The Truth About Hair Loss After Bariatric Surgery

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Ugh, the dreaded hair loss...

While patients know they run the risk of going through this post-op phase, let’s be real…it’s still not fun. Most patients start to notice hair loss about 3-6 months after surgery and while it’s usually normal and inevitable, there are some things that you can do to slow the length of time you’re dealing with it.

Let's learn a little bit about hair growth...

Human hair follicles have three stages:

  1. anagen: a growth phase
  2. catagen: a transition stage
  3. telogen: a dormant stage

All hairs begin their life in the anagen phase, grow for a period of time (usually 2-6 years) then transition into the telogen phase, which can last about 3-4 months. Following this, the hair will fall out (ugh!). The good news, however, is that at any one time, about 90% of hair is in the anagen phase. Additionally, the average adult head has about 100,000-150,000 hairs and only loses about 100 of them a day.

Now there are many things that can cause hair loss or thinning. These include:

  • Recent surgery
  • Stress
  • Rapid weight loss due to starvation
  • Hormonal changes or disorders
  • Vitamin/mineral deficiency
  • Recent trauma
  • Pregnancy
  • Lack of protein
  • Genetics
  • Aging

Post-op patients deal with a combination of these stressors including surgery itself, rapid weight loss, hormonal changes, low protein or nutrient intake, etc. Therefore, the likelihood of hair loss or thinning is much higher for bariatric patients during the first year of their journey. Any hair loss after one year post-op is usually much more unexpected and has a higher likelihood of being due to deficiencies or hormonal disorders (ex. thyroid disease or PCOS).

So what can you do about it?

First, don’t panic! Remind yourself that this is normal and you can count on the hair returning (unless you have a chronic illness or genetic reason for hair thinning). Secondly, make sure that you are reaching the recommended nutritional targets for bariatric patients. The following suggestions are for anyone going through this hair loss stage (aka- telogen effluvium).  

  1. Make sure you are eating at least 80 grams of protein per day.
  2. Take your vitamin and mineral supplements daily. For an overview of what should be in your vitamins click here
  3. Add in essential fatty acids (i.e. omegas, fish oil): 1000 mg, twice per day or make sure you are including fish, walnuts, chia or flax seeds in your diet. 
  4. Check your labs regularly- usually your surgeon’s office will check your labs 2-3 times during the first year after surgery. 
  5. Avoid hairstyles that pull your hair tightly as this might exacerbate hair loss.

If you are concerned about ongoing hair loss, it's best to reach out to your surgical team for extra guidance. They can assess the situation, draw nutritional labs, review your overall health and diet, and provide any additional suggestions. 

 

 

RESOURCES: 

1. Jacques J. Micronutrition for the Weight Loss Surgery Patient. Edgemont, PA: Matrix Medical Communications; 2006
2. Hughes E. CW. Telogen Effluvium. Website. http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1071566-overview. Updated 12/17/2010. Accessed 8/4/2011