When one begins to lose one’s hair, the first instinct is to go to the local hair loss solutions studio for advice. Some go to doctors. There are many reasons why one might be losing one’s hair, and there are many treatments offered based on those individual reasons, such as laser hair therapy, hair restoration surgery, medications such as Propecia and Rogaine and more. Only in the last decade or so have the physicians and treatment studios began to focus on how a diet – specifically a poor diet – might adversely affect hair in men and women.
Sugar consumption is one part of the diet attracting the attention of researchers. In and of itself, sugar isn’t “bad for hair.” Pour some granulated sugar on your head and the worse that can happen is you’ll draw ants and it will make your ball cap sticky.
But a recent study out of Tsinghua University in Beijing, published in Nutrients (a lifestyle and science publication) is having that effect on people’s perception. There is a correlation between sugar consumption and hair loss, but it’s one of those situations where what looks obvious is anything but.
The biggest problem with sugar consumption – and probably what was the case in among self-reporting participants in the Chinese study – is that people who consume sugary beverages and foods might eat less of foods that are hair-promoting. This is what’s known as nutrient displacement. When you’re eating sugary snacks and drinking full-calorie colas, you’re not consuming real fruit or drinking nutritious beverages such as no-sugar-added fruit juices.
There are other factors as well where sugar impairs hair health:
Insulin resistance. This is basically the foundation of diabetes. Sugar consumption in a healthy person triggers an insulin response from the pancreas. But too much sugar over time causes cells throughout the body to be less responsive to the effects of insulin. Not only does that lead to the individual requiring insulin treatment, but it creates hormonal imbalances that adversely affect hair health.
Glycation. With excess sugar consumption, the sugar molecules attach to proteins, including keratin, which is the specific protein that makes up hair (and nails). With those sugar molecules, the hair loses some structural integrity which in turn results in breakage.
Inflammation. One type of hair loss is called alopecia areata, characterized by patches of hair loss. It falls into the category of autoimmune diseases; the inflammation of a bad diet and excess sugar in specific can be a strong contributing factor.
Impaired blood flow. Lots of things can hurt the circulatory system, including obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Sugar consumption in excess is associated with all three of these conditions. With poor circulation, hair roots aren’t being fed the nutrients they need.
Imbalanced gut bacteria. The science on our intestinal biotas, the ecosystem of bacteria, archaea, fungi, and viruses that live in and are beneficial to our digestive tracts. These microbiota do us a favor, breaking down fiber from fruits and vegetables and excreting vital nutrients that are absorbed through the lower intestines into the bloodstream. But the presence of too much sugar can hurt these beneficial bugs in our system and instead feed pathogenic (bad) bacteria. This basically means the body is getting fewer of the nutrients it needs.
Each of these factors are subject to individual genetics. But it should come as no surprise that the counter-offensive is to eat a healthier diet of plant foods, quality proteins (animal or plant, best in combination), and minimize the sweets and sugars from beverages (including alcoholic drinks).