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Hair Loss After Bariatric Surgery

Sad man worrying about hair loss problem

Many of the side effects that accompany bariatric surgery include problems with the surgery itself, such as infection, slow healing, and scarring. Other symptoms such as hypoglycemia and dumping syndrome affect the patient’s ability to absorb nutrients and eat certain foods. Still others, like hair loss, are cosmetic side effects that may affect the patient’s self esteem yet cannot be avoided.

Ken Fujioka, Director of Nutrition and Metabolic Research at Scripps Clinic, reports that hair loss after bariatric surgery, especially gastric bypass, is relatively common. Patients usually begin to lose hair three to six months after their surgery. Fujioka explains that patients lose hair because of the stress that the body undergoes during significant weight loss. When the body experiences stress, the individual hairs cannot grow properly and will often die suddenly. When the hairs die, the body sheds them. Most of the time, patients’ hair growth will return to normal within 12 months of surgery without treatment.

What Causes Hair Loss?

For most bariatric surgery patients, hair loss can be attributed to two things: the physical shock of the weight loss and the surgery and deficiencies in certain nutrients, especially iron and protein.

After bariatric surgery, the body takes in significantly fewer nutrients than before. After gastric bypass, the intestine, where the food is immediately routed, cannot absorb the nutrients as well as when they had already been processed by the stomach. For those who have undergone Lap Band surgery, the smaller amounts of food eaten also provide fewer nutrients. With fewer nutrients, your body will decide which functions to support – organ health, for instance – and which to let go – hair growth.

What Can I Do?

Because post-surgical hair loss is caused both by stress and a lack of nutrients, there is little you can do to totally prevent hair loss. Both the stress of weight loss and the lower amount of nutrients your body will absorb are necessary outcomes of bariatric surgery. Once your body adjusts to the new levels of nutrients, as Fujioka explains, the hair loss will stop, and your hair will return

Because hair is made out of proteins, it is important to make sure that after bariatric surgery, you eat enough protein. Protein will help prevent hair loss, help you regain hair growth, and generally keep you healthier because it is used for skin and muscle development as well.

You may also find it helpful to take an iron supplement. Researchers have found that after bariatric surgery, patients suffer from iron deficiencies or anemia. Like protein, iron is important to hair growth and general well-being.

Hair loss can be a frustrating side effect to bariatric surgery. Its causes are unavoidable; each patient will suffer some hair loss after surgery. After your diet and body stabilize post-surgery, however, the hair loss will generally diminish.  

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