In some cases, hair loss can be diet related. The nutrients we consume or lack of, play a definite role in both the hair cycle and hair shaft fragility.
Some of the diet related causes of hair loss I see are crash dieting, fad diets, eating disorders, poor vegan or vegetarian diet and deficiencies within the diet.
When nutrients are restricted in the diet, you are depriving the follicle of what it needs to grow the best hair it can. The follicle is a little complex organ it needs a constant supply of oxygenated blood full of nutrients. Lack of these can mostly cause a diffuse thinning known as Telogen Effluvium (excessive shedding). This shedding can occur months after the trigger, so for example in May/June if you were to start a crash diet to 1300 calories or less a day for a wedding in July, you highly increase your risk of suffering from Telogen Effluvium but you may not experience the condition till September/October.
Vitamin D– Vitamin D supports the hair growth cycle, helping the cells in the follicle to produce a hair and keep that hair growing. Studies show deficiencies can cause Telogen Effluvium and in some cases Alopecia Areata. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin which means it is stored in the body for you to use later, but if there is no or little supply coming in you will become deficient. To ensure healthy levels of this essential vitamin it is best through your diet or through sensible exposure to sunlight.
Zinc & Iodine– I put these two nutrients together as they can both have an impact on thyroid function which can have a big impact on our hair. If your thyroid isn’t functioning properly this can cause excessing shedding. Zinc can be found in meat, shellfish and eggs and if you are vegan or vegetarian - whole grains, nuts & seeds, chickpeas, lentils and beans (soak dried beans then rinse before cooking to increase zinc absorption). Iodine is found in fish (white fish more so than oily fish) and dairy products, if you are vegan it is a little harder to source but can be found in seaweed, iodised salt or fortified plant milks.
Vitamin A– is another fat soluble (stored) vitamin. This is an important one to balance – too much will cause hair loss and not enough will also cause hair loss. All cells need vitamin A for growth, this includes the hair, the fastest growing tissue in the human body. It also helps us produce sebum, the oil that our scalp produces to keep it healthy and moisturised – a healthy scalp is paramount for healthy hair! This vitamin can be found in lots of foods such as beef liver, cod liver oil and dairy. If you are vegan, foods such as sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkins, spinach and kale are all sources. Low levels of Zinc or Coeliac Disease can cause poor absorption of vitamin A which in turn may also have an effect on the thyroid gland.
Protein– protein deficiency is pretty rare in developed countries but can be found in malnourished individuals – prolonged crash dieting or eating disorders. Every cell in the body requires protein, including the follicle! Being deficient can lead to dry, brittle and thinning hair. The protein in your hair known as keratin provides the hair with elasticity without this, it just breaks. Sources include meat, eggs and dairy and if you are vegan lentils, beans, chickpeas, seeds & nuts and tofu.
Iron– this essential mineral has many different roles in the body, but most important for haemoglobin production, which is a protein contained in red blood cells that transports oxygen around the body. The hair needs this constant supply of oxygenated blood carrying nutrients. Deficiencies cause anaemia and could present themselves with excessive hair shedding. Good sources include meat, egg and fish. Plant based options are butter beans, chickpeas, kidney beans, figs, nuts & seeds, dates, broccoli and spinach. Coffee can inhibit the absorption of iron and vitamin C can help absorption of the mineral.
B12 – helps produce red blood cells and cell division, having enough of this vitamin is very important to the hair growth process and hair quality. B12 can be found in animal-based products such as meat, fish, chicken, dairy and eggs. For the vegan and vegetarian diet this can be sourced through fortified foods such as breakfast cereals, yeast extracts, soya yoghurts and plant milks or supplementation. Even if you have enough of these foods in your diet there are other factors leading to B12 deficiency; pernicious anaemia, use of acid reflux medications, intestinal disorders, gastric surgeries, alcoholism, poor vegan/vegetarian diet and heavy prolonged periods.
If you suspect you have any deficiencies it is very important to seek medical advice before self-supplementation.