How does food affect hair loss?

Everything you need to know about the role of food in hair loss and hair growth.

Written by
Zoe Simmons
Medically reviewed by
Last updated
June 1, 2022
11
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Your hair can have a huge impact on the way you feel about yourself. So when you start experiencing hair loss, many people look for natural and medical remedies that may help promote hair growth.

But with so many hair growth products flooding the market, and so much conflicting information online, it can be hard to know what's best for your hair health.

Especially when there are so many factors that can cause hair loss, like nutrient deficiency, autoimmune diseases, thyroid disorders, skin conditions, as well as medical conditions that cause hair loss, like androgenic alopecia, telogen effluvium (TE) and anagen effluvium.

Thankfully, there are also a lot of things you can do to promote hair growth and reduce hair loss.

These include eating certain foods, changing your diet, investigating deficiencies, as well as consulting with medical professionals at Pilot, who can create a personalised hair loss treatment plan just for you.

How does your diet affect hair loss?

What you eat can have an enormous impact on your hair health. And if your once healthy hair is thinning and fading, looking to your diet can be a great way to naturally promote hair growth.

Hair follicles are amongst some of the most metabolically active cells in your body, so calories, malnutrition and deficiencies can have a huge impact on your hair health.

In fact, the human scalp has around 100,000 hair follicles, which require protein, vitamins and minerals for optimal hair health. Your hair grows around 1.25cm per month, and how fast it grows depends on a number of factors like age, health, genetics, and what you eat.

That's why it's so important to eat a balanced diet full of healthy fats, essential amino acids, and nutrient-rich foods, all of which can promote hair growth, and reduce hair loss and thinning, leaving you with happier, healthier hair.

Because your diet can be such a huge factor for hair loss or hair thinning, it's also important to make sure you aren't deficient in any essential nutrients.

Iron deficiency, for example, is a well-known cause of hair loss.

A lack or loss of protein can also trigger a type of hair loss called acute telogen effluvium, and studies have shown there is a link between a loss in protein and conditions like androgenetic alopecia and alopecia areata.

But while using dietary supplements and eating a diet rich in essential nutrients (and avoiding fried foods) can help address deficiencies, it's important not to overuse dietary supplements, as this can also cause hair loss.

Having too much of certain nutrients can even be toxic, so it's important to seek medical advice for your specific circumstances.

What are the other common causes of hair loss?

There are many things that can cause hair loss. This includes medical conditions like:

  • Alopecia areata
  • Androgenetic alopecia (also known as male pattern hair loss or female pattern hair loss)
  • Tinea capitis
  • Telogen effluvium (TE)
  • Trichotillomania
  • Anagen effluvium

But there are also a number of other factors that can cause hair loss, like severe stress, surgery, rapid weight loss, thyroid problems, and nutrient deficiencies — including iron and vitamin D.

Some medications can also dampen your hair growth, including some types of blood thinners, acne treatments, beta-blockers, birth control pills, cholesterol-lowering drugs, and certain anti-depressants.

Sometimes, even hairstyles may contribute to hair loss, like tight buns or ponytails, extensions, or tight braids.

The best foods to help with hair growth

Lots of people experiencing hair loss or hair thinning turn to food to help with hair growth. But what foods can help with hair loss? And are there certain foods that cause hair loss?

Micronutrients are vital for keeping your hair healthy, including your hair follicles.

Vitamin A, vitamin B, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, iron, selenium and zinc are all crucial for optimal hair health and promoting hair growth, so eating foods packed with these nutrients can be a great way for naturally treating hair loss.

Eating well, and consuming less fried foods, also comes with a number of other health benefits, like treating a nutrient deficiency, and improving your general wellbeing.

Some of the best foods to help with hair growth include:

  • Berries. Loaded with important vitamins for hair growth, like vitamin C, as well as strong antioxidants that may help protect hair follicle cells from free radical damage, Berries are a great addition to your diet for healthy hair.
  • Spinach. No need for iron supplementation if you eat loads of spinach! Packed with folate, dietary iron, vitamin A and vitamin C, spinach can be very beneficial for hair growth.
  • Avocados. They're a great source of healthy fats and vitamin E, which are great for keeping your skin and hair healthy. Avocados also contain vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K1, polyunsaturated essential fatty acids and B vitamins, great for nourishing your body and hair, and reducing hair loss.
  • Seeds and nuts. Filled with vitamin E, zinc, selenium, magnesium and more, seeds and nuts are vital for your health. Just 28 grams of sunflower seeds can provide you with 50 per cent of your daily vitamin E and vitamin B intake. Flaxseeds and chia seeds are also fantastic, due to their high level of omega-3.
  • Capsicum. One yellow capsicum provides five and a half times more vitamin C than an orange. It also promotes collagen production and contains vital antioxidants that are great for your hair health and help promote hair growth.
  • Sweet potatoes. A rich source of iron, copper, potassium and beta carotene, sweet potatoes assist in cell growth, preventing hair fall, reducing hair loss and treating dry, dull hair.
  • Fatty fish. A great source of omega-3, which is a key ingredient in preventing hair loss. Fatty fish filled with omega-3 includes tuna, salmons and sardines. But omega-3 can also be found in chia seeds, hemp seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts and more for vegan options.
  • Eggs. They are a great source of lysine, an essential amino acid that can assist with hair shedding. Lysine can also be found in beans, lentils, quinoa, tempeh, soy milk and more for vegan options.

Important vitamins and minerals for hair growth

Niacin

Niacin supports hair growth by preventing oxidative stress on your hair follicle cells and preventing premature shedding.

A deficiency in niacin can cause dermatitis, as well as alopecia, with deficiencies linked to malabsorption disorders, as well as drugs and alcohol use.

Patients with female pattern baldness using niacin derivatives found a significant increase in hair fullness, and in a study of using niacinamide in men with androgenetic alopecia, 34 per cent of participants showed clear improvements with hair thickness.

Despite these benefits, and that niacin has been found to enhance hair follicle cell viability by about 10 per cent, the impact of niacin on hair growth is still not fully understood.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that combats oxidative stress, and neutralises and protects against harmful free radicals.

It protects the skin and scalp hair from oxidative stress, which is incredibly useful as damaged skin on your scalp can result in poor hair quality and trigger hair loss.

While vitamin E deficiencies are rare, studies have shown that people with androgenetic alopecia have significantly lower levels of vitamin E. Increasing levels of the vitamin may result in increased hair growth.

However, it's important to not have too much vitamin E, because it can actually have an adverse impact on your hair growth, as well as increase your risk of bleeding, and decrease your thyroid functionality.

Vitamin D

Studies have shown that vitamin D may have an anti-inflammatory effect, which is important for maintaining calcium in the body.

There is also a link between vitamin D and various hair loss conditions, like androgenetic alopecia and telogen effluvium.

While the vitamin may improve symptoms of these conditions, there is conflicting evidence in the medical community — although most agree that supplementing vitamin D can assist in hair growth.

Studies of vitamin D in animals also suggest that it plays an important role in hair follicle cycling.

Iron

Iron deficiencies are one of the most common and well-known causes of hair loss. That's because iron is an essential component for hair growth.

It contains an enzyme called ribonucleotide reductase that helps with cell growth and makes haemoglobin, which helps red blood cells carry oxygen around the body, fuelling your metabolism, aiding growth, and repairing cells.

Hair follicles can be extremely sensitive to reduced iron levels, and new cells may not be able to grow as effectively if you have an iron deficiency.

Some studies suggest iron deficiency may be related to alopecia areata, androgenetic alopecia and telogen effluvium, although there is limited evidence.

Still, under the guidance of a medical professional, it's a great idea to consider iron supplementation if you don't eat enough dietary iron in your diet.

Fatty acids

A deficiency of fatty acids like omega-3 and omega-6 can trigger hair loss. This may be as a result of inappropriate nutrition, or malabsorption disorders.

Omega-3 can help prevent a dry and scaly scalp, prevent breakage and reduce hair elasticity, all of which is great for your hair health.

Omega-6 may even be able to promote further hair growth by encouraging hair follicle proliferation.

A 2018 study found that fish oil, a great source of omega-3, stimulated rodent hair growth and helped activate the hair growth phase when applied to the skin.

A 2015 study on 120 humans found that supplementing fatty acids, including omega-3 and omega-6, on patients with female hair loss resulted in 89 per cent of participants reporting a reduction in hair loss in six months.

Furthermore, 86 per cent of participants said their hair diameter improved, and 87 per cent reported improved hair density as a result of the supplements.

Folic acid

There is limited data on the impact of folic acid on hair growth, although some studies do suggest that levels of folate might modify the progression of androgenetic alopecia.

Folic acid, or folate, plays an important role in DNA synthesis. It keeps your red blood cells circulating in necessary numbers for breaking down food into energy, which, in turn, ensures nutrients and oxygen are delivered to hair follicles for optimal hair growth.

In an evaluation of people with chronic telogen effluvium by the Journal of Dermatology Research and Therapy, patients with TE were found to overall have lower levels of folic acid than their control counterparts.

For people over the age of 14, it's recommended to have 400 micrograms of folate every day.

Selenium

Selenium is a powerful mineral that is essential for the synthesis of 35 vital proteins in the body.

It's an elemental trace element that plays an important role in protecting cells from oxidative damage.

A selenium deficiency is rare but more common in areas with low selenium levels in soil, like China, Siberia and Tibet. Malabsorption disorders, HIV and long-term haemodialysis can also impact deficiencies.

A clinical trial in patients going through chemotherapy showed a decrease in hair loss after receiving selenium supplements.

However, too much selenium can actually increase your risk of losing hair.

Selenium toxicity is well-documented, which is concerning when many hair loss supplements on the market continue to contain selenium. To avoid this, it's important to consult with a medical professional.

Zinc

Zinc is absolutely essential. Hundreds of enzymes and bodily functions rely on it, and since the body can't generate zinc on its own, it must be supplied through diet or supplements.

Zinc plays an important role in protein synthesis and cell division, so a zinc deficiency can impact your hair's health and growth, as well as your body's overall function.

A zinc deficiency can be hereditary or acquired — but the good news is that hair loss due to zinc deficiency can be reversed.

According to medical journals, there is insufficient data to recommend zinc supplementation without deficiency, so it's important to consult with a medical professional about your needs.

Vitamin C

Also known as ascorbic acid, vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin that must be taken daily, either through food or supplements.

It contains strong antioxidants and neutralises harmful free radicals from damaging your body and hair follicles.

Vitamin C also produces collagen, a protein that strengthens hair and prevents breakage.

Very importantly, vitamin C also helps the body absorb iron, which is crucial for many patients with hair loss associated with iron deficiency.

In patients with chronic TE, supplementing vitamin C, along with iron, vitamin B12, and selenium resulted in a 39 per cent reduction in hair shedding after six months.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is crucial for your body's immune function and cell growth and is particularly important for your hair as it creates an oily substance called sebum, which prevents breakage, moisturises the scalp and helps to keep your hair healthy.

However, it's important to remember that high levels of vitamin A can be toxic, and consuming too much can actually cause hair loss, so it's important to consult a medical professional.

Vitamin B

There are numerous kinds of B vitamins, all of which play an important role in your body's functioning.

Vitamin B2 (riboflavin), for example, is a key component of cell development and production, metabolism and energy, while Vitamin B7, also known as biotin, assists with cell signalling and gene regeneration. B12 is necessary for DNA synthesis, so it's equally important.

Deficiencies in vitamin B2, while extremely rare, can contribute to hair loss, as well as B12, and B7.

Many supplements exceed the recommended daily intake of many of these vitamins, and though most people aren't deficient, genetic and acquired deficiencies do exist.

Signs of a biotin deficiency, for example, include hair loss, skin rashes, brittle nails and more. In fact, a study found that 38 per cent of women experiencing hair shedding found they were low or deficient in biotin levels.

How to prevent hair loss when growth-encouraging foods aren't cutting it

No matter how much we try to go down the natural route, sometimes, growth-encouraging foods don't cut it when it comes to thinning hair and hair loss.

That's why Dr. Russel Knudsen, who has more than 35 years of experience in treating male pattern baldness, created the Pilot hair loss treatment for fast and discreet results.

The treatment plan includes a free online assessment with experienced Australian doctors who can create a hair growth treatment just for you, including personalised prescriptions made by leading Aussie specialists from only $1.79 a day.

Don't wait to seek treatment for hair loss or thinning hair. Start a consult today.

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