Some Types of Hair Loss Are Linked to Celiac Disease

Losing your hair? It could be linked to your intestines

hairbrush with too much hair on it
Hair loss can be linked to celiac disease. Phil Ashley/Getty Images

Are you losing your hair? If your hair loss isn't related to normal aging (like the vast majority of hair loss), then there's a chance it's linked to your small intestine.

Yes, this probably sounds unlikely. But as it turns out, celiac disease — a condition in which the protein gluten in wheat, barley and rye triggers intestinal damage — has been linked to a condition that causes hair loss.

And there's good news: in at least some people, getting diagnosed with celiac disease and following the gluten-free diet actually has led to their hair growing back.

Celiac Disease and Autoimmune Hair Loss

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease, which means it involves an attack by your own immune system on your own body (in this case, your small intestine). Alopecia areata, meanwhile, is another autoimmune condition involving an attack by your own immune system on your hair follicles.

Alopecia areata usually starts with one or more small, round, smooth bald patches on your head, and can eventually cause complete hair loss on your scalp or even on your entire body (a condition known as alopecia universalis).

The condition usually begins in childhood, and affects both genders equally. Approximately 2% of the population overall, including more than 5 million people in the United States, have alopecia areata.

Are the Two Conditions Linked?

It appears they may be. People who have one autoimmune disease (such as celiac disease) are more likely to have other autoimmune diseases (such as thyroid disease, type 1 diabetes, or autoimmune liver disease).

One of the first research studies linking alopecia with celiac disease was published in 1995. Italian doctors had noticed that several of their patients with alopecia also had celiac disease, and that in one of these patients — a 14-year-old boy — the missing hair on his scalp and body completely regrew after he adopted a gluten-free diet.

This boy's case, and a few others, prompted the doctors to screen a large group of alopecia patients for celiac disease.

In fact, the doctors did find a relatively high rate of celiac disease in their patients — much greater than could be expected by chance. On the basis of this study, the doctors recommended that celiac disease blood tests should be performed in all patients with alopecia areata.

Since then, there have been other medical research reports that link celiac disease with alopecia areata.

Can A Gluten-Free Diet Help Reverse Alopecia Areata?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for alopecia areata. Many of the research reports that describe patients with alopecia and celiac disease also report that the patients' hair grew back after they adopted a gluten-free diet, but one study found no hair regrowth after celiac diagnosis.

Even in people without celiac disease, however, alopecia can be very unpredictable, and sometimes the hair simply grows back by itself.

Other Types of Hair Loss

There are other reasons for hair loss beyond alopecia areata that also could be linked to celiac disease.

For example, malnutrition — which can affect people with severe celiac disease who haven't yet been diagnosed — can lead to unusual hair loss, along with a host of other problems.

In this case, once you fix your vitamin deficiencies, your hair should grow back.

Finally, thyroid disease — which, as I said above, often is found with celiac disease — can cause hair loss in some people. If your hair loss isn't explained any other way, you may want to talk to your doctor about getting your thyroid tested.

(Edited by Jane Anderson)


Barbato M et al. Alopecia and coeliac disease: report of two patients showing response to gluten-free diet. Clinical and Experimental Dermatology. 1998 Sep;23(5):236-7.

Bardella MT et al. Alopecia areata and coeliac disease: no effect of a gluten-free diet on hair growth. Dermatology. 2000;200:108-10.

Corazza GR et al. Celiac disease and alopecia areata: report of a new association. Gastroenterology. 1995; 109:1333-7.

Naveh Y et al. Celiac disease-associated alopecia in childhood. Journal of Pediatrics. 1999;134:362-4.

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