Alcohol and Hair Loss: How Does Alcohol Affect Your Hair?

Are you a regular binge drinker? You probably know some of the short- and long-term health effects of heavy drinking. Alcoholics can develop serious problems such as high blood pressure, liver disease, stroke, heart disease, cognitive problems, cancer, depression, and anxiety.

But there are also less dramatic symptoms which don’t receive as much attention, such as how alcohol affects your appearance. Alcohol can lead to bloating and skin problems, and can make you look old before your time. But is there a link between alcohol and hair loss?

If you have recently noticed that you seem to be pulling extra hair out of your comb and you are a heavy drinker, it may not be a coincidence. Alcohol can have the following effects on nutrition and hormones in your body:

  • Estrogen levels can rise
  • Zinc levels can fall
  • Vitamins B and C can drop
  • Folic acid levels may fall as well

All of these changes can cause hair loss. Your hair needs nutrients like zinc, folic acid, and vitamins B and C, so when your body is deprived of them, your hair suffers. High estrogen levels can also cause hair to fall out.

Looking for studies to back this up? There was one prominent research study conducted in 2011 and presented at the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) annual conference in Denver.

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This study took a clever approach to ensuring that genetics would not conflate the results by looking at twins. “Twins are genetically destined to have the same number of hairs,” explained Bahman Guyuron, MD. “And if one has fewer, it means that it is related to outside factors.”

To look at the links between various lifestyle habits and hair loss, doctors asked the twins to fill out a questionnaire detailing their lives. Photos were then taken of the subjects’ scalps and presented to a panel of experts. The experts then reported which twins showed the most thinning in their hair.

“Never before has the role of these contributors to hair loss been documented,” stated Guyuron. “While genetics remain a strong predictor of some types of hair loss, introducing certain stressful or unhealthy factors into a person’s life can result in more hair loss.”

Eighty-four identical female twins were compared in the study. “What is amazing is how many of these twins have exactly the same behaviors, the same things matching except one or two factors that possibly may contribute to the differences,” said Guyuron.

Factors which correlated with hair loss included:

  • Divorce
  • Death of a spouse
  • Smoking
  • Heavy consumption of alcohol

It should be noted that there were twins who consumed moderate amounts of alcohol in the study as well. These subjects did not show nearly as much hair loss as twins who drank heavily.

There were a few factors which were associated with keeping hair too. These included:

  • Sun protection such as wearing a hat
  • Drinking coffee
  • A stable marriage

Can Drinking Alcohol Affect Your Hair?

When you think of drinking a glass of wine or sipping a cold beer, you don’t think of hair loss. Yet, perhaps we should start. It is wishful thinking to believe that what we consume isn’t impacting the way our bodies look, feel or even grow hair.

Dehydration

Often, it may be a matter of linking two things we already know. For example, we all know that alcohol dehydrates us. Who hasn’t woken up the morning after a night on the town with severe cotton-mouth? Turns out that alcohol is a diuretic, which increases the need to urinate, thus dehydrating the body.

While you may think that a little hangover is no big deal, dehydration can be damaging to your hair follicles, making them brittle, as well as your hair.

Increased Oestrogen

Drinking has been shown to increase the body’s production of oestrogen, the female sex hormone, in both men and women. It may be that alcohol consumption can increase this female hormone, contributing to lesser hair growth. As noted in a Sun Online interview about hair loss with Dr. Clare Morrison:

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“It has been found that higher levels of oestrogen in the male body can cause follicles to become weak promoting hair loss. Women tend to experience hair loss when their hormone levels are higher than usually, such as during a pregnancy.”

Sleep-Related Stress

Drinking can impact sleep in two ways: by you staying out late and by interrupting normal sleep patterns.

Studies have shown that drinking can lead to poor sleep quality, which can make someone overtired and irritable, overall stressed. In turn, stress can “enhance neurogenic inflammation, as well as cytokine imbalance” in addition to “poor intake of oxygen” — reducing overall hair health, as noted by Morrison.

Can drinking too much wine cause hair loss?

Let’s take a moment to focus on wine, specifically. Many people say that a glass of wine everyday has excellent health benefits due to antioxidants, etc.

Acidity

A study published in Gastroenterology found that “white wine 30 min before a protein meal significantly increased the acid” in the body. This is important because when bodies become overly acidic, they balance pH levels by using the protein stored away — keratin — which is found in hair. The acidity in wine and other drinks may be leeching your keratin and weakening your hair thus leading to hair-loss.

Is Thinning Hair Reversible?

It depends on why the hair is thinning. Some instances — such as death of a loved one, abrupt weight loss, nutritional deficiency, surgery, some medications and illness, among others — may cause telogen effluvium, where more hairs than normal go into the resting phase of hair growth. This type of hair loss would be temporary. However, other types of hair loss, such as due to old age or heredity, are permanent.

Is Hormonal Hair Loss Reversible?

To know if hormonal hair loss is reversible, first you’d need to identify which hormone is causing you to lose hair.

Dihydrotestosterone (DHT)

There are currently drugs on the market which combat hair loss by blocking the conversion of testosterone to DHT. This form may be reversed with the help of drugs and regrowth products.

Estrogen

Excess estrogen can trigger hair loss or increased resting phase of hair growth in some women. This may be reversible with the help of drugs or simply time, if following a pregnancy.

Thyroid Hormones

The thyroid gland is responsible for regulating thyroid hormones to support bodily functions, even hair growth. When the thyroid is stressed or malnourished, it focuses on critical jobs — like breathing and heart function — and redirects hormones away from other functions, such as hair growth. This type of hair loss may be reversible with a proper diet and reduction in stress.

The Surprising Role of Stress

This is an interesting study for reasons relating to stress as well as alcoholism. We have all heard that stress can make your hair fall out, but on the whole researchers have indicated in the past that the role of stress in hair loss is greatly exaggerated. Basically, according to most doctors who specialize in hair loss studies, the stress needs to be really pronounced or long-term in order to cause hair loss.

Common culprits include:

  • A recent surgery
  • A high fever
  • A severe or lasting illness or disease
  • Hormonal imbalance
  • Extreme weight loss
  • Emotional stress—but only indirectly

Intriguingly enough, this seems to jar a bit with the study results from 2011, which indicate that you can lose hair because of stress. Divorce or the death of a spouse certainly gets filed under “emotional stress.” Of course, it could be in some or all cases that the emotional stress leads to bad lifestyle choices—perhaps even including smoking or drinking. It is then that ongoing physical stressor which causes increased hair loss.
 

Recommended Reading: How to Prevent Hair Loss 

 
The bottom line here is that heavy drinking is bad for you, and if you are an alcoholic, your hair is the least of the reasons you should quit, but it’s certainly a good reminder! You can be sure that the hair loss is just an external mirror of the internal damage you are doing to your body, which is going to catch up with you eventually. If you are a moderate drinker and you are losing hair, it is unlikely that the alcohol is responsible, so you will want to investigate for other causes. While you are at it, buy a hat, drink some coffee, and talk to a marriage counselor if you need to!

Resources:

http://www.the-alcoholism-guide.org/alcoholism-and-hair-loss.html
http://www.plasticsurgery.org/news/2011/marital-status-smoking-increase-risk-of-hair-loss-for-women.html
http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/hair-loss/news/20110923/divorce-heavy-drinking-smoking-linked-to-hair-loss