Hair loss after detox: a side effect you might not be expecting

Detox-style diet plans have gained considerable popularity in recent years due to their promise of extreme, fast weight loss results. A recent survey by the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery confirmed excess weight is the leading concern for consumers today, with 83% of respondents stating it was the main cosmetic issue they worry about.

Detox and extreme weight loss diets might be the answer to the growing obesity epidemic we are facing, with over 60% of UK adults either obese or overweight, but few people understand all the potential risks in following these highly restrictive diets. In particular, one side effect which isn’t widely disclosed is hair loss.

A result of telogen effluvium, this type of hair loss is often experienced by patients who have experienced substantial weight loss, whether it be through extreme dieting, gastric band surgery or through the use of weight loss clinics.

Cambridge Diet currently under investigation for extreme side effects

One of the most popular diet programmes, The Cambridge Weight Plan, is currently under investigation in Australia due to a variety of side effects, including hair loss. Amongst the many benefits and success stories listed, there is very little on the company’s website regarding this possible side effect. They do admit the weight loss can cause hair thinning, but also point out it could be caused by a number of other factors.

The Cambridge Weight Plan isn’t the only culprit for weight-related hair loss. Dieters need to be aware that any extreme change in weight can lead to hair loss and hair thinning.

Understanding telogen effluvium

Telogen effluvium refers to a change in the resting phase of the hair’s natural growth cycle. It is estimated that typically 85% to 90% of the hairs on the scalp are in the growing, or anagen phase, while the rest are in the resting phase, otherwise referred to as the telogen phase. After two to four months in the telogen phase, the hairs shed.

In the case of telogen effluvium, more hairs than normal are forced into the telogen phase, typically due to physiological or psychological stress. Up to 70% of the hairs on the scalp can enter the telogen phase, eventually shedding at the same time in approximately two months.

There are two types of telogen effluvium, including acute and chronic conditions. Chronic telogen effluvium is more severe, with no obvious cause. Acute telogen effluvium is the type most commonly experienced by patients who have undergone significant, sudden weight loss. It can last up to six months and its severity will vary.

Telogen effluvium can be triggered by childbirth, certain medications, hormonal changes, chronic illness and hypothyroidism. Any surgical procedure performed under a general anaesthetic can cause telogen effluvium as anaesthesia is thought to send hair follicles into the telogen phase by blocking the rapid cell division that occurs during the growth stage.

However, hair loss is a very common side effect of bariatric surgery, because the surgical procedure is followed by rapid weight loss and changes in your nutritional intake.

In the majority of cases the hair will grow back. If it persists for more than 12 months after surgery or extreme dieting, then you may be experiencing nutritional deficiencies. Certain minerals and vitamins are essential for healthy hair; zinc, for example, is essential for hair growth because it is required for cell division, protein synthesis and also regulates the transition between telogen and anagen phases. Bariatric surgery or a calorie-restricted diet can affect your intake.

Addressing nutritional deficiencies can be the first step and a specialist in hair loss can provide diagnosis and advice. However, if the patient is also suffering from genetic-related hair thinning, they may not experience full regrowth.

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