For anyone who has recovered from COVID, many find it is the long term side effects that cause more stress than the symptoms from the virus itself. Now referred to as COVID “Long Haulers,'' voices are speaking out, using social media as a platform to share their stories of hair loss among the debilitating side effects still experienced months after testing positive for the virus.
In early August of 2020, actress Alyssa Milano revealed her unpleasant COVID-related hair loss experience on social media. She showed that months after recovering from the virus, clumps of hair were still coming out while brushing. Like Milano, people from all over began to sound the alarm on COVID related hair loss, an unpleasant side effect of the virus. Pennsylvania resident Stacey Maravola dealt with hair loss four months after recovering. Annrene Rowe started noticing clumps of hair falling out three months after being in the hospital and soon began seeing bald spots. Anna Karp, an assistant professor of dermatology at NYU, had only a mild case of COVID last March but started seeing hair loss in June.
In the year since COVID was first recognized in the United States, expert hair transplant surgeon and SmartGraft physician, Dr. Craig Ziering, says experts are reporting hair loss in nearly half of COVID patients. He stated that it even seems to be more common than symptoms such as sore throat, nausea, and rapid heart rate. Ziering expressed the hair loss as being a “really big problem” while appearing on an Extra! news segment with reporter Jenn Lahmers. While there is still so much to be discovered about the long term effects of COVID on the body, researchers now believe that the hair loss is not a direct symptom of the virus -- but rather a result of the stress and nutritional deficiencies that may accompany it; fortunately, this means that there are ways to reverse the damage.
Stress-related hair loss due to COVID-19 looks similar to a condition known as telogen effluvium (TE) or shock loss, where the hair loss comes on suddenly and usually falls out in large clumps when brushing or showering. The most common cause of diffuse hair loss and shedding, telogen effluvium affects both men and women. When a stressful event occurs, the body may go into “lockdown” mode, focusing on essential functions for survival -- hair growth not being one of them. In this phase, an increased amount of anagen hairs, or those in the growth phase, are triggered to enter a resting phase, known as the telogen phase. Not only can experiencing COVID cause physical and emotional stress, but just the act of quarantining itself has been observed to lead to stress-induced TE. Telogen effluvium can be acute, lasting fewer than six months, but it can also be chronic, lasting six months or more. Other triggering factors of TE include post-partum, febrile states, stress, medications, systemic disease, and nutritional deficiencies. SmartGraft physician Dr. Craig Ziering notes that in most instances with COVID, the hair will eventually go back to its original state in about 6-9 months, but he recommends combatting the stress with activities such as meditation and supplements, yoga, and exercise (like cardio).
While stress seems to be a major factor in experiencing hair loss, increasing research also points to gut health as a leading cause of hair loss. The foods that we consume greatly affect the bacteria in our gut and therefore our overall health. Simply put, if the body is not receiving the nutrients it needs, hair growth takes a backseat. In fact, two of the most common signs of nutrient deficiencies are brittle hair/nails and hair loss.
Dr. Heenam Stanley Kim from Korea University’s Laboratory for Human-Microbial Interactions has been examining emerging evidence suggesting that poor gut health adversely affects COVID-19. Interestingly, he realized that many countries with good medical infrastructure, the United States included, were hit the hardest by the virus. Kim linked this back to the “Western diet,” which is low in fiber and can lead to altered gut microbiomes and chronic diseases. Other researchers have agreed that the microbiome is involved with the severity of COVID.
Luckily, there are some ways to combat this hair loss trigger and minimize telogen effluvium. For one, a healthy hair diet is key. Select foods that are high in antioxidants and fiber such as spinach, whole grains, turmeric, sweet potato, kiwi, yogurt, or almonds, to name a few. Additionally, elderberries are full of antioxidants and vitamins that support a strong immune system, as well as dietary fiber that help keep your gut healthy and your hair growing.
Hair supplements can also be very helpful in restoring healthy hair growth. LOCKrx’s healthy hair plan supplements work directly to aid in gut issues that may be contributing to hair loss. DEFENSE, for example, contains anti-inflammatory ingredients like turmeric and aloe that work to soothe the gut, while BLOCK contains a special formula using ingredients like Ashwagandha to block DHT and support hair growth. Finally, GUARD contains a premier blend of Vitamin B complex and Biotin, which are known to promote healthy hair.
Hair loss is devastating, and especially so when it accompanies a serious virus. Although the CDC does not include hair loss on its list of COVID-19 symptoms, many doctors say the evidence is showing that it may be a long-term effect. Thankfully, its correlation to stress and gut health makes battling the hair loss a little more manageable. Stress reducers like regular exercise and meditating, using gut health supporters in dietary supplements, and following a high fiber, nutritious diet are among the best ways to combat COVID and bring back healthy hair.