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Monday, October 26, 2020

The correlation between a vegan diet and hair loss

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There’s been a lot of discourse linking vegan diets with hair loss. Here are the reasons behind that, and what you can do to avoid it.

Hair loss, also known as alopecia, is a disorder caused by an interruption in the body’s cycle of hair production. Hair loss can occur anywhere on the body, but most commonly affects the scalp. On average, the scalp has 100,000 hairs that cycle through periods of growing, resting, falling out, and regenerating.

If this cycle is disrupted, or if a hair follicle is damaged, hair may begin to fall out more quickly than it is regenerated, leading to symptoms such as a receding hairline, hair falling out in patches, or overall thinning. It is typically linked with genetics, hormonal changes and medical reasons.

How is a vegan diet linked to hair loss?

The list for why someone might be experiencing hair loss can be endless, but if you noticed it coincide with the start of your plant-based diet, then these might be the reasons why it’s happening.

Low protein

Going vegan means cutting all meat out of your diet as well as all animal byproducts. This change can lead to a sudden drop in protein intake, especially if you’re new and still not aware of plant-based protein sources. When your body has low protein levels, one of the first things it does is stop hair growth to conserve energy for more essential body functions. If you have a severe loss of protein from your system, that can cause you to lose hair.

Nutrient deficiencies

When you drastically change your diet without making sure you’re getting all your essential nutrients, then you can develop a nutrient deficiency. Iron, which is commonly found in whole grains and red meat, is often an issue for those that go vegan. Having an iron or other vitamin deficiencies can lead to hair loss. Your body will cut hair growth to save energy for other body functions, so it is very important to watch your diet closely to avoid nutrient deficiency.

Fast weight loss

Rapid weight loss is common for new vegans. This happens because you might cut out a lot of high-caloric substances (like meat) out of your diet. This rapid weight loss can put a tremendous amount of stress on your body and this stress can cause confusion to your system and disrupt your body’s natural processes. This disruption can cause hair loss.

Thyroid issues

Anyone who goes vegan often has an increase in their soy intake (tofu, soy milk, etc.). If you suffer with thyroid problems, soy can worsen it. The problem is made worse when your body is low on iodine. When you have thyroid problems, these often result in hair thinning. So it is important to keep you soy intake and iodine levels in check.

What can you do?

Firstly, if you see headlines saying veganism or vegetarianism causes increased hair loss, do not fret.

The International Journal of Trichology conducted a small trial that found that non-meat-eaters had slightly weaker hair than those who ate meat regularly. However, dermatologist Joshua Zeichner told Allure Magazine it’s no reason to panic. The trial was very small (with only 120 volunteers), and the finding wasn’t statistically significant.

This means that even though researchers noticed a difference in vegetarians’ hair, the dietary restriction doesn’t pass the test for being the root cause of all hair breakage, especially if you take other factors into account. So plant-based diets are not directly linked to hair loss or hair thinning, but certain side effects of a vegan or vegetarian can potentially result in it.

Thus, it is pretty important to be mindful that your body is getting all the nutrients it needs. This means doing some basic research before switching to veganism, so your new plant-based diet doesn’t compromise on the necessary vitamins, minerals and protein (and it’s really not that hard).

But if you’re maintaining a good vegan diet with all the nutrients you need and still keep noticing higher levels of hair loss, then it’s very likely it’s because of completely different reasons and it might be time to visit a dermatologist or trichologist.

Nameera Armin
Nameera is a freelance writer for The Vegan Review and a political science and economics student in McGill University. Originally from Bangladesh, Nameera's concerns toward climate change began at an early age as she grew up seeing it's devastating effects on the rural communities of her country. Her passions lie in social justice, sustainability and food. For her, the kitchen is a space for experimenting with different cuisines and culinary landscapes. She believes in learning from different cultures and passing on her knowledge to everyone she possibly can!