Integrative practitioners offer solutions to COVID hair loss
While medical experts are continuing to learn the many long-term effects of COVID-19, new findings show many individuals have reported significant hair loss in the months following an infection.
One study, published in Dermatologic Therapy, found hair loss was one of the most common complaints from patients recovering from a COVID infection.
An April 2022 study in the journal, Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology, reported that helping patients to integrate stress-coping strategies, and to get optimal nutrition, including vitamins can help promote hair regrowth in post-COVID patients.
Apple Bodemer, MD an integrative dermatologist, at the University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics in Madison, Wisconsin, has seen a significant increase in the number of patients reporting hair loss after a COVID infection.
“The type of hair loss we’re seeing in patients with long-COVID is usually telogen effluvium, a condition where hair loss is the result of a stressor,” Bodemer said. “It can be triggered by the virus and stress, and in some cases by nutritional deficiencies.”
Telogen effluvium isn’t just a side effect of COVID, it can also be caused by viral infections, hormonal changes, and stress.
While alopecia is another form of hair loss, Bodemer said telogen effluvium is different in that the hair loss is usually temporary. In addition, with telogen effluvium, patients notice hair loss and overall thinner strands when they brush or wash their hair. Alopecia is the cause of male and female pattern hair loss. It typically starts above the temples and is often hereditary.
The good news, according to Bodemer, is that COVID hair if usually temporary and patient typically see regrowth 6-12 months after a infection, yet it can cause patients a great deal of stress in the interim.
“I talk to my patients about practices that can combat stress including breathwork and meditation,” Bodemer said. “There are also supplements such as ashwagandha that have been proven to reduce stress.”
If hair loss persists for longer than six months, Bodemer says thyroid disease, or a vitamin deficiency, might be the culprit behind telogen effluvium. Testing ferritin, vitamin D, and TSH levels can show if there is a deficiency in these areas.
“If a patient is experiencing hair loss, we don’t just look at whether their test results are in the normal range, we want them to be in the optimal range,” Bodemer says. “For example, the normal range for ferritin in your blood serum is 11 to 307 micrograms per liter for women, but for hair regrowth, we’d want to see optimal ferritin levels at 80 or above.”
Bodemer also discusses how healthy lifestyle choices can promote hair regrowth. She recommends a protein and vitamin-rich eating plan such as the Mediteranean diet, that can contribute to hair regrowth, as well as getting six hours of quality sleep each night.
Using TCM to promote hair regrowth
At her Denver, Colorado practice, Wellnest, Garryn Skurulsky, L.Ac, a board certified acupuncturist and herbalist, uses Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to treat clients with COVID hair loss.
She explained that long-haul COVID seems to cause a shift in the follicular cycle and prolongs the telegen phase, the part of the cycle when the hair is not actively growing.
“This delay and rest period might be one reason to the hair loss along with the being stuck in the flight or fight response,” Skurulsky said. “Usually, 15 percent of our hair is in this phase, while the poor long haulers may have 50 percent of their hair in this phase.”
By stimulating the vagus nerve through acupuncture, Skurulsky said she can help her clients to relax, which helps with many long-COVID symptoms including hair loss, digestion, chest tightness, headache, sleep problems and digestive issues.
“It can be challenging for clients to see hair regrowth if they are in a constant state of fight and flight,” she said.
Skurulsky noted that acupuncture is great at reducing inflammation and guiding the body into the parasympathetic phase. She also uses Chinese herbs, on an individualized basis, to help clear the heat and nurture qi and blood for hair loss.
“I often recommend dang gui, which invigorates blood circulation and can improve hair loss, dan shen, that nourishes the blood and calms the spirit, ling zhir, helps oxygenate the scalp and helps get nutrients to the scalp, or he shou we, known for treating hair loss and creating thicker hair,” Skurulsky said.
She cites one recent study published in BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies that showed he shou we supported hair growth.
“I see many of my long-COVID patients once a week,” Skurulsky said. “Even when they begin to feel better, it’s a gradual process and it takes time. Most have an increase in hair regrowth, but what they care more about is that their body isn’t in a constant state of panic, and anxiety and they are experiencing better sleep. “