How Diabetes Affects Your Hair

black woman with natural hair eating an appleIt’s American Diabetes Month, a time to spread awareness about diabetes, how to prevent it, and how to manage it if you have already been diagnosed. According to the American Diabetes Association, almost 30 million people in the United States have diabetes, and another 86 million people are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The disease disproportionately affects the African American community– 13.2% of all African Americans over the age of 20 have been diagnosed with diabetes.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a metabolic disease caused by the body’s inability to produce enough insulin, resulting in higher than normal blood glucose levels. But why are we talking about diabetes on a hair salon blog, and what does blood sugar have to do with hair? Well, a lot, actually!

Diabetes and hair loss

Hair loss is a symptom of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. But how does it work? First, as explained above, the pancreas is not producing enough insulin, resulting in high blood sugar. This in turn causes the body to produce too many white blood cells. White blood cells are supposed to attack viruses and bacteria in order to keep you healthy. However in this case, there is no outside invader for them to attack, so instead they go after the cells of your hair follicles, slowing hair growth or stopping it altogether. This can cause baldness anywhere from eyebrows and eyelashes to body hair, and even the hair on your head, a condition otherwise known as alopecia areata. (Not to be confused with traction alopecia.)

What can you do?

If you or your hair stylist notices hair loss, talk to your doctor. Diabetes can be managed effectively with proper medical supervision. Even if you have not noticed symptoms of diabetes, talk to your doctor and find out if you are at risk. There are many factors that affect your likelihood of developing diabetes, including genetics, number of family members with the disease, and weight, among others. Learning how to keep your blood sugar levels normal through diet, exercise, and medication will help you prevent or control the symptoms of diabetes and minimize your risk of developing alopecia.


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