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Does Metformin Cause Hair Loss?

Managing T2D

January 18, 2024

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Photography by Getty Images

Photography by Getty Images

by Jenna Fletcher

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Medically Reviewed by:

Joan Paul, MD, MPH, DTMH

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by Jenna Fletcher

•••••

Medically Reviewed by:

Joan Paul, MD, MPH, DTMH

•••••

•••••

Metformin is a common treatment for type 2 diabetes. You may have heard that it can cause hair loss, but little evidence supports these claims. Here’s what you need to know.

Metformin is a medication that your doctor may recommend you take if you’re living with type 2 diabetes or at risk of developing it. They may also prescribe it to help treat gestational diabetes or other health conditions, such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

Like other medications, metformin can cause side effects that can affect your quality of life. For example, a 2019 research review suggests that metformin may contribute to weight loss in some people.

But if you’re living with type 2 diabetes and you experience hair loss, it likely isn’t due to taking metformin.

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Does metformin cause hair loss?

The short answer is no. Studies exploring metformin’s effectiveness and safety don’t offer much evidence of hair loss as a result of taking this medication.

In a 2017 case study, researchers described a 69-year-old man who suddenly lost his eyebrows and lashes 4 months after using metformin. The researchers could not find other possible causes and linked the hair loss to a negative reaction to metformin. But this was just one case study, and it’s impossible to make broad claims about hair loss from metformin based on one person’s experience.

Some research even suggests that metformin promotes hair growth, though not necessarily in people living with type 2 diabetes. In a 2022 study, experts found that metformin increased hair follicle regeneration in animal cells. But they noted that additional studies are still needed.

In addition to prescribing it to treat type 2 diabetes, doctors may prescribe metformin to prevent and treat PCOS. In a small 2016 study involving 56 women with PCOS, researchers noted significant decreases in hair loss after metformin treatment.

The authors of a 2023 study also suggest that topical metformin may help treat alopecia areata, an autoimmune disease that can cause hair loss on patches of the scalp or the whole scalp. They believe metformin’s ability to change the immune system or decrease inflammation may be the reason for this, but more studies are needed.

Complications associated with your diabetes, chronic stress, and any number of other underlying causes can lead to hair loss.

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5 tips for managing hair loss

Living with type 2 diabetes can increase your risk of developing hair loss. For example, in a 2019 study, researchers found an association between type 2 diabetes and severe central scalp hair loss in African American women.

But you can take several steps to help prevent hair loss or to manage it if it happens. Here are a few tips:

1. Look for ways to reduce your stress level

Chronic stress from living with type 2 diabetes may cause hair loss. Research from 2017 suggests that long-term stress can cause inflammation around hair follicles. This inflammation can disrupt the mechanics of the follicle, potentially leading to hair loss.

Stress management may help prevent hair loss. Possible options include practicing meditation, participating in talk therapy, practicing yoga, getting regular exercise and enough sleep each night, and spending time doing activities you enjoy.

2. Consider vitamins or supplements

Long-term metformin use may result in anemia (low red blood cell counts) and vitamin B12 deficiency, according to a 2016 study. If left untreated, both conditions can lead to hair loss. A 2019 review also suggests that supplementing nutrients such as iron, vitamin D, folate, vitamin B12, and selenium may help improve hair loss.

Since metformin may cause a nutrient deficiency, you might find that taking vitamin B12 supplements can help. But it’s important to talk with your doctor before you start taking any supplement to make sure it doesn’t interact with any of your current medications.

3. Change your hairstyle

Certain hairstyling methods and products, such as dyes, perms, and relaxers, can damage your hair. You may be able to prevent hair loss by changing your hairstyling preferences.

4. Try a wig

While this is not for everyone, if you experience extreme hair loss, wearing a wig may be an option that helps cover it up.

5. Manage type 2 diabetes

It can be challenging to manage type 2 diabetes due to changes in your diet, your exercise habits, and medications you need to take. But if you follow your treatment plan and advice from doctors and dietitians, you’re already taking steps to prevent complications associated with the disease, including hair loss.

Many of the steps you might take to reduce stress, such as getting regular exercise and enough sleep, can also help with type 2 diabetes management.

If you’re having trouble managing type 2 diabetes and hair loss, your doctor might be able to help you find the underlying cause.

What else causes hair loss?

The American Academy of Dermatology lists the following possible causes of hair loss that may account for thinning or balding:

  • damaging hair care treatments
  • hereditary hair loss
  • cancer treatment
  • age
  • poison, such as arsenic
  • hormone imbalances, such as from PCOS
  • certain hairstyles
  • scalp psoriasis
  • thyroid disease
  • medication use
  • scalp infections
  • nutrient deficiencies
  • pregnancy and childbirth
  • sexually transmitted infections
  • friction
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The takeaway

Metformin likely will not directly cause your hair to fall out. But taking metformin may lead to a vitamin B12 deficiency, which doctors can address with supplements.

Complications associated with your diabetes, chronic stress, and any number of other underlying causes listed above can lead to hair loss.

You may be able to help prevent or reduce hair loss by taking steps to reduce stress, working with your doctor to manage type 2 diabetes, taking supplements (with your doctor’s approval), or changing your diet and exercise habits.

Medically reviewed on January 18, 2024

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About the author

Jenna Fletcher

Jenna Fletcher is a freelance writer and content creator. She writes extensively about health and wellness. As a mother of one stillborn twin, she has a personal interest in writing about overcoming grief and postpartum depression and anxiety, and reducing the stigma surrounding child loss and mental healthcare. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Muhlenberg College.

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