Can coeliac disease cause hair loss?

Liz Wood Alphabiolabs

By Liz Wood, Health Testing Specialist at at AlphaBiolabs
Last reviewed: 09/05/2023

In this article, we discuss hair loss associated with coeliac disease, and the steps you can take to prevent it.
Table of contents
  • What is coeliac disease?
  • Is there a link between coeliac disease and hair loss?
  • What causes hair loss?
  • How can I stop hair loss from coeliac disease?
  • Can gluten cause hair loss?
  • How can I get tested for coeliac disease?

What is coeliac disease?

Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disease that affects around 1 in 100 people in the UK.

The condition develops over time because of a sensitivity to gluten, a protein found in certain cereal grains including wheat, rye, and barley, and commonly used in food products including bread, cereal, and pasta.

When a person with coeliac disease eats gluten, this causes the body’s immune system to attack its own tissue, damaging the gut lining and preventing the body from adequately absorbing nutrients from food.

Symptoms of coeliac disease can range from mild to severe depending on the person, and can include flatulence and bloating, constipation or hard stools, diarrhoea or loose stools, indigestion, nausea and stomach cramps.

Two of the autoimmune diseases that are linked to coeliac disease and hair loss are underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), where your thyroid gland does not produce enough hormones, and alopecia areata.

What causes hair loss?

The average person loses 50 to 100 hairs from their head each day. This is a normal part of the cycle of hair growth, which consists of four phases: the anagen phase, catagen phase, telogen phase and exogen phase.

The anagen phase, which can last for many years, is where the hair is actively growing. The anagen phase can last for many years.

In the catagen phase, which usually lasts about 10 days, the hair stops growing and detaches from the follicle. After this stage, the follicle enters a rest period for two-to-three months (telogen phase) before the hair falls out (exogen phase), and the cycle is repeated.

However, some people experiencing hair loss can lose much more than 50 to 100 hairs each day, for a variety of reasons.

Known causes for hair loss include:

Pattern baldness

Androgenetic alopecia, also known as pattern baldness, is a genetic disorder affecting roughly 50 per cent of the population and is the most common cause of hair loss worldwide.

The condition can affect both men and women, and usually runs in families. It is believed to be caused by an excessive response to androgen, or ‘male sex hormones’, and can occur any time after puberty.

Pattern baldness describes a gradual loss of hair – in men, this may be first noticed as a receding hairline or loss of hair on the crown, whereas women may notice a slightly wider central parting to begin with.

Telogen effluvium

Telogen effluvium is a temporary loss of hair that can be caused by a variety of factors, including:

  • Changes to the diet
  • Hormonal changes (e.g. childbirth or menopause)
  • Weight loss
  • Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
  • Certain medications
  • Surgery
  • Physical or psychological stress/illness
  • Injury

People with telogen effluvium can lose up to 300 hairs a day. This is because more hairs enter the telogen (two-to-three month resting) phase.

Telogen effluvium can last for months or years before the hair recovers. However, in rare cases, not all the hair will grow back.

You can learn more about telogen effluvium by visiting https://www.alopecia.org.uk/.

Alopecia areata

Alopecia areata, also known as spot baldness, is an autoimmune condition where the body’s immune system attacks the hair follicles, causing hair loss to varying degrees.

The condition usually causes hair to fall out quickly, in small, round patches. It can affect hair growth on any part of the body, but it mostly affects the scalp or beard.

The location and severity of alopecia areata varies greatly. On one end of the scale, an individual may only have one small patch of hair loss or baldness and, on the other, a person may experience total hair loss.

Some people with alopecia areata may go into remission: a period where the severity of disease is diminished. However, others may experience permanent hair loss.

There are a variety of treatments available for people with alopecia areata, although the efficacy of these treatments varies between treatment, delivery method (injection, cream, tablet etc.) and person.

You can learn more about alopecia areata at https://www.alopecia.org.uk/.

Coeliac disease

Coeliac disease is an autoimmune condition that develops over time because of a sensitivity to gluten and is known to cause hair loss in some people.

Several minerals and vitamins, such as vitamins A, B and C, zinc, iron, and the macronutrient protein, are important for healthy hair growth in a normal hair cycle.

When a person with coeliac disease eats gluten, this causes the body’s immune system to attack its own tissue, damaging the gut lining and preventing the body from adequately absorbing nutrients from food.

Sometimes referred to as a ‘silent symptom’ of coeliac disease, hair loss or thinning hair may be noticeable in some people, even when they have mild or no gastrointestinal symptoms.

In the absence of other causes of hair loss such as stress, illness or other autoimmune conditions, hair loss from coeliac disease can usually be attributed to nutrient malabsorption or malnutrition.

This is because coeliac disease damages the intestinal wall over time, impacting the body’s ability to absorb the nutrients it needs to function correctly.

However, people with coeliac disease who are experiencing hair loss may see some or complete improvement of hair growth when gluten is removed from the diet.

Removing gluten from the diet can help prevent further damage to the gut, allowing the gut to heal itself over time, and ensuring the body can adequately absorb the nutrients needed for successful hair growth.

How can I stop hair loss from coeliac disease?

Since hair loss from coeliac disease is most likely caused by nutrition deficiencies, following a strict gluten-free diet should restore most if not all the hair lost.

However, this change does not happen overnight.

Damage to the intestine caused by gluten consumption takes some time to heal, so it is important to completely eradicate gluten from your diet if you have coeliac disease, allowing your gut to heal.

Additionally, since hair grows in cycles, you may not see new hairs growing for several months.

It is important for your health (and your hair) that you continue to adhere to a strict gluten-free diet if you have coeliac disease.

While this will not prevent male or female pattern baldness (androgenetic alopecia), which is a genetic condition, it should help prevent telogen effluvium hair loss and, most importantly, help lessen any other symptoms associated with coeliac disease (bloating, flatulence, nausea).

Can gluten cause hair loss?

Gluten itself does not cause hair loss in people who do not have coeliac disease or gluten sensitivity.

However, if you have coeliac disease and eat gluten, you may experience hair loss, brittle hair, or thinning hair.

When a person with coeliac disease eats gluten, this triggers an autoimmune response which causes the body to attack its own tissue, damaging the gut lining and preventing the body from adequately absorbing nutrients from food.

When the gut is damaged, it struggles to absorb the nutrients that we need for our bodies to function correctly (including for hair to grow).

This means that people with coeliac disease may experience thinning or brittle hair that is prone to breaking, or even excess hair shedding. The hair loss is usually diffuse, meaning that it occurs throughout the scalp rather than in patches.

People who have coeliac disease and are following a completely gluten-free diet should see an improvement in hair growth.

How can I get tested for coeliac disease?

If you are experiencing symptoms that could indicate coeliac disease (e.g. bloating, flatulence, stomach pains etc.) you should speak to your GP, who will be able to provide guidance on next steps for testing and diagnosis.

Diagnostic testing for coeliac disease usually includes blood testing for antibodies and, depending on the results of the blood test, a gut biopsy to assess any damage to the gut lining.

However, before undergoing more invasive testing, an at-home genetic test for coeliac disease can also be a helpful option for determining whether you are at risk of having or developing coeliac disease in the future.

The results of this test can also be shared with medical professionals, which can be useful when trying to secure a diagnosis more quickly.

For £99, an AlphaBiolabs Genetic Coeliac Disease Test uses Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) typing to confirm or rule out the potential of developing coeliac disease by analysing six DNA markers for the HLA-DQ2 and HLA-DQ8 genes.

If the test results show that an individual has one or both genes (HLA-DQ2 and/or HLA-DQ8), this indicates that they could be at risk of developing coeliac disease in the future.

The test results will show either a negative result or that the person is at very low, low, moderate, or high risk of developing coeliac disease, depending on which genes they have.

However, it is important to remember that having these genes does not guarantee that a person will develop coeliac disease or indicate that they are currently suffering from it.

If the test results show that neither of these genes are present, this means that the individual is unlikely to develop coeliac disease in the future.

Buy a coeliac test

Order your Genetic Coeliac Disease Test direct from our award-winning, accredited laboratory.

Liz Wood, AlphaBiolabs

Liz Wood

Health Testing Specialist at at AlphaBiolabs

Liz joined AlphaBiolabs in 2021, where she holds the role of Health Testing Specialist.

As well as overseeing a range of health tests, she is also the lead on several validation projects for the company’s latest health test offerings.

During her time at AlphaBiolabs, Liz has played an active role in the validation of the company’s Genetic Lactose Intolerance Test and Genetic Coeliac Disease Test.

An advocate for preventative healthcare, Liz’s main scientific interests centre around human disease and reproductive health. Her qualifications include a BSc in Biology and an MSc in Biology of Health and Disease.

2 thoughts on “Can coeliac disease cause hair loss?

  1. After 19 years of ACTIVE untreated and untested Celiac disease and damage to my lining of my intestines, I found out that I had it. I was in my 30’s when I found out what the problem was. I am now having several symptoms from long term untreated Celiac disease….are all the symptoms completely reversible. (My gynecologist found megaloblastic cells on my cervix before I discovered I had Celiac disease, but said it was nothing to worry about. Needless to say, I did not found out that those cells became cancerous and that they were caused by my Celiac disease… Those cells came from my bone marrow…I found that information out 7 years after I found out that I have and have had Celiac disease for over 19 years… I am most concerned about the reversibility of these complications.)

    1. Many of the symptoms of coeliac disease are reversible when a strict gluten-free diet is adhered to. You should see an improvement in symptoms such as bloating, abdominal pain and diarrhoea shortly after starting a gluten-free diet as your gut begins to heal. In adults, it can take a couple of years for the damage in your small intestine to heal, but this is dependent on the age of coeliac disease onset, and how long you have had untreated coeliac disease for. To generalise, the longer someone suffers with untreated coeliac disease (meaning they continue to eat gluten and are therefore causing more damage to the lining of the small intestine), the longer it will take for symptoms to disappear and the small intestine to heal. In a small minority of people, the gut does not heal completely, which can cause a small number of people to still experience some unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms even on a gluten-free diet.

      In some cases, complications that arise from having untreated coeliac disease are not reversible. These symptoms can vary between people and some may be exacerbated by other pre-existing conditions or comorbidities. It is important to note that this is not necessarily the case for everybody. If you do have any concerns about any symptoms you are experiencing or whether they can be reversed, you should consult a doctor who you can discuss your symptoms with. Your doctor may be able to refer you for some tests to check on the progress of your coeliac disease or to check that there are no other problems that are causing persistent symptoms.

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