Bulimia Nervosa is an eating disorder that follows a distinct pattern: secretly binging and eating large amounts of food past the point of fullness. Followed by a purging behavior to try and rid the body of the calories recently consumed.
The most common purging behavior is vomiting, but people can also pursue excessive exercise or abuse laxative medications. Losing large amounts of fluid and essential nutrients can increase your risk of dehydration, worsen your mood, and lower your overall energy levels.
Sometimes people suffering from an eating disorder can also experience hair loss or hair thinning, but it will vary per individual. Keep reading to learn how bulimia and hair loss are linked.
Can Eating Disorders Cause Hair Loss?
Many eating disorders can lead to nutrient deficiencies, making it hard for your body to produce enough healthy cells for bones, teeth, skin, and hair. Thinning of hair can be a symptom of a severe eating disorder because it indicates that your body has been undernourished for a long time.1,2
Hair can be a large part of a person’s identity. It can feel distressing to look in the mirror and see your reflection has changed, and some of your hair is gone. Bulimia behaviors tend to be rooted in secrecy, and seeing a tangible side effect of the disorder can be emotionally devastating.
To others, hair loss might not feel like a big deal, but feeling low while coping with an eating disorder can trigger other dangerous behaviors. Many people who have bulimia are also at high risk for self-injury behaviors, impulsivity, and substance abuse.1
Other symptoms of Bulimia include:
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Muscle weakness.
- Intolerance to cold.
- Fine thin hair everywhere else on the body (clinically referred to as lanugo).
- Weakened immune function.
- Irregular menstrual periods.
Why Does Bulimia Cause Hair Loss?
The human body is constantly running at all hours of the day. You need a steady stream of energy to ensure all your biological processes that keep you healthy are completed. This includes digestion, cell creation, and biochemical signaling between your brain and your organs.
Without enough calories, or adequate nutrients from food, your body operates at reduced capacity. It preserves energy for life-supporting activities, such as keeping your heart beating, gas exchange in the lungs for fresh oxygen, and fueling all other vital organs. It can be hard for your body to create new cells in this state, and hair growth can diminish in some people.
The best way to restore your body’s function and to heal is to start formal treatment. Working with a team of therapists and a dietitian can increase your chances of recovery.
Health Risks Of Bulimia
The American National Eating Disorders organization has provided research that shows untreated bulimia can be life-threatening. Losing large amounts of fluid through vomiting and purging can impact the delicate electrolyte balance in your body. These small molecules transmit signals to your vital organs. If their levels are outside of the normal range, you are at an increased risk of heart arrhythmia and cardiac arrest, which can be life-threatening.1
Does Dehydration Cause Hair Loss?
Some people suffering from bulimia nervosa will purge or vomit after eating. This can lead to a significant amount of fluid loss and can increase the risk of dehydration. There isn’t strong evidence to suggest that dehydration can cause hair loss in everyone, but it can lead to dry fine hair.
Signs of dehydration:
- Feeling thirsty or lightheaded.
- Passing urine less often.
- Dark brown urine.
- Potent-smelling urine.
- Dry mouth.
Remembering to drink every few hours will help you stay on top of your hydration goals, which may help your hair feel softer. Choose water whenever possible and add fresh fruit or herbs to add flavor. Popular flavor pairings include fresh pineapple, mint, and ginger or fresh strawberries and basil.
Try Home Hair Products
Dry and thin hair can feel brittle, frizzy, and rough in texture. Using a hair mask occasionally can help hydrate your strands, which might help you feel better about your hair and appearance. It might sound like a low-priority task, but grooming and pampering yourself are important parts of self-care.
Hair Growth Supplements
Different supplements on the market promise different forms of hair transformations, but they are not scientifically proven to help.3
Most of these products center their formula around biotin (a B vitamin), which is supposed to strengthen hair and nails. People who’ve benefitted from these studies are people who were biotin deficient. Taking a supplement helped boost their levels back to normal, but it did not deliver extraordinary hair results.4
Never start a supplement without speaking to your doctor first. High-dose supplements have been linked to increased cancer risk; your physician can tell you the correct dose to take based on your health.5
Nourish Can Help
Choosing to seek treatment is an essential first step to healing from bulimia. Eating disorders can wear down your health over time, and the sooner you start making changes, the better you will feel.
Working with a registered dietitian specializing in eating disorders can help you reach your goals safely. Nourish has a team of dietitians 100% remote and covered by insurance. Book an appointment with a provider today.
- National Eating Disorders Association. (2018, February 22). Bulimia Nervosa.
- Almohanna, H. M., Ahmed, A. A., Tsatalis, J. P., & Tosti, A. (2019). The Role of Vitamins and Minerals in Hair Loss: A Review. Dermatology and therapy, 9(1), 51–70.
- Patel, D. P., Swink, S. M., & Castelo-Soccio, L. (2017). A Review of the Use of Biotin for Hair Loss. Skin appendage disorders, 3(3), 166–169.
- Trüeb R. M. (2016). Serum Biotin Levels in Women Complaining of Hair Loss. International journal of trichology, 8(2), 73–77.
- Martínez, M. E., Jacobs, E. T., Baron, J. A., Marshall, J. R., & Byers, T. (2012). Dietary supplements and cancer prevention: balancing potential benefits against proven harms. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 104(10), 732–739.
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