Why these Osteoporosis Drugs Can Cause Hair Loss and What to Do About It
Did you know that on average, a person loses between 50 and 100 strands of hair each day? Because we have over 100,000 strands of hair on our heads, we usually don’t even notice our lost hairs. However, if you begin to find more hair than normal in the shower drain or your hairbrush, you may be among the 80 million Americans that experience hair loss, which is medically referred to as alopecia.
While you might think hair loss is an inevitable part of aging, aging is only one of many factors that can impact how much hair you lose. Many are surprised to learn that hormonal changes, nutritional deficiencies, and even medications can all cause hair loss. In fact, one of the side effects of osteoporosis drugs is hair loss.
Thankfully, it is possible to build healthy bones without taking dangerous osteoporosis drugs. In this article, we explain what causes hair loss, how osteoporosis drugs can contribute to it, and provide you with valuable tips for preventing hair loss through a bone-healthy diet.
Our Hair Keeps Us Healthy
Hair plays an important role in our health and wellbeing. It helps us regulate body temperature and protects us from UV rays.
We can see that our hair is always growing, but it might surprise you to learn that the hair we see is already dead. The hair root grows underneath the skin, where the follicles take in nutrients that promote growth. By the time the hair has reached the surface, it is no longer living.
The Four Phases of Hair
It might also surprise you to learn that hair grows faster than almost any other tissue in the body. While the speed may vary from person to person (based on variables mentioned earlier like age, hormones, and access to nutrients), all hair goes through a four-stage life cycle.
The first phase is known as the anagen phase (or growth phase). In this phase, hair is actively growing as the cells in the root of the hair quickly divide. This phase can last two to six years and at any given time, most of the hair on our head is in this phase of growth.
Next comes the shorter (approximately three weeks) catagen phase that signals the end of the growth period where a club hair is formed. This is the hair that is no longer actively growing and is resting (telogen phase) until it eventually falls out during the exogen phase.
What Causes Hair Loss?
While we know there are many variables that impact hair growth, it’s important to understand the biological process that’s causing it. Age is an important factor because as we age, the anagen phase shortens, which is why hair can be more vulnerable to breakage and thinning over time.
If lack of nutrients and sleep are the culprits, it is because the body, under stress, is focused on keeping vital organs functioning and may need to divert resources like oxygen and nutrients away from the hair follicles.
Hormonal changes can contribute to hair loss because decreased estrogen and progesterone levels slow hair growth and cause hair thinning. Drops in estrogen and progesterone also prompt an increase in androgens (often known as “male hormones”), which can actually shrink the hair follicle.
Osteoporosis drugs, to the surprise of many, can cause hair loss by interfering with a crucial biochemical pathway that supports hair growth.
The Link Between Osteoporosis Drugs and Hair Loss
When I was first diagnosed with osteoporosis, I was prescribed the popular bisphosphonate Fosamax. I was shocked to learn that hair loss was one of the many terrible side effects of this drug, and to this day I’m so glad I never took it. Bisphosphonates like Fosamax, Actonel, Boniva, and Reclast have been tied to alopecia.
In a study conducted by a group of Dutch researchers, participants took alendronate (Fosamax) or risedronate (Actonel); the vast majority of alopecia reports (46) came from those taking alendronate.
The researchers noted that the “exact mechanism of bisphosphonate induced alopecia is unknown,” but that it’s most likely because bisphosphonates block a particular enzyme, thereby interfering with an enzymatic pathway.
Bisphosphonates impact bone metabolism by blocking the enzyme farnesyl diphosphate synthase (FPPS) which is involved in the mevalonate pathway (also called the HMG-CoA reductase pathway).” The Osteoporosis Reversal Program, 2007
The mevalonate pathway is essential to the production of cholesterol, which can help explain why bisphosphonates impact hair loss.
Our hair contains cholesterol and the cholesterol in our hair follicles is “partly absorbed and partly synthesized [sic] in hair follicles through the HmG-CoA-reductase pathway.” We know that statins, a popular type of drugs prescribed to lower cholesterol, also disrupt this pathway.
While statins are not prescribed for osteoporosis because they do not bind to bone surface, it is not surprising, given the similar mechanisms of bisphosphonates and statins, that both have a side effect of hair loss.
Stopping Hair Loss Naturally
The good news is that if you have taken osteoporosis drugs before or you are simply experiencing hair loss as part of aging, there are ways for you to naturally stop hair loss AND build bone.
One of the best ways to do this is through diet. The right foods can nourish your hair follicles and promote growth, so next we’ll discuss the foods that have been scientifically shown to promote hair growth.
Acidifying Foods That Promote Hair Growth
Barley is rich in iron and copper, both of which are needed to produce the red blood cells and hemoglobin that carry oxygen through the body and bring nutrients to the hair follicle.
This is why individuals experiencing anemia, a condition where the body lacks iron, may be losing hair too. Barley also has Vitamin E, which is a powerful antioxidant that protects your skin cells and can repair damage to the scalp.
This breakfast staple is a great source of Vitamin B-complex, including biotin. Biotin works with the B-complex to keep the skin hydrated and prevents flaky and irritated skin. Eggs also contain Vitamin D. Studies have shown that women experiencing hair loss typically have lower levels of Vitamin D.
Zinc deficiency can cause alopecia. That’s why meats like lamb, beef, and turkey, which are all great sources of zinc, are great to incorporate into a hair-healthy diet.
Nuts and Seeds
Many types of nuts, like walnuts, pine nuts, and seeds, are an excellent source of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids and antioxidants that have been shown to improve hair growth. One study found that Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, in addition to other vitamins, both prevented hair loss and increased hair thickness.
Salmon is an excellent source of many of the elements we have already highlighted, including Omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin D. Additionally, it is a good source of protein, which is needed to produce keratin, an essential protein in hair.
Alkalizing Foods That Promote Hair Health
Like the meat we previously mentioned, spinach is a rich source of iron and folate. Folate helps create the red blood cells that carry oxygen to your hair follicles.
It is also a great source of Vitamin C, which not only helps your body absorb iron but also can help stop hair graying and loss by working against oxidative stress. But the benefits of spinach don’t stop there.
It also contains Vitamin A, which helps grow body tissue and produce an oily, waxy substance that conditions your hair.
Sweet potatoes contain high levels of beta-carotene, which the body converts to Vitamin A, and as mentioned earlier, will help your body grow cells and tissues, including hair. Other foods that can provide a healthy dose of Vitamin A include carrots, butternut squash, and peppers.
A Note on Diet
The best diet to support bone health is one that maintains a healthy alkaline pH in the body. To do this, it is important to balance the alkalizing and acidifying foods we eat. Our typical western diet is highly acidic. When the pH in the body is too acidic, the body uses calcium from bones to neutralize the acid.
This can negatively affect bone health. Eating approximately 80% alkalizing foods and 20% acidifying ones creates a balanced environment that allows bones to thrive and provides several other health benefits. I recommend keeping track of this balance as you enjoy some of your favorite foods that are great for your bones, and great for your hair.
Healthy Bones Without Any Negative Side Effects
Osteoporosis drugs have a long list of unwanted side effects and hair loss is only one. Thankfully, you don’t need to take osteoporosis drugs to stop bone loss. At the Save Institute, we believe it’s possible to reverse bone loss naturally and avoid the side effects of osteoporosis drugs.
After years of research, we created the Osteoporosis Reversal Program, an all natural, science-based program that reverses and prevents osteoporosis and osteopenia. This program has helped thousands of individuals improve their bone density. It’s great to know you can achieve good hair and good bones without negative side effects.
Have you been diagnosed with osteoporosis or osteopenia? Do you take drugs for these conditions? What side effects are you experiencing? Can you attribute hair loss to these drugs? Have you tried building bone and caring for your hair the natural way? Please share your experience and tips!
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice. Please consult with your doctor to get specific medical advice for your situation.