Is Gluten Causing Your Hair Loss?
This article has been updated: June 2020
Gluten Intolerance and Hair Loss
Hair loss can be confusing and disorienting no matter what. But if your hair loss isn’t following the typical pattern for male pattern baldness — or if you’re a woman — it can be particularly baffling.
Maybe it’s all the gluten you’re eating.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat products as well as rye and barley. It’s also used as an additive across a wide range of packaged and prepared food products, as it serves as a filler and helps foods adhere and retain their shape.
Some people have an intolerance to gluten. This intolerance may be mild or very severe. Celiac disease, one of the most serious forms of gluten intolerance, causes an immune system response that can damage the small intestine.
It’s by no means common. But for some people, an undiscovered gluten intolerance can lie at the root of their hair loss. The connection is especially strong for those with full-blown Celiac disease, which can often go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.
Here are a few ways gluten intolerance, particularly Celiac disease, can cause hair loss.
Through Vitamin Deficiency
Celiac disease can be challenging to diagnose, because many of the symptoms—diarrhea, weight loss, fatigue, abdominal pain, numbness or tingling in the hands and feet, skin rashes and more—are diffuse and variable, and can be symptoms of many different conditions.
Some people wind up going misdiagnosed or undiagnosed for years, during which the disease has plenty of time to damage the lining of the small intestine and promote overgrowth of harmful bacteria.
Both of these factors limit the small intestine’s ability to absorb certain nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. A deficiency in these nutrients can slow down your hair’s natural growth cycle and ultimately result in hair loss over time.
Through Alopecia Areata
Alopecia Areata is also an autoimmune disease that causes hair loss. It occurs when your immune system is triggered to attack your hair follicles.
This disease is not well understood. But studies have shown that there is a connection to Celiac disease. A 1995 study published in Gastroenterology was the first to document that connection.
Not only did the study find that the Alopecia Areata patients had a higher rate of infection with Celiac disease than could be predicted by chance, but that some patients had no other symptoms of Celiac disease—demonstrating that in some, Alopecia Areata may in fact be the only symptom.
A more recent study, published in the Indian Journal of Dermatology in 2014, discovered a high rate of “silent Celiac disease” among children with Alopecia Areata—meaning hair loss was often the only symptom.
The hair loss typically starts as small, round patches on your scalp that may be difficult to notice. The patches spread, however, and eventually you may lose most or all of your hair—both on your head and elsewhere on your body, such as on your eyelashes or eyebrows.
The severity of the hair loss varies from person to person. And while the hair loss may be temporary, it can also be permanent—or come and go, in a cycle of loss and regrowth that can last years.
Through Thyroid Disease
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is another type of autoimmune disease, which occurs when your immune system attacks the thyroid.
This can damage the thyroid to the extent that it does not produce enough hormones—a condition called hypothyroidism. Hair loss is a leading symptom of this condition.
Research has also demonstrated a connection between autoimmune thyroid disease and Celiac disease. In a 2003 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, half of patients with Celiac disease who participated in the study were also found to have thyroid disease.
A more recent study, published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism in 2008, studied the connection between thyroid disease and Celiac disease in the largest sample size of any study thus far—14,021 people. It identified a correlation between the two conditions.
Treatment for Hair Loss Caused By Gluten Intolerance
It’s fairly clear at this point that having one autoimmune disease makes you susceptible to others, and that there’s a connection between Celiac disease and hair loss for a variety of reasons.
In fact, many doctors recommend testing for Celiac disease if you’re experiencing unexplained hair loss—as it’s sometimes the only symptom.
There is currently no cure for Celiac disease, and no known cure for Alopecia Areata. In instances where a patient has both, however, the best treatment is to avoid eating gluten.
That means avoiding any foods that contain wheat, rye, or barley. While this still leaves a wide range of foods—from meat and seafood to vegetables, fruits, and rice—available, keeping your diet entirely gluten-free can be a challenge.
Many foods, especially prepared foods, contain gluten—and eating any at all can damage your small intestine. People with Celiac disease have less leeway to be spontaneous in the foods they eat, and sticking to the diet requires a lifetime of vigilance.There is good news, however: if you have Celiac disease, your small intestine can start to heal within weeks. And eventually, with time and vigilance, you should see your hair start to grow back.
If your hair loss is linked to hypothyroidism, your treatment may include taking synthetic thyroid hormones to replace the hormones your thyroid should make naturally. Once your hormones are back in balance, your hair loss should resolve.
Resources for Those with Gluten Intolerance
If gluten intolerance is at the root of your hair loss, here are some resources that can help you get a handle on this disease.
- Check out this comprehensive list of safe and unsafe foods.
- The Celiac Foundation offers in-depth information about Celiac disease.
- The National Alopecia Areata Foundation provides information and research as well as support.
Talk to a World-Class Hair Loss Expert Today
If you’re suffering from hair loss that can’t be explained by other causes such as male pattern baldness, it may be a good idea to get tested for Celiac disease.
Celiac disease can cause hair loss in a variety of ways—from vitamin deficiency and malnutrition to hypothyroidism or Alopecia Areata. The connection between hair loss and Celiac disease has been well documented with all three of these underlying conditions.
Dr. Daniel A. Danyo has helped hundreds of patients get to the root of mysterious hair loss, and he can help you.
Schedule a confidential consultation today—either in person or online. Dr. Danyo will evaluate your hair loss, determine which tests may be indicated, and help you on the road to recovering your full, natural hair growth—and overall health.
Dr. Daniel A. Danyo is the founder and medical director of North Atlanta Hair Restoration, specializing in treating hair loss in both men and women. He is one of only 300 people in the world certified by the American Board of Hair Restoration Surgery.
He is a member of the American Board of Hair Restoration Surgery, International Alliance of Hair Restoration Surgeons, American Hair Loss Association, and The International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery.
He is also an early adopter and pioneer of Shave-less FUE, one of the most discreet surgical procedures available for hair restoration. Dr. Danyo performs every procedure himself, from start to finish. He individually extracts and places every graft on every patient. Learn more about Dr. Danyo on his Meet Dr. Danyo page.