How COVID saved my hair

Woman seeing her hair strands fly off Hair fall in the times of COVID (Image Source: Sandhya Raghavan)

India was in the throes of the third coronavirus wave in the first half of January 2022. When my husband returned from a short trip to Chennai on January 10th, he didn’t realise he got the virus.

A few spells of low-grade fever and scratchy throats later, we both got ourselves tested for Covid-19. Lo and behold! Test said “positive.”

And my first thought was: “There goes the rest of my hair.”

My battle with hair fall

Since January 2020, I had been focusing on growing out my hair. I had it all in place: combs, oils, serums, magic potions and the works. Two years later, I finally got the mane I always wanted.

But my long hair reverie was cruelly cut short. My scalp was blighted by the worst of hair fall somewhere in the autumn of 2021.

At first, I thought it was just a seasonal shedding, but things took a sinister turn soon.

Hair stands would sometimes band together and roll across the house like tumbleweed. Sometimes, I have fished out large hairy masses the size of my head from under my bed.

On some days, I had to make a tough choice between hygiene and having hair. The simple act of hair washing meant the loss of 400-500 hair strands at a go.

“There goes your career in crime,” said one of my friends. “How can you commit the perfect murder without leaving all the hair evidence behind?”

One day, even my otherwise reticent house help felt compelled to point out: “There is too much hair on the floor. You should see a doctor.”

And see the doctor I did. I visited the tricho-dermatologist that my parents go to. After some cursory examination of my scalp with her magnifying glass, she announced: “female pattern baldness.”

Read: COVID-19 could be coming for our hair!

After a few moments of disbelief,  I was directed towards the mirror in the doctor’s office. There it was, shining under the bright LED lights — my balding pate. It was glistening in the most mocking of ways.

There’s something refreshingly honest about the mirrors in the doctors’ office; they don’t sugarcoat the truth. 

After having paid through my nose for “nutraceuticals” and some minoxidil, I thought I saw the last of my hair-related worries, but I was wrong.

Not only did the treatment not work, but things were also about to get hairier in the days to come.  The husband and I were struck down by COVID.

COVID and hair fall

It’s established that one of the long-lasting aftereffects of COVID is hair loss even weeks after recovery. Telogen effluvium is the temporary loss of hair after a traumatic event (in this case COVID).

It was perhaps the final nail in the coffin to be struck by COVID when you are already dealing with hair loss. I was mentally prepared to live with hairlessness.

Maybe I could cut my hair short to make the hair loss less apparent? Better still, I could tie up my hair in a perpetual bun.

However, something serendipitous happened once I started COVID medication– my hair fall stopped instantly.

Zinc magic

Part of the treatment protocol for COVID in India was antibiotics, antacids, vitamin C and **drumroll** zinc.

Zinc is a micronutrient used widely in the treatment of telogen effluvium and alopecia areata. It’s also true that many patients of alopecia areata have zinc deficiency.

Zinc has many roles in the functioning of hair follicles. It can stop hair follicle regression and boosts its recovery.

The human body cannot naturally generate its own zinc; it has to source it through diet. The richest sources of zinc are meat and fish.

People on vegetarian diets comprising mainly of cereal grain can be deficient in zinc. Cereals contain the antinutrient phytate or phytic acid, which binds to dietary zinc and expels it from the body.

Other reasons for zinc deficiency include anorexia, malabsorption, inflammatory bowel diseases, cystic fibrosis, alcoholism, cancer, burns, infection and pregnancy.

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Most cases of alopecia, according to research, is caused by zinc deficiency and can be fixed by zinc supplementation.

The functions of zinc don’t stop there. Even if you have a healthy crown of hair, you need zinc for a healthy immune system, protein synthesis, wound healing, DNA synthesis and cell division.

Without zinc, you will be a sitting duck for infections, and that’s a scary proposition during COVID times.

How much zinc do you need per day?

Your per day zinc intake depends on your age and gender. Here’s a table to put things into perspective.

Age Male Female Pregnancy Lactation
0–6 months 2 mg* 2 mg*
7–12 months 3 mg 3 mg
1–3 years 3 mg 3 mg
4–8 years 5 mg 5 mg
9–13 years 8 mg 8 mg
14–18 years 11 mg 9 mg 12 mg 13 mg
19+ years 11 mg 8 mg 11 mg 12 mg

 Source: National Institutes of Health

How to get your zinc

The easiest way, in my experience, is through supplements. I prefer the brand Zincovit, a zinc-based cocktail of micronutrients.

I also fixed my diet, which was earlier based on convenience than nutrition. My meat and fish intake drastically reduced after I became in charge of the kitchen because veggies were easier to clean and chop. To fix this, I went back to my old diet of meat and fish at least twice a week.

The best source of dietary zinc is oysters. Three ounces of fried oysters can supply 673% of your daily zinc requirements.

Other forms of seafood such as crab, lobster, clams, prawns and mussels also contain good amounts of zinc. Among meat sources, beef is the best source of zinc followed by pork. Dark meat of chicken isn’t too far behind with 22 % of the daily requirement of zinc.

Vegetarians and vegans may have to work a little harder since plant and dairy-based foods pale in comparison to animal-based foods in matters of zinc. The best vegetarian sources of zinc are baked beans, yoghurt, sunflower seeds, cashews, oatmeal, cheese, almonds, milk, kidney beans and peas.

But don’t stop at zinc. There are other nutrients you need for a healthy mane. Don’t forget vitamin A, vitamin B, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, iron, ferritin, biotin, selenium and folic acid.

Bye-bye hair fall

For those who want to know, my hair is doing fine. The bald pate is getting populated and I see a lot of baby hairs. That’s not to say that there’s no hair fall at all. We all lose 40-50 strands in a day.

Oddly, it took a brush with COVID to correct my nutritional deficiencies. I am still on the multivitamins and may phase them out in time, replacing them with diet.

However, I am no longer afraid of the comb or running my fingers through my mane (which, btw, is now fabulously long).