Hair Loss and Keto Diet (Why, How, and What to Do)

keto nutrition Feb 17, 2022

You’ve started keto a few months ago and your weight is dropping, your jeans fit again, and you’re feeling great, but now you are noticing larger than normal clumps of hair in your brush. You try to ignore it but after a few days of the brush filling with hair, you are convinced that your hair is falling out and you are in panic mode.

Breathe, Sis, it’s gonna be okay.

Before you jump on your prayer rug to make istikhara (prayer for guidance) about whether you should aim to be “overweight with hair” or “skinny and bald,” let's look at some reasons you could be losing hair and what can be done.


What Causes Hair Loss and Why Isn’t Everyone on a Keto Diet Bald?


Hair grows in cycles. Each hair follicle has a growth phase (anagen) and a rest phase (telogen). Usually our hair follicles stagger so that some are in growth, while a few rest. When more than the normal “few” hair follicles rest at the same time, it’s called telogen effluvium (TE).

The term TE doesn’t really have a definitive cause and is used as a catchall phrase to explain any type of loss without a specific medical reason. It’s one of those diagnoses that describes what is happening but not why. It’s a harmless and temporary condition. It’s most often associated with abnormal amounts of (good and bad) stress.

Hair loss after having a baby: TE
Hair loss during a divorce: TE
Hair loss because life has simply been crazy: TE
Hair loss when you’ve made significant dietary changes and dropped a lot of weight: TE

But everyone doesn’t lose hair when they experience these situations. And there is no way to predict if any of these changes (including following a keto diet) will trigger TE. Every body is different and there is no definitive reason to determine what the body will perceive as “abnormal” amounts of stress. 

The good news is that for most people, it will resolve on its own. Find a nourishing conditioner, avoid using heat, and try protective styling so you don’t exacerbate the problem.

Hair loss can be caused and improved by issues that you can address on your own. Let’s look at the why and if your diet needs to be adjusted.

 

Dietary Causes of Hair Loss

Anytime you start eating at a big caloric deficit the body can interpret this as stress and trigger TE. It’s not exclusive to a Keto Diet.  Although a ketogenic doesn’t focus on calorie reduction it often inadvertently reduces calorie intake as hormones begin to shift. When you begin to eat a ketogenic diet, your Leptin hormone starts to adjust. One of the functions of leptin is to tell your brain you are full. When your body becomes more “leptin sensitive,” you become less hungry. This is one of the many benefits of a ketogenic diet; it reduces hunger and cravings allowing you to eat with intention.

The flip side of this is that sometimes in the adjustment period, our leptin levels can work too well and we simply aren’t hungry even when we need nutrients. This often leads to keto dieters not eating enough calories. Add intermittent fasting which adjusts leptin more and some people find themselves eating well below their daily caloric need. When following a ketogenic diet, calories aren’t as significant. A ketogenic diet looks at the “type” of calories, not the number. However, calories from food also contain nutrients, so if you aren’t getting enough calories, then you are probably also not getting enough of the nutrients your body needs.


Not Getting Enough Protein:


Hair fibers are composed of 91% protein. If you aren’t eating enough food, then you certainly aren’t eating enough protein. If your body doesn’t have an adequate amount of protein for necessary bodily functions like growth, immune function and nutrient absorption, it’s not going to dedicate the little bit of precious protein amino acids to less important tasks like hair growth. Several months of low protein intake will eventually start to show in various ways, one being hair shedding.

The mR40 method recommends starting with 0.6 to 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight in phase 1 and upping it to 1.0 grams of protein per pound of body weight in phase 2 when you are optimizing your fitness level. That’s a minimum of 120 grams of protein a day for a sedentary woman (not exercising) weighing 200lbs and 160 grams a day for an active woman (you are doing your HIIT workouts) weighing 200lbs in phase 1 of the program.

 

Vitamin Deficiencies


Specific vitamin deficiencies have been linked to TE. Although the evidence is mixed and hard to tease out, the link between iron deficiencies and TE is stronger for women, while zinc deficiencies might affect men more. It’s hard to distinguish because the foods that are rich in iron and zinc are also the best sources of protein, which simply reinforces the previous point: Inadequate amounts of protein could be the culprit.

 

What to do?


Hair loss doesn’t start a couple weeks into your keto journey. It normally takes a couple of months for nutrient deficiency and/or stress to build up and result in hair loss. If your hair is already shedding, then you can just wait it out. Chances are you should start seeing less shedding and regrowth in about six months. Yeah, I know “waiting” six months is easier said than done. So if you want to start narrowing down causes, here are a few things to do:


Increase your daily calories: Track your food for 7 days using an app like MyFitnessPal. Compare your daily caloric intake to the recommended amount in the app. If you need to significantly increase the amount of food you are eating, then it may mean you need to eat more.  If you are intermittent fasting with following a ketogenic diet and it’s difficult to get enough meals in your eating window then decrease your eating window or decrease the amount of days you are fasting to get in more meals.

Remember eating more means eating a larger portion of the healthy foods you are already eating, not eating things that do not fit in a ketogenic diet.

 
Eat more Protein (Which also covers Iron and Zinc)Track your protein intake for a week and increase the amount of protein rich foods including beef, chicken, and seafood particularly but clams, oysters, and mussels which are particularly good sources of both protein, iron and zinc. For instance, a 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of clams may contain up to 3 mg of iron, which is 17% of the DV and 32 mg of zinc, 291% of the DV.  If you are vegetarian and choose not to eat animal meat, you’ll have to work extra to get these nutrients from leafy greens, nuts and seeds (particularly pumpkin seeds).


The bottom line is when the body has limited calories, protein and vitamins to devote to building, repair, and maintenance, hair growth is not a priority. The body would rather be bald than sick, so hair growth is put on the back burner.

If you want to prevent or treat hair loss during your health transformation, eat in a way that nourishes your body and your hair.


Reference https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5315033/

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