Coping with Hair Loss after Bariatric Surgery

Coping with Hair Loss after Bariatric Surgery

By Lisa Shaw, RN, CBN—Certified Bariatric Nurse and Digestive Health Director

Choosing bariatric surgery for weight loss is a difficult decision. You probably tried every diet, lost and gained weight over many years, and finally decided after much thought that bariatric surgery was the best choice to get you on the right track to a healthier life. 

In taking this gigantic step to improve your health, it’s important to know about some of the side effects.

Bariatric surgery creates a sudden change in your nutrition and calorie intake. With this, patients experience rapid weight loss but, unexpectedly, most experience hair loss as a side effect as well.

We’re here to ease your mind that this is common and normal. And, it can be managed with help from your bariatric surgeon. Here’s what you need to know.

The Facts about Hair Growth

Human hair has a two-stage growth cycle. Anagen is the growth phase and telogen is the resting phase. In the telogen phase, normal hair loss (shedding) lasts about 3 months on average. This shedding time commonly is shorter in women after childbirth and in newborns about 1 month after birth.

Besides childbirth, other factors that affect the anagen/telogen cycle include:

  • Any type of surgery
  • Sudden or severe illness
  • Trauma
  • Chronic disease
  • Hormonal imbalance (such as hypothyroidism)
  • Extreme dieting
  • Chronic iron deficiency
  • Heavy metal toxicity
  • Medications such as beta-blockers, excess vitamin A, and anticoagulants

What Causes Hair Loss after Bariatric Surgery?

Regardless of calorie intake, nutritional deficiencies are typical in overweight and obese people. With the dramatically reduced total calorie intake following bariatric surgery, your body may feel the nutrient struggle even more.

In the first 6 months following surgery, calories are tightly restricted and can contribute to a decreased intake of all macronutrients, especially protein. In fact, many patients have difficulty reaching the daily recommended protein intake. The body also might experience stress and hormonal changes after surgery.

All of these factors can result in telogen effluvium—a type of hair loss that’s associated with bariatric surgery. It’s common in men and women of all races and occurs during the most rapid weight-loss phase.

Due to the stress of surgery, more hair follicles enter the resting phase. Between 1 to 6 months following surgery, you will most likely shed that hair. In some cases, the old hair follicle is released before the new hair begins to grow.

Tips for Minimizing Hair Loss

Although there are no proven methods to stop hair loss during this phase after surgery, there are supplements like biotin and zinc that help thicken or strengthen hair.

Following the bariatric diet and nutrition program, which calls for limited calories and diverse protein intake on a daily basis, is helpful in preventing long-term hair loss. Of course, you must be cautious not to add too much extra protein or you may not see the expected weight-loss results.

In addition to the nutritional recommendations, it's essential to take a bariatric-specific multi-vitamin with adequate B vitamins, folate, zinc, and biotin. B12 and calcium citrate with a vitamin D supplement also are prescribed.

Regular follow-up appointments with your bariatric surgeon are important to ensure that your vitamin and mineral intake and your blood levels are normal. These visits also help minimize side effects, and they’re essential to long-term maintenance after surgery. 

Updated December 16, 2016

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