Harvard Women's Health Watch

Ask the doctor: Do statins cause hair loss?

Q. My hair's been thinning. Could it be due to simvastatin, which I started taking several months ago?

A. Hair loss, or alopecia, is a very rare side effect of all statin drugs. Widely prescribed in the treatment of high cholesterol, statins work by blocking the action of an enzyme the liver uses to make cholesterol. About 1% of people taking statins report hair loss. This figure hasn't changed since 1987, when statins were introduced. We don't know exactly why statins might cause hair loss. But we do know that cholesterol is an important building block for steroid hormones, which play a role in hair growth.

But if statins really caused hair loss, I think we'd hear more reports of it, given the millions of statin takers. It's more likely that you're losing your hair for a more common reason — another medication, a thyroid condition or other illness, or age-related changes in hormone levels. It's worth consulting your physician, who can check for these underlying conditions. If no other cause can be found for your hair loss, you could ask your clinician about stopping the statin for a few months. Or you could substitute another type of cholesterol-lowering drug (bile acid resins, nicotinic acid, fibric acid derivatives, or cholesterol absorption inhibitors) or just work harder on those lifestyle changes that we know can lower cholesterol: a low-fat diet, weight loss, and exercise.

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