Why Does Bulimia Cause Hair Loss?

Bulimia nervosa, also known as bulimia, is an eating disorder characterized by repeated bouts of binge eating and purging. As an eating disorder, it’s important for people to remember that no one chooses to have bulimia. The most common triggers for people to develop bulimia are genetic predispositions and psychological responses to social, cultural, or environmental factors.

Unsurprisingly, frequent binging and purging episodes place a lot of stress on the body, impairing general physical development and heightening the risk of potentially life-threatening complications. One of the most visible effects of bulimia-induced physical and psychological stress is hair loss. Even though it is far from the most serious outcome of bulimia, hair loss is often an especially devastating blow to people with eating disorders, many of whom already struggle with low self-esteem and distorted body image. To shed some light on this issue, this article will explore the two main causes of hair loss for people with bulimia.

Hair Loss Due to Nutritional Deprivation

Nutrient deficiencies are extremely difficult to avoid for people with bulimia. When a person purges their food, whether it’s via self-induced vomiting or overusing laxatives, they are essentially preventing their body from metabolizing and absorbing essential proteins, vitamins, and minerals.

If bulimia goes untreated, prolonged nutrient deficiencies will begin to disrupt non-essential physical functions. Hair growth, which requires a protein called keratin, is one of the first physical functions your body will de-prioritize in the event of nutrient deprivation. Hair loss for people with bulimia is a gradual process, beginning with minor hair thinning and eventually escalating to clumps of hair falling out. Throughout each stage of this process, the rate of hair loss will also be further exacerbated by the higher level of dehydration typically experienced by people with bulimia.

Hair Loss Due to Telogen Effluvium

Telogen effluvium is a type of scalp disorder that interrupts the growth and rest stage of hair follicles, leading to hair thinning or shedding. In most cases, telogen effluvium is caused by an adverse physical reaction to psychological stressors, including personal trauma, family issues, emotional dissatisfaction, and general lifestyle stress. As a result, eating disorders, especially bulimia, are a common trigger for the onset of telogen effluvium. Unfortunately, even after a person recovers from bulimia and resumes normal eating habits, hair loss or hair thinning due to telogen effluvium may continue for up to a year.

Sources: Hair Scientists, Go Ask Alice/Columbia University, Eating Disorder Resource Catalogue

Photo: Pixabay

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