a biotin deficiency but biotin supplementation won’t make any difference in your hair if you're not deficient. On the flip side, it’s important to know that certain supplements, including DHEA, selenium, and St. John's Wort, may cause hair loss.
TIP: If you do not have a deficiency, taking more of these bariatric supplements will not make your hair grow back any faster and excessive levels of vitamin A and zinc can be potentially harmful.
In addition to your recommended supplements, food selections can make a difference in the health of your hair. Sweet potatoes, spinach and tomatoes all contain vitamin A plus spinach is also a source of iron and vitamin C. Oysters contain zinc while eggs are a source of biotin. Beef contains highly absorbable heme iron. Lentils and black beans contain another form of iron which is absorbed better when eaten with a vitamin C rich food like red peppers or tomatoes. These are just a few of the foods that are good for hair health.
Protein first. Be sure to consume 60-90 grams of high quality protein from animal, soy, or dairy-based sources every single day. Whey, casein, soy or egg-based protein powder is an excellent way to help hit your daily protein target when eating enough protein through food is just not happening. All are complete proteins with a high PDCAA score. The highest score is 100 which all of these have. PDCAA means Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid score, which measures quality of protein. A complete protein contains all nine essential amino acids. It isn’t missing, or low in any one of the nine. Essential amino acid means that it cannot be made by your body and must be taken in through food.
I would be remiss not to mention the current darling…collagen powder. Yes, it’s super popular right now but, and don’t miss this, it does not contain the essential amino acid tryptophan and is low in both the amino acids cysteine and methionine, making it an incomplete protein source with a lower PDCAA score. Bottom line, not a great choice after bariatric surgery regardless of the internet hype. Lack of quality protein causes your hair to become thin and fall out, which you don’t need if surgery has already pushed your hair into the dormant stage.
Hair loss isn’t fun with all of the other changes you face in your journey but it will end and sooner than you think. Time has a way of passing by quickly. Focus on you. Take your correct supplements, plan your protein daily, and check in with our health care team for regular lab work, especially if something seems amiss.
ABOUT THE AUTHORRegistered dietitian nutritionist Dr. Susan Mitchell is host of the podcast Bariatric Surgery Success. Selected as one of the Best 35 Dietitian Podcasts in 2021, Bariatric Surgery Success was chosen from thousands of podcasts on the web ranked by traffic, social media followers, domain authority & freshness. Dr. Susan helps you conquer cravings, emotional eating and weight regain after bariatric surgery with a focus on your nutrition and health, journey and success.