Donna Kim-Brand September 2014

We are more influenced by the memes- key ideas- of our age- that are introduced through regular media bombardment than we like to admit. One of the biggies on the scene for the past few years which is now picking up steam is a ‘gluten-free’ diet.

Cutting out gluten was originally recommended for treatment of those with celiac disease or other severe gastro-intestinal disorders. Nowadays gluten-free diets are being adopted by many people by way of supporting a general approach to health and well-being. Probably a good idea.

Gluten is a structural protein naturally found in wheat, rye and barley that acts as a sticky glue within your bodily systems. This makes digestion difficult and leads to a range of auto-immune diseases and gluten-sensitive disorders. Conditions range from mild stomach upset to more serious ailments like diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, schizophrenia, ADHD, autism, fibromyalgia, Crohn’s disease, infertility and some even connect  Alzheimers and Parkinson’s Disease to gluten issues as well.

Celiacs disease is the most well-known affliction, which is where gluten in foods causes damage to the small intestines and stimulates antibodies that attack various cells in the body, including hair follicles. So, no surprise, hair loss is another condition which could be related to gluten intolerance. With celiacs disease, hair loss is often complete (alopecia areata), while a mild sensitivity to gluten could cause a less severe impact on your hair.

There are two issues at play here which could be the primary cause of hair loss: inflammation and absorption. It is suspected that the gluten sensitivity causes inflammation which triggers antibodies that, in turn, cause follicle malfunction over time. Additionally, aside from the auto-immune aspect of gluten sensitivity, gluten can prevent absorption of nutrients in the intestinal lining and cause malnutrition.  Nutritional deficiencies of Vitamin B and C, calcium, selenium, iron and protein undermine healthy hair growth. This then, is another possible cause of hair thinning or loss caused by gluten.

While treatment for each condition may be different, the common element is as ‘simple’ as cutting gluten completely out of your diet. As for the connection between gluten sensitivity and hair loss, a research study report showed that “alopecia disappeared completely after a few months of a strict gluten-free diet and reappeared after an unintentional prolonged reintroduction of gluten.” For alopecia hair loss, if gluten sensitivity is the primary cause, you should see a reversal of thinning or bald patches in just a few months once you eliminate gluten from your diet. And perhaps you’ll also clear up other issues caused by gluten- related inflammation.

Purchasing gluten-free products in regular grocery stores as well as in health food stores is much easier nowadays. The trick is that you can’t just ‘cut down’. You have to eliminate gluten completely, which is difficult to do as gluten or its derivatives are used in so many products: semolina, bulgar, farina, graham flour, spelt and more. You are generally safe with fresh fruits, vegetables, dairy and meat products. But check labels first.

Depending on the extent of damage to your stomach lining, eliminating gluten will allow your body to repair itself over a period of months to several years.

Remember MSG? Caffeine? Nicotine? Carbonated sodas? Genetically modified foods? Trans-fats? Extensive exposure to x-rays and UV rays? Research has demonstrated over time that we are better off without ingesting or making direct contact with these in large quantities or we will suffer negative health consequences down the road.

Perhaps the jury is still out on the effects of gluten, especially when not manifesting specific symptoms of gluten intolerance, but any substance that can cause as many crippling conditions as I mentioned above should be on your ‘watch list’. At least do your due diligence to rule it out as a potential cause of hair loss, and perhaps save yourself or your clients bigger health issues in the process.

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