Hair Loss After Bariatric Surgery: Worse for Vegans?

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Are you worried that you are more likely to have hair loss after bariatric surgery as a vegan? Have you been struggling to find out if there is anything you can do to minimize the risk of hair loss after bariatric surgery? In this article, I am going to give you all you need to know about hair loss after bariatric surgery.

Why Does Hair Loss After Bariatric Surgery Occur?

Hair loss after bariatric surgery is very common and normal. In fact, it can be helpful going into bariatric surgery expecting to lose hair afterwards. Knowing ahead of time that hair loss is likely to occur can help it to be less distressing when it does occur. 

You could lose hair after bariatric surgery for a few different reasons. The reasons can vary, depending on when the hair loss occurs after bariatric surgery. 

Hair Loss in the First Few Months After Bariatric Surgery

If you have hair loss in the first few months after weight loss surgery, this is usually because of telogen effluvium. This type of hair loss is a result of the stress of the surgery on your body and the rapid weight loss you are experiencing. Having a vitamin/mineral or protein deficiency is not the cause of this type of hair loss. 

Hair Loss After the First Few Months After Bariatric Surgery

If you have hair loss after the first few months after weight loss surgery, this may be the result of nutrient deficiencies. Nutrients that are common for people to be deficient in after bariatric surgery that can lead to losing hair are protein, zinc, folic acid, iron, selenium, biotin, and essential fatty acids. 

How to Prevent Hair Loss After Bariatric Surgery

Hair loss after weight loss surgery is not entirely preventable and in the early months after surgery you are likely to experience it no matter what you do. Again, the hair loss in the early days is related to the large amount of weight loss you experience and the stress of the surgery on your body. You can’t avoid these things. 

There are some things that you can do to prevent hair loss that could occur after the first few months after weight loss surgery. This type of hair loss would typically be related to nutrition deficiencies. You should make sure you are getting enough of these nutrients daily through foods and recommended supplements. 

Food Sources of Nutrients Needed to Prevent Hair Loss After Bariatric Surgery

Protein

  • Soy Foods: tofu, edamame, tempeh, soy milk
  • Seitan
  • Nutritional Yeast (if you’re wondering how to use nutritional yeast, here is a recipe)
  • Legumes: chickpeas, black beans, pinto beans, kidney beans
  • Lentils: brown lentils, red lentils, black lentils
  • Nuts/Seeds: peanuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, cashews, walnuts, pecans, flaxseeds, chia seeds
PROTEIN: tofu, nutritional yeast, nuts, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, tempeh, kidney beans to prevent hair loss after bariatric surgery

Essential Fatty Acids

  • Flaxseeds
  • Chia Seeds
  • Walnuts
  • Soybean Oil
  • Canola Oil
ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS: walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds, canola oil to prevent hair loss after bariatric surgery

Zinc

  • Beans/Legumes
  • Nuts 
  • Whole Grains
  • Fortified Breakfast Cereal
ZINC: nuts, whole grains, fortified breakfast cereal, legumes to prevent hair loss after bariatric surgery

Folic Acid/Folate

  • Asparagus
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Spinach
  • Mustard Greens
  • Oranges
  • Kidney Beans
  • Black-eyed Peas
  • Peanuts
  • Fortified Breakfast Cereal
  • Enriched Bread, Flour, Pasta, Rice, Cornmeal
  • Fortified Corn Masa Flour
FOLATE/FOLIC ACID: peanuts, oranges, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, fortified breakfast cereal, black eyed peas to prevent hair loss after bariatric surgery

Iron

  • Nuts
  • Raisins
  • Fortified Breakfast Cereal 
  • Fortified Bread
  • White Beans
  • Lentils
  • Kidney Beans
  • Peas

Also note: Iron from plant foods is absorbed better when you eat it with a source of vitamin C, such as strawberries, broccoli, tomatoes, and citrus fruits.

IRON: nuts, fortified bread, raisins, white beans, lentils, fortified breakfast cereal to prevent hair loss after bariatric surgery

Selenium

  • Brazil Nuts (be careful with this one-Brazil nuts are so high in selenium that eating too many could result in selenium toxicity)
  • Breads
  • Cereals
  • Brown Rice
  • Mushrooms
SELENIUM: Brazil nuts (Be careful not to overeat Brazil nuts. Too many can cause selenium toxicity.), mushrooms, brown rice, bread to prevent hair loss after bariatric surgery

Biotin

  • Seeds
  • Nuts 
  • Broccoli
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Spinach
BIOTIN: broccoli, nuts and seeds, sweet potatoes, spinach to prevent hair loss after bariatric surgery

Is Hair Loss More Common in Vegans After Bariatric Surgery?

Even in non-vegans, there is limited research about hair loss after weight loss surgery. So far, there is not anything specific reported that points to a higher rate of hair loss as a vegan. Some things to be mindful of that could make you more likely to lose hair as a vegan after bariatric surgery include:

Not Eating Enough Protein 

Sometimes we vegans get the message that we don’t need to worry about protein. Just eat enough food and it isn’t a problem. For some people this method works, but I would encourage you to make an effort to have protein food with each meal. 

Eating enough protein is important for preventing hair loss, but also helps you feel full longer and maintain your muscle mass while losing weight after weight loss surgery. Eating enough protein also helps to prevent hair loss.

Skipping Your Vitamin and Mineral Supplements 

Maybe you’ve been told that a vegan diet automatically means you’ll stay healthy? This is false whether you’ve had bariatric surgery or not, but is even more risky after bariatric surgery. This is because your risk of vitamin and mineral deficiencies increases after bariatric surgery. 

You are required to take vitamin and mineral supplements after bariatric surgery to provide the higher levels of vitamins and minerals to prevent deficiency. Having vitamin and mineral deficiencies increases your risk of hair loss after bariatric surgery.

Is Hair Loss After Bariatric Surgery Reversible?

The hair that you lose in the early months after bariatric surgery almost always comes back on its own. If it continues longer than six months, then this may be a sign that the hair loss is related to a nutritional deficiency rather than telogen effluvium. 

If you are experiencing hair loss that is occurring six months or more after surgery, you will need to work with your doctor and/or dietitian to figure out the cause. Hair loss that is attributable to nutrient deficiencies can oftentimes be improved or reversed by correcting these deficiencies.

Should I Take Biotin Supplements for Hair Loss After Bariatric Surgery?

The hair loss that occurs in the early months after weight loss surgery is not shown to improve from biotin supplements. You may notice that your hair loss starts resolving after taking biotin, but this is not because of the biotin. This is because the hair loss would have resolved on its own. 

Even with other causes of hair loss, there is not strong evidence that biotin helps to resolve the hair loss and biotin can also interfere with some medications and laboratory tests.

Conclusion

In conclusion, losing hair after bariatric surgery is common and should be expected. Knowing ahead of time that you will likely experience hair loss and that it typically resolves on its own can help ease the shock when it does happen. For most cases of hair loss after bariatric surgery you should focus on taking your vitamin and mineral supplements and eating enough protein; doing these things will support your body’s ability to reverse the hair loss as you heal from your surgery.

References

Weight Management Dietetic Practice Group. Pocket Guide to Bariatric Surgery. Edited by Kellene A. Isom and Melissa C. Majumdar, 3rd ed., Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2022.

Zhang, Wen, et al. “Hair loss after metabolic and bariatric surgery: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” Obesity Surgery (2021): 1-11.

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