While you may have turned to the diet for weight loss, keto hair loss probably wasn't part of the plan. So, how can you avoid it and maintain healthy hair? Let's look at how the ketogenic diet affects hair loss and what you can do to prevent it.
What is a keto diet?
The ketogenic diet has been used since the 1920s as a treatment for intractable epilepsy, and it requires you to eat very few carbohydrates and focus on high fat intake, so fat is your primary energy source . Evidence has shown the keto diet is very effective for patients with epilepsy and may lessen their reliance on medication.
In recent years, however, millions have used the diet for rapid weight loss . Patients on a ketogenic or very low carbohydrate diet will often have faster weight loss than those on a more traditional low-fat or Mediterranean diet.
However, the difference in weight loss disappears over time. This rapid weight loss could be due to water loss as you stop eating carbohydrates (the body holds on to 3-4 grams of water per gram of carbs, so without carbs, you can expect to lose water weight) or perhaps to feeling fuller due to the higher fat foods.
There is little evidence to support the use of the keto diet as a long-term weight loss technique.
The keto diet is higher in fats and protein and includes meat, eggs, processed meats, cheeses, fish, nuts, butter, oils, seeds and fibrous vegetables. The standard ketogenic diet will be around 70% fat, 20% protein and 10% carbs . Because you are drastically reducing your carbs and replacing them with fat, your body uses fat for fuel instead of carbs.
When following a diet that includes moderate carbs, fats and protein, your body will use glucose from carbs and protein for energy. However, if you limit your carbohydrate and protein intake, your body has to turn ketones (a chemical made in your liver from fat) into energy, which puts you in a state of ketosis .
Usually, people following the keto diet will restrict themselves to only 20-50 grams of carbohydrates per day or less. To put this into perspective, 50 grams of carbs is the equivalent of eating around 2 pieces of bread and a banana.
The Australian Dieticians Association has found that many Australians find it difficult to meet the recommended daily intake of wholegrains, fruit and vegetables and that the ketogenic diet makes it even harder for people to reach these targets.
Speak to your doctor or an accredited dietician before starting the keto diet to ensure you get the right vitamins and minerals your body needs. If you have kidney disease, you need to be cautious about following the keto diet, as it can worsen your condition due to the lack of nutrients.
How is a keto diet linked to hair?
The keto diet is linked to hair loss because after the body starts using fat instead of carbohydrates for fuel to put you in a state of ketosis, the change can trigger hair loss or generally change the health of your hair.
Keto hair loss is likely due to 2 things:
By limiting your carb intake, you are also taking away higher-carb fruits and vegetables that are a good source of various nutrients your body requires for healthy hair. A reduction in these nutrients may cause you to either lose more hair than usual or for your hair growth to slow down .
If you are deficient in vitamins B12 and D, biotin, riboflavin and iron, you will likely see a change in your hair health.
Your body is using energy differently
As you reduce your calorie intake, your body will ensure that the energy it has goes to the most essential things, such as heart, lung and other organ functions and cell growth, with less importance placed on processes such as hair growth.
Can keto diets cause hair loss?
Studies have found that the body is more likely to experience thinning hair if a new diet is too extreme, so if you're embarking on a ketogenic diet, you're better off slowly reducing carbs rather than lowering them suddenly . You may also want to consult your doctor to see if a high-fat diet is for you.
Here are a few ways keto can cause hair loss:
A significant change in diet can create stress on the body as it has lost certain nutrients it was previously getting, forcing the body to prioritise keeping your organs functioning over things such as hair growth.
Your hair follicles may change from an anagen phase, where hair grows, to a telogen effluvium phase, where it rests and stops growing, during this calorie and nutrient restriction period . Sadly, stress-induced hair loss is quite common .
Rapid drops in carb intake
A rapid drop in carb intake can mean you are losing out on essential vitamins and minerals that encourage hair growth, but it can also mean that your calories are too low, which puts stress on the body, as mentioned above.
Inadequate protein intake
A lack of protein has been found to cause hair loss, and on a standard keto diet, protein is kept to quite a small percentage of the diet out of fear too much protein will stop the process of ketosis .
You have around 100,000 hair follicles on your head, with about 90% of them in a growth phase . However, inadequate levels of protein, vitamins and minerals will slow the hair growth cycle.
How can I tell if my hair loss is due to keto?
If you notice hair loss after starting the keto diet and are worried, you should first reach out to a doctor to rule out any other causes of hair loss that are separate from the diet.
If there are no other reasons for your hair loss, you should discuss with your doctor what might be lacking in your diet and whether being on a keto diet is appropriate.
How can you prevent hair loss on the keto diet?
There are a few ways you can try to limit keto hair loss:
Add more nutrients to your diet
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies will likely cause keto-induced hair loss. Thankfully, there are a number of things you can consume to help hair health.
Berries are loaded with vitamins and beneficial compounds that may support hair growth, including vitamin C, which your body uses to produce collagen, a protein that promotes hair health and prevents it from breaking .
Vitamin C also helps the body absorb iron from food, with low iron levels associated with anaemia, which is linked to hair loss. Red capsicums are also rich in vitamin C and great to include in your diet to reduce the risk of losing hair.
Spinach contains folate, iron, and vitamins A and C which are important for hair growth, though studies have found that too much vitamin A can actually lead to hair loss .
For people on the keto diet, eggs will likely be a staple food as they are rich in fat and protein. In addition, protein and biotin found in eggs are important for healthy hair growth, with biotin essential for the production of a hair protein called keratin. Therefore, if you have too little protein or a biotin deficiency, you will be more likely to experience hair loss.
Fatty fish like salmon, herring and mackerel are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been linked to hair growth. They also contain protein, selenium, vitamin D3 and B vitamins, which are also confirmed to help promote healthy and strong hair .
Some studies have suggested avocados can support hair growth thanks to their high levels of vitamin E, an antioxidant that prevents oxidative stress, which may lead to hair loss .
Nuts are also high in vitamin E and provide a variety of B vitamins, zinc and essential fatty acids, with deficiencies in these being linked to hair loss . Seeds are also rich in vitamin E, zinc and selenium, with some seeds, like flaxseeds and chia seeds, being rich in omega-3 fatty acids as well.
Meat is rich in protein, which aids growth and also helps to repair and strengthen hair follicles . Red meat is also rich in iron that's easy to absorb, allowing blood cells to deliver oxygen to cells around the body, including hair follicles.
Clinically-proven hair loss medication
While you can switch up your diet, using clinically-proven hair loss medication, like Pilot's hair loss treatment, removes the guesswork, allowing you to keep and regrow your hair.
Pilot uses 2 different types of medications used for male pattern hair loss — one is an oral medication that works by blocking the enzyme that converts testosterone to DHT (the main cause of hair loss).
The other medication provides stimulation and increases blood flow around your hair follicles which stimulates hair growth.
Once your Aussie practitioner has created a treatment plan for you, your hair loss medication is shipped to your door every 3 months, so you don't even need to leave the house.
Around 3 months after you begin taking the medication, you may see temporary hair loss as fine hairs start to shed to make room for growth, or you may notice less hair fall and more growth.
In 6 months, hair loss may stop altogether, and bald patches might be less noticeable, with hair growing thicker and stronger. Within 9 months, you can expect to see thinning areas filled in, and the hairline is more defined as your hair grows longer and stronger.
If you notice hair loss on keto, starting treatment as soon as possible will prevent further balding and give you a better chance of regrowing your hair.
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