There may be a link between sugar consumption and hair thinning. (Photo: Getty)
For every donut, cookie, or super-mega-sized soft drink sold there seems to be an equal or greater amount of strand-thickening and hair growth products on store shelves and some doctors believe there is a surprising link between the two: sugar. “A rapid glucose spike in the blood causes an overreaction by several hormones, most notably insulin and steroids. The result is a roller coaster of sugar peaks and valleys; that is abnormal high and low levels of glucose, insulin, steroids, adrenaline, testosterone and numerous other hormones,” says Panos Vasiloudes, Dermatologist and Medical Director of Harklinikken, a European-based hair loss clinic with a long list of American clients. “The blood sugar spikes are detrimental to the physiologic hair cycle in two major ways. First is the direct damage that rapid blood sugar changes are causing to the hair. I call this ‘direct nutritional shock.’ Second and most important, is the indirect damage caused by the fluctua-tion of hormones like insulin, cortisone, adrenaline, testosterone and DHT. I call this ‘indirect endocrine shock.’ Both of these shocks can result in significant generalized hair thinning.”
While the effects aren’t necessarily immediate (no, that batch of brownies your co-worker brought in today won’t leave your locks limp by tomorrow), they are long term. Feasting on constant sugar will cause serious damage to your hair’s precious follicles over time. “Patients of mine may not even realize they have this problem until they notice their hair band going around their ponytail four or five times when it used to only fit around twice a few years ago.” Says Dr. Vasiloudes. “Too much sugar leads to inflammation; not the visible swelling we think of, but on a cellular level,” tells Dr. Francesca Fusco, CLEAR Scalp & Hair Dermatologist. Her patients often complain of thinning hair without even realizing that their diet is often a major part of the problem. “Since scalp is skin, it too would be subject to the deleterious effects of inflammation, or glycation. Glycation is the damage and inflammation that can result from too much processed sugary foods.”
The issue can only reversed by proper nutrition and lifestyle. Growing gorgeous hair starts with proper scalp health, and eating the right foods will go a long way in providing scalp nourishment from the inside out. “Everyone should recognize the power of eating real food and can use diet as a powerful weapon against thin hair,” says Dr. Vasiloudes. He stresses that using good dietary habits to enhance the thickness, moisture, and overall health of hair and scalp is a long term plan, but one that he generally recommends to all the patients he sees, no matter how severe their hair thinning or loss may be, and he’s not alone in that sentiment.
The answer is not necessarily cutting back desserts and other sugary foods to extreme levels, but replacing seemingly empty calories with meaningful and nutrient-rich foods loaded with protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. The concept of eating a fruit salad instead of a strawberry shortcake isn’t a new one, but it works. Dr. Fusco recommends her patients limit their consumption of processed foods, sugary snack foods (no matter how cute or trendy they may be), get plenty of sleep, and make sure to include a fair amount of exercise. Exercise, as it turns out, has a positive effect on the way our bodies metabolize sugar. Both doctors suggest making easy cuts like opting for water instead of sweetened drinks of any kind (including many of the juices marketed as health foods), and by adding more healthy nuts, fruits, vegetables, and unprocessed, natural foods to our every day lives. Your hair (and body) will thank you.