Has your hair been falling out, thinning or have bald patches started appearing on your scalp over the past couple of years? If you need to clean lots of hair strands from your hairbrush or de-clog your bathroom plugholes more than ever before, then read on, as it may well be due to Coronavirus.
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Thinning hair due to the excessive shedding is called Telogen Effluvium and often occurs after a shock to the system. It is usually temporary and new hair continues to grow back. This may be triggered by stress, hypothyroid (low thyroid function), autoimmune thyroid conditions, lack of iron and other key minerals. It can also be brought on by a virus, and it seems that hair loss is now one of the “expected symptoms” that can occur 1-2 months following a Covid-19 infection or vaccination.
Alopecia Areata is an autoimmune disease where the body mistakenly fights the hair follicles leaving bald areas in the scalp. This is an inflammatory condition and can wax & wane, and again it can often grow back. However, until the underlying autoimmunity is addressed, then it can sometimes appear somewhere else on the scalp. People with Alopecia Totalis lose all of the hair from their scalp, and Alopecia Universalis is when they lose all their hair from the whole of their body including scalp, pubic hair, arm and leg hair, beard hair, eyelashes and eyebrows. Again, studies have found that many more people have been developing Alopecia’s over the last couple of years and it is thought that Coronavirus plays a role in the onset of this autoimmune activity.
Since many people who are exposed to Covid-19 are seeing a change in their overall immune system response from a more TH2 dominant state (atopic with poor response to infections) to a more TH17 autoimmune dominant state (where the body starts to fight itself), it is important to tackle post-Covid hair loss from a systemic and holistic approach rather than just focusing in on shampoos, steroid creams or scalp applications to try and stimulate hair regrowth.
Here are some of my top clinical nutrition tips to try for at least six months if you or your child have been experiencing excess hair loss.
- Bolster up iron, B12 and folate by eating plenty of liver, red meat, green veg, eggs, beans, apricots & prunes and supplement if needed.
- Aim to get some daily sunshine from April to September to optimise Vitamin D levels and consume vitamin D rich foods like oily fish, whole organic milk and grass-fed meats. Top up with a supplement in the winter months.
- Cut back on eating refined sugar, white flour and ultra-processed foods, as these are pro-inflammatory foods and don’t contain the key minerals needed for strong hair.
- Boost silica – eat plenty of cucumber, mango, green veg, pulses, nettle, celery and asparagus, take a silica supplement or drink silica rich water like Fiji.
- Collagen is key – drink lots of bone broths & fresh stocks – add marine collagen to tea or smoothies daily.
- Magnesium is an important mineral for hair growth – find it in nuts, seeds, dark chocolate & leafy greens.
- Biotin – found in eggs, liver, seafood, nuts, seeds & beans – it is also added to many multi-nutrients
And if these basics are not enough, then the next step is to identify if there are any metabolic or nutritional shortfalls driving the hair loss and these might include:
- An underactive or autoimmune thyroid – one of the first signs of an underactive thyroid is hair loss. Run a full thyroid blood panel to include thyroid antibodies as Covid has kick-started all sorts of other autoimmune conditions.
- Check iron stores (ferritin, B12 and folate) through a blood test – ferritin levels need to be at least 27 and more like 70 for strong hair and Covid can affect the heme in the red blood cells. Vitamin B12 levels should ideally be over 600 pg/mL for optimal nutrition and folate at should be at least 7.0 ng/mL.
- Vitamin D – a low Vitamin D status has been linked to hair loss post-Covid and if you carry out a blood test for Vitamin D you are aiming for the levels to be at around 100/110nmol/L for optimal hair regrowth.
- Inflamed gut and not enough gastric juices – the cytokine storm from Covid can lead to ongoing gut issues which may manifest in increased sensitivity to foods and less nutrients being assimilated from food. This can lead to nutrient shortfalls, gut permeability, which is usually what drives autoimmunity in the first place, so it’s key to work on gut health. A stool microbiome and function test organised by a nutritional therapist or naturopath would identify whether this is part of the clinical picture and will help to reignite the gastric juices, microbiome and gut immune system as well as reduce inflammation and optimise extraction of nutrients from the food that is being consumed.
- Some people with an immune system that has a marked autoimmune skew, may benefit from a gluten-free and dairy-free diet. Autoantibodies to both gluten and dairy can again be identified via a blood test through a nutritional therapist or naturopath.
I hope these are some helpful actionable tips, that can empower you to try and help to grow back thick and shiny locks and helps your hair to remain healthy – it does take time and patience to see a noticeable difference, but you should at the very least see less hair in your hairbrush or in your plugholes within weeks.
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- Alopecia in patients with COVID-19: A systematic review and meta-analysis
- COVID-19 infection is a major cause of acute telogen effluvium
- Post-SARS-CoV-2 Acute Telogen Effluvium: An Expected Complication
- Relationship between hair shedding and systemic inflammation in COVID-19 pneumonia
- Association of androgenetic alopecia with a more severe form of COVID-19 infection
- COVID-19: association with rapidly progressive forms of alopecia areata
- Alopecia areata following COVID-19 vaccination: vaccine-induced autoimmunity?
- The role of SARS-CoV-2 infection and its vaccines in various types of hair loss
- Increased risk of chronic fatigue and hair loss following COVID-19 in individuals with hypohidrotic ectodermal dysplasia
- The Role of Nutrition in Immune-Mediated, Inflammatory Skin Disease: A Narrative Review
- The role of micronutrients in alopecia areata: A Review
- Modulation of gut microbiota impacts diet-induced and drug-induced alopecia in mice
- Understanding the Gut Microbiota in Pediatric Patients with Alopecia Areata and their Siblings: A Pilot Study
- Treatment of alopecia totalis/universalis/focalis with vitamin D and analogs: Three case reports and a literature review