Bariatric Surgery Success

Bariatric Surgery Success

#57 Help! My Hair is Falling Out after Surgery

July 21, 2021

My hair is falling out atrociously since my surgery. What can I do to stop it? Are you experiencing this too and have the same question? I have three things to share about hair loss and nutrition after weight loss surgery. You’ll be glad you listened.

Hi, I’m registered dietitian nutritionist Dr. Susan Mitchell. You’re listening to the Bariatric Surgery Success podcast episode number 57. Most of my career I’ve worked in some type of media, particularly radio where I did morning drive nutrition spots for over 18 years. That’s what lead me to start podcasting and ultimately to you. I created Bariatric Surgery Success to provide you with life-changing information based on science along with simple strategies and tools to help you be successful in your transformation and your entire journey. So happy you’ve connected with me. You’re in the right place and I’m glad you’re listening.

Let me put your mind at rest. The good news is, hair loss is very common, not permanent, and your hair should  grow back. I know it seems terrifying but it’s totally normal to lose 5-15% of your hair from bariatric surgery and the rapid weight loss that follows. Typically it does’t last more than 6 months then it grows back. It’s just a pain in your patootie to go thru.

You might be wondering why this hair loss happens. There are many causes that include stress, thyroid issues, extreme diet changes, too little protein, too few calories, hormonal imbalance and iron or zinc deficiency. Even medication like a beta-blocker or too much vitamin A can cause hair loss.

So think about your situation. You’ve had surgery, cut your calories very low, possible too little protein, maybe an under active thyroid. Sprinkle in low levels of iron, zinc, biotin or folate and you have a recipe for hair loss.

Your science 101 for today: 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. Any guess which phase bariatric hair loss is tied to? You got that right, telogen or the dormant and hair loss phase. It seems the hair follicles are pushed into this dormant phase which typically lasts 3-6 months and then the hair falls out. Are you within this window?

To be even more specific, hair loss is more common with gastric bypass and gastric sleeve because you tend to experience a more 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 vitamins and minerals on the heart, brain and other functions instead of hair growth. This is when you see the growth phase end and the telogen or dormant phase start. The dormant or telogen phase kicks in causing hair loss to occur. As your body adjusts to the changes, the hair loss slows and then stops. The caveat: your hair should grow back normally if there are no vitamin and mineral deficiencies and you are consuming adequate protein.

So, the three important things to know and act on:

1. Follow up with your health care team for blood work to make sure there are no underlying health issues such as hypothyroid that would affect hair growth and loss. At the same time, lab work can check for vitamin and mineral deficiencies such as iron or zinc.

2. 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. Don’t miss this…if you do not have a deficiency, taking more of these supplements will not make your hair grow back any faster and excessive levels of vitamin A and zinc for example can be potentially harmful. If you’re wondering if you take the correct bariatric supplements that your body needs after surgery, listen to podcasts #53 & #54.

Links to the podcast, newsletter, private Facebook group, etc on my resource page.

Besides your recommended supplements, food choices can make a difference in your hair too. Sweet potatoes, spinach and tomatoes all contain vitamin A plus spinach is also a source of iron and vitamin C. Nice trifecta, right? Oysters contain zinc and eggs may surprise you but are a source of biotin. Beef contains very absorbable heme iron while lentils and black beans also contain iron and when eaten with a vitamin C rich food like red peppers or tomatoes, will help it to be absorbed better. These are just a few foods that you can pick from to give your diet a boost in the hair department.

3. Be sure you consume 60-90 grams of high quality animal, soy or dairy based protein and protein powders every single day. Lack of 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.

I hear you. This 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 proper supplements, plan your protein daily, check in with our health care team if something seems amiss. You’re worth it.