Hair loss after bariatric surgery is one of the most frequent fears I hear from those that just had weight loss surgery or are considering it. Many ask me “How can I prevent hair loss?”
To minimize hair loss after bariatric surgery, it’s important to understand why it occurs, and what you can do before and after surgery to reduce your risk of hair loss.
Why do you lose hair after weight loss surgery?
There are a few reasons why hair loss is so common after bariatric surgery. The procedure places an enormous amount of stress on your body and can alter your hormones. After all, it’s a major surgery that completely changes your digestive system.
Additionally, bariatric surgery is intended to result in rapid weight loss, which can lead to hair loss. Other factors that may contribute to hair loss, include certain medications, hypothyroidism, chronic health conditions like liver disease, heavy metal toxicity, or inconsistent and inadequate eating patterns.
The type of hair loss that occurs after bariatric surgery is called telogen effluvium. It’s actually related to your normal hair growth cycle, which has two stages. The first is the growth stage, called anagen, and the majority of your hair is in this stage at any time. The second is the resting phase, called telogen.
Hormone changes and the stress of surgery can cause more hair follicles to enter into the resting or telogen phase. This can in turn disrupt the normal hair growth pattern, leading to more follicles being released before new hair grows in. As such, you may see bald patches or areas where hair has noticeably thinned.
Everyone who undergoes bariatric surgery will not necessarily experience the same side effects, so it’s important to note that the degree to which you may lose hair may not be the same as someone else. When preparing for surgery, many people imagine large clumps of hair falling out and bald patches occurring. While this may happen, I have rarely seen hair loss occur to this degree. In my experience with clients, hair usually thins out but does not result in complete bald patches.
How long does hair loss last after gastric bypass?
Hair loss typically peaks around 3-4 months after surgery and may last for up to 6 months. This is great news because that means the hair loss isn’t permanent.
Nutrition and hair loss after bariatric surgery
And as it turns out, prioritizing your nutritional intake isn’t just important for your overall health and healing. If your hair loss continues after six months, I suggest looking into your nutrient intake as this may be contributing.
Many people are under the impression that biotin is the most important nutrient in terms of hair loss prevention and regrowth, but this isn’t necessarily true.
While biotin can certainly play a supportive role, there are a few other nutrients that are more important to minimize hair loss. Biotin has only been shown to be helpful in preventing hair loss if you have a biotin deficiency. I typically don’t suggest a biotin supplement following surgery because there is not much evidence to support it and I would rather you focus on your multivitamin.
If you would like to eat biotin rich foods you can include foods like salmon, egg yolks, nuts and spinach in your diet.
Instead of biotin there are several other nutrients that have been shown to affect hair loss, including iron, zinc, and protein.
If you’re taking a bariatric multivitamin you’re likely taking the suggested amount of iron and zinc. But just to make sure you can check out this article here that I wrote about vitamins.
As always, including foods that are high in these nutrients is also suggested. Foods can include poultry dark meat, red meat, light tuna, quinoa and beans.
6 ways to help minimize hair loss after bariatric surgery
To reduce the amount of hair loss you experience after surgery, prevent it from worsening, and promote regrowth, here are a few things you can do.
1. Get your vitamin and mineral levels checked prior to surgery.
The American Society of Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS) recommends that all patients are prescreened for nutrient deficiencies before surgery, namely for thiamin, vitamin B12, folate, iron, vitamins A, D, E, K, zinc, and copper.
Why? This helps identify areas of deficiencies and corrects them before surgery, to give you the best outcome. Being obese increases your risk for micronutrient deficiencies, so it’s really important to understand your nutritional status before surgery.
2. Begin a multivitamin regimen before surgery.
Consistently taking a multivitamin prior to bariatric surgery can help to correct any deficiencies that have been identified, and prevent further deficiencies from developing.
The act of taking a multivitamin can also help you form healthy habits, especially if you make a point to take it around the same time every day. Taking supplements will be a critical practice for life after bariatric surgery.
3. Continue taking a multivitamin exactly as prescribed after surgery.
Taking a multivitamin will continue to be a daily, lifelong habit after surgery. For the first few months, it’s best to take a chewable or liquid multivitamin, after which you can switch to a capsule form if desired.
Follow the guidance of your surgical team regarding what kind of multivitamin to use, to make sure it’s well tolerated and adequately meets your nutrient needs. Ideally, look for multivitamins that have been verified to contain what is indicated on the ingredient label, and in the amounts claimed.
4. Incorporate a protein source at every meal.
Protein after surgery is imperative for recovery, healing, sustained weight loss, and prevention of muscle loss.
Some sources of high-quality protein include eggs, fish, poultry, legumes, or dairy, as long as you can tolerate them well. Your stomach size is smaller following surgery, making it important to eat a solid protein source at every meal throughout the day. Find some of my recommended protein-rich, bariatric-friendly recipes here.
Generally speaking, protein intake should be between 60-100 grams per day, but your surgical team and registered dietitian will offer personalized guidance for your recovery. It’s possible that supplemental protein drinks will be recommended to help you meet your needs temporarily.
5. Get your vitamin and mineral levels checked following surgery.
Your blood nutrient levels will likely be checked multiple times throughout the first year after surgery, and continue annually thereafter. It’s important to stay on top of this so that nutrient deficiencies can be identified early on, when they’re much easier to correct.
6. Include a wide variety of vitamins and minerals in your diet using whole foods.
While supplements are crucial after bariatric surgery, it’s all suggested to eat a nutrient dense diet including whole foods.
Good sources of iron include tofu, dark leafy greens, lentils, turkey, and chicken. To enhance iron absorption, pair iron-rich foods with good sources of vitamin C, like citrus fruits, berries, bell peppers, and dark leafy greens. Some zinc-rich foods include beans, dairy, eggs, and meat. Protein can be found in meat, fish, eggs, dairy, and plant-based sources like beans, peas, soy foods, and lentils.
As long as you’ve prioritized your nutrition throughout the bariatric process, and don’t have underlying chronic illness or other reasons for prolonged hair loss, your hair growth pattern should return to normal soon!