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Home arrow Beauty arrow Hair arrow Does Metformin Cause Hair Loss? Side Effects and How to Stop Them

Does Metformin Cause Hair Loss? Side Effects and How to Stop Them

HR_author_photo_Rosmy
Written by Rosmy Barrios, MD
Dr. Donika Vata
Fact checked by Donika Vata, MD
Last update: May 10, 2023
6 min read 765 Views 0 Comments
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Many of us have relied on drugs prescribed by our doctors to help manage the symptoms of an illness or long-term condition. However, many of these medications come with unwanted side effects. One such drug is metformin, but can it really cause damage to your hair?

does metformin cause hair loss

If you’ve got type 2 diabetes or polycystic ovary syndrome, it’s likely that you’ve heard of metformin. In fact, you may even be taking the drug to manage the symptoms of your condition.

However, metformin has caused much concern among patients due to recent reports of excessive hair fall. Does taking this medication really put you at risk of damaging your hair?

We uncover the truth about metformin and provide some solutions for maintaining strong and long locks.

Does Metformin Cause Hair Loss?

Although there have been reports of metformin causing hair loss, there isn’t much scientific evidence to suggest that this is the case for most patients.

The only reports that link hair loss with metformin users are isolated and involve other medications that have similar side effects. For instance, one person taking metformin and another diabetes medication called sitagliptin reported eyelash and eyebrow loss after 4 months.

Although clinical findings ruled out the presence of skin diseases that may have contributed to this sudden hair loss, the exact causes have not been made clear. The report concluded that there may be a relationship between metformin and these symptoms.

There are also several other possible hair loss triggers that may be related but not caused by metformin. As the drug is taken by those with diabetes, hyperglycemia, and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), these conditions may contribute to hair thinning and breakage.

An example of this is presented in a 2015 study, which found that androgenetic alopecia, a common hair loss condition, was present in those with high blood sugar levels, or hyperglycemia. For those with type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance has also been linked with this condition.

Androgenetic alopecia can cause damage to blood vessels, which slows blood flow and prevents vital nutrients from reaching the hair follicles, therefore reducing hair growth ability.

Those with type 1 diabetes may also suffer from hair loss through an autoimmune disorder called alopecia areata. This is where white blood cells mistakenly attack the cells in the hair follicles that cause strands to fall out, leaving bald spots across the scalp.

If you are using metformin with other drugs, such as Adderall or Accutane, and experiencing hair loss, seek medical advice as soon as possible as those drugs are linked to excessive hair shedding.

What Is Metformin?

Metformin is a prescription drug that helps to increase insulin sensitivity for those with type 2 diabetes or hyperglycemia. It is also sometimes prescribed for patients with polycystic ovary syndrome.

The drug is the most ideal and commonly used treatment as it helps to reduce high insulin and blood sugar levels, both of which are common symptoms of these conditions.

Metformin is available in tablet form as Glumetza or as a clear liquid called Riomets, which should both be taken by mouth at meal times.

Why Are Doctors Not Prescribing Metformin Anymore?

In May 2020, doctors in the US were advised by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to stop prescribing metformin manufactured by certain companies to their patients.

This is because high levels of a cancer-causing agent, known as carcinogens, were found in some extended-release metformin tablets. Doctors may now give new prescriptions to those on these types of metformin. 

So, no matter the reason for taking the drug, it is crucial to contact your healthcare provider, if you have not already, to ensure that your current prescription is safe. 

Side Effects of Metformin

Along with hair loss, metformin can cause a range of other side effects. While many of these are common, some are more severe and require immediate medical attention. 

It is normal to experience the following side effects when taking metformin, which may arise as your body adjusts to the dosage:

  • Digestive issues
  • Headaches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue

Some less common side effects include flu-like symptoms, muscle pain, lightheadedness, chills, flushing, and a metallic taste in the mouth. 

You may also develop anemia, a condition where the body fails to produce enough red blood cells. Anemia can cause you to feel drowsy, weak, and have difficulty sleeping.

Most of the side effects that we’ve mentioned so far are unpleasant yet not dangerous. However, in rare cases, those taking metformin to treat diabetes may experience a dangerous complication where lactic acid builds up in the body.

This is known as lactic acidosis and can occur if you are taking metformin when severely dehydrated.

When this condition is not treated immediately, it can cause sufferers to fall into a diabetic coma and may even lead to death, so call 911 immediately if you are concerned.

How to Stop Metformin Side Effects: 3 Effective Ways

Although mild side effects are inevitable when you first begin to take metformin, there are ways that you can reduce your risk of suffering from severe or long-term effects.

Here are 3 effective things that you should do:

#1 Take it with food

When taken on an empty stomach, the body may struggle to absorb metformin properly and can become irritated as a result.

So, if you find yourself feeling sick, getting bloated, or having cramps after taking metformin, try taking it at meal times instead.

#2 Be mindful of supplements

As supplements are not regulated by the FDA, it is difficult to say whether or not they will have a negative reaction when taken alongside metformin. 

This is because supplements are classed as food and are therefore not tested in the same way as medications. Therefore, if you have been prescribed metformin, you should always consult your doctor before taking any other vitamins or supplements.

#3 Talk with your doctor

Whether you are experiencing mild or severe side effects, you should always seek medical advice if you’re having a hard time on metformin. Your doctor may be able to help you slowly increase your dose to reduce the chance of unpleasant symptoms.

They can also give you the extended-release version, which slowly exposes your body to the medication and reduces side effects.

Doctors can identify whether there may be an underlying medical condition causing side effects such as hair loss or fatigue, including anemia or nutrient deficiency. They can therefore provide you with the appropriate treatment to give you some relief.

Metformin and Vitamin B12

There may be a link between taking metformin for long periods and hair loss, as research has shown that it can cause vitamin B12 deficiency and anemia for those with diabetes. Having either B12 deficiency or anemia may result in hair loss.

This is because it prevents the gut from producing the vitamin, though further studies are needed to confirm whether short-term metformin use may be detrimental to health.

However, hair loss isn’t always caused by metformin, particularly if you are taking the drug for hyperglycemia and aren’t getting enough B12 in your diet anyway. Both high blood sugar and B12 deficiency are conditions that can lead to hair thinning and breakage.

Alongside hair loss, being deficient in B12 can have a range of unpleasant side effects, including fatigue, depression, constipation, low energy levels, and a lower appetite.

So, if you are concerned about hair loss while taking this drug, you should speak to your doctor, who can advise you on minimizing these effects.

For instance, they may recommend taking a supplement or eating more B12-rich foods, such as fortified cereals, oats, milk, eggs, and meat.

FAQs

Can metformin thicken hair?

As metformin helps to balance blood glucose and insulin levels, it may have an indirect effect on supporting healthy, thick, and fast hair growth for those with diabetes or PCOS.

Do metformin side effects ever go away?

Yes, most metformin side effects last for approximately 2 weeks and go away on their own. If you are experiencing long-term effects, you should seek medical advice as soon as possible.

Can metformin cause baldness?

There is little evidence to prove that metformin directly causes baldness. However, hair loss and alopecia are symptoms of some of the conditions that metformin is used to treat, such as diabetes and PCOS.

A Word From an MD

Although there may be a relationship between metformin and hair loss, there is limited evidence to suggest that these two factors are definitely linked.

You should seek medical attention immediately if your hair loss is sudden or rapid. There are many other reasons you may be experiencing thinning hair, which you should identify with the help of a doctor before you stop taking metformin.

For instance, they may advise you to try to reduce chronic stress levels, avoid tight hairstyles, and dry your hair with a microfiber towel rather than using heat. Doctors may also be able to diagnose and treat an underlying condition that is causing hair loss.

If your hair is falling out, you may have a vitamin B12 deficiency. Try consuming a healthy diet full of B12-rich foods, such as liver sausage, beef, tuna, eggs, and milk. For vegetarians and vegans, use a supplement to boost your B12 levels.

Conclusion

According to the limited scientific research available, metformin therapy itself is unlikely to cause hair loss. 

However, if you are prescribed this drug to treat hyperglycemia, type 2 diabetes, or PCOS, you may experience hair loss as a symptom of one of these conditions. 

These illnesses also come with side effects, such as high blood sugar and elevated stress levels, which can contribute to hair thinning. 

Whether or not you have diabetes or PCOS, to maintain long and healthy locks, it’s just as important to focus on including plenty of fruit, vegetables, healthy fats, and lean sources of protein in your diet to avoid vitamin B12 deficiency.

Written by Rosmy Barrios, MD
Dr. Rosmy Barrios, MD, is a medical advisor for the Health Reporter, the head of the anti-aging department, and a regenerative medicine specialist in several medical institutions with years of experience in aesthetic medicine and cosmetology.
The article was fact checked by Donika Vata, MD
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HR_author_photo_Rosmy
Written by Rosmy Barrios, MD
Dr. Donika Vata
Fact checked by Donika Vata, MD
Last update: May 10, 2023
6 min read 765 Views 0 Comments
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