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Keto and Hair Loss

Is It Possible to Lose Hair While on Keto?

Keto And Hair Loss

A lot of people who think about adopting the ketogenic diet research the topic first. Which is only smart. They soon discover many of the outstanding benefits of this low carb lifestyle including sustainable weight loss, stabilized blood glucose levels, increased mental acuity, lower risk of cardiovascular problems and more.

They’re also likely to find some stories written by people who claim to have suffered various levels of hair loss on keto. As well as tales written by keto dieters who claim their hair has begun growing thicker and faster than ever before. So who exactly is telling the truth? Is keto going to cause your hair to fall out or will it produce thicker, healthier hair than ever before? Or is the keto diet completely hair neutral?

Will the Keto Diet Reverse Balding?

There have not been, as of this writing, any scientific studies to look at a possible connection between keto and hair growth. However, research has uncovered a protein scientists are calling "Fgf9" that is able to stimulate hair growth.

And since many people on the keto diet (more information) ramp up their protein consumption, it is considered theoretically possible that some people who claim their hair is coming in thicker are not just imagining it. 

Will the Keto Diet Reverse Balding

And that their hair growth is the result of this greater emphasis on dietary protein.

But is it Possible to Lose Hair While on Keto?

It is possible to lose hair while on keto, but the good news is it doesn't have to happen. Before we get into the reasons why someone may experience temporary keto hair loss and the steps that can be taken to prevent that from happening, let’s take a look at the science of hair growth so we can better understand what we’re dealing with.

Telogen Effluvium

bald man

While Telogen Effluvium sounds like the name of a Roman Emperor, it's actually the scientific name for a type of hair loss. You see, your hair doesn’t simply keep growing at a regular pace all year long. It actually goes through 3 distinct phases. First, hairs experience growth that can last up to 2 years. It then takes a break from growing for a couple of months. After the resting phase it then spontaneously starts growing again. 

At any one time somewhere between 80 and 90 percent of the hair follicles on your body are generating growth, while the rest are taking a break. Scientists call that “taking a break” state “telogen."

Telogen Effluvium (TE) [1] occurs when hair that was in a resting state refuses to start growing again. The exact physiological and/or chemical processes that prevent those hair follicles from starting to grow again are still not completely understood. But, for whatever reason, TE is known to be associated with rapid changes in diet. 

And few changes in diet are as jarring to the body as the keto diet, where you go from running on carbs to running on fat; often in a very short period of time. The bottom line result of this drastic dietary shift can be TE, resulting in a comb or brush full of new hair every morning.

Do Carbs Have Anything to do With Hair Loss?

slice of bread

It is not clear if hair loss has anything to do with carbs. It could be that the hair loss suffered by some people on the keto diet is the result of their reduced carb intake. Or the hair loss could be the result of a combination of other, more complex factors.

A 2003 study looking into the effectiveness of the keto diet in treating epilepsy noted that about 5 percent of study participants experienced some hair loss [2]. 

The study also noted, however, that the hair loss seemed to respond to vitamins. So was it carb related? 

That study at least would suggest that it’s not.

6 Reasons Why You Might be Losing Hair on Keto

6 Reasons why you're losing hair

Now that we know some people on the keto diet do experience some hair loss and that scientists call this type of hair loss Telogen Effluvium or TE, the next thing to do is look at 6 possible TE triggers for those on the ketogenic diet.

1. A shortage of vitamins and minerals

As we mentioned a 2003 study looking into the effectiveness of the keto diet in treating epilepsy noted that some study participants had experienced hair loss but that they also responded positively to vitamin supplementation. This suggests strongly that in some people at least, their keto related hair loss is a result of their diet not being sufficiently balanced. This actually happens quite a bit. 

pile of vitamins

People become so obsessed with watching their carb intake that they forget about getting the vitamins their body needs. In addition, it’s common for people new to the keto diet to suffer from depleted zinc, magnesium, sodium, iodine and potassium levels as well. All of these electrolyte minerals are necessary to maintain healthy hair.

2. Caloric deficiency

calories

As Registered Dietician Franziska Spritzler says “Basically, when you don't take in enough calories and key nutrients, your body will prioritize the health of your heart, brain and other organs over hair growth.” the result is often hair loss. When you transition from carbohydrates to fat and protein on the keto diet, it can be easy to lose track of the total number of calories you’re consuming. The result can be the calorie shortfall Franziska speaks of and the shifting of internal resources away from the hair to other more important bodily functions. 

Keep in mind, some hair loss is normal. But if you notice you are losing your hair at an accelerated rate after shifting to the keto diet, you should speak to your doctor about devising a meal plan that will enable you to meet your caloric requirements without compromising the integrity of your keto efforts.

3. Stress

It is no secret that there is a connection between hair loss and stress. Scientists have been studying the relationship for years [3]. It seems that the nervous system, immune system, and hair are all intertwined and that when the nervous system experiences elevated levels of stress, it has a cascading effect that can result in hair loss. What does this have to do with keto? Well, some people get a bit carried away with their keto compliance. 

They sweat every carb or worry that a piece of toast might kick them out of ketosis. 

stress

In some cases, they have waited so long for a new diet plan that would work for them that they get emotionally invested in the low carb diet and have exaggerated negative reactions if everything doesn’t go perfectly. The best way to avoid stress-related hair loss on the keto diet is to just cut yourself some slack. What’s a few hairs when compared to the prospect of a lifetime of good health? Just remember, any hair loss is bound to be temporary anyway and will clear up once you’ve made the necessary dietary or other adjustments.

4. Biotin deficiency

Biotin

When it comes to vitamins we all know about vitamin C, B and E. But what about vitamin H? If you’ve never heard of vitamin H, you're not alone. But vitamin H - also known as biotin - does important work in your body helping enzymes break down carbohydrates, fats, and other foods. A lack of biotin can cause brittle nails, nerve damage, and hair loss. 

For various reasons it was long suspected that people on the ketogenic diet suffered from a lack of vitamin H and a 2013 study published by the National Institutes of Health [4] seemed to confirm this suspicion. As it turns out the ketogenic diet promotes the consumption of biotin by the body at an elevated rate. So if some people don’t consume larger than average amounts of biotin while on the keto diet they run the risk of running short of biotin and having their hair fall out.

5. Protein deficiency

Keto dieters tend to go one of two ways with protein. Either they consume too much or they don’t eat enough. The exact reasons different people consume less protein than they need vary, but it often comes down to them fearing that too much protein will bump them out of ketosis.

Which is almost never the case. If a person eats less protein than they should while on the keto diet they very well might experience hair loss [5] as well as other side effects like joint pain, fluid retention, confusion, and constant food cravings.

protein

In addition, protein and iron deficiencies often go hand in hand. Which means you might also find yourself suffering from anemia.

6. Decreased gut health

health

Health of the digestive environment is essential for making sure your body absorbs adequate amounts of nutrients from the food you eat. A compromised microbiome (as your gut is known to scientists) can have negative repercussions on the health of your skin, nails, scalp, and hair, as well as bones, teeth, eyesight and more [6].

How to Stop Hair Loss on a Keto Diet

Hair Loss

As we saw above, there are a lot of potential causes for hair loss associated with this diet. But that doesn’t mean that A) hair loss is common in people on a low-carb diet B) that any hair loss you might experience is permanent or that C) it can’t be effectively treated once diagnosed. In fact, as the “Adolescents Can Do It” study demonstrated all it may take to remedy a short term keto-related hair loss episode is the right supplements. 

And when it comes to stopping keto hair loss the following are the supplements that are generally considered most effective.

  • Biotin - Biotin is found in eggs, salmon, peanuts, cruciferous vegetables, mushrooms, and some dairy products and is often recommended for people experiencing short term hair loss symptoms after adopting the keto low-carb diet. Also known as vitamin H it only takes a tiny amount of biotin to make a major difference.
  • Collagen - Collagen is not only essential for promoting health and creating supple skin but for also promoting a healthy scalp and hair growth. A lack of collagen can trigger keto hair loss. Thankfully, collagen supplements are readily available in a variety of forms, including a powder you add to shakes.
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    Zinc - Zinc is often one of the first minerals (find more information here) to suffer when people switch to the keto diet. And when zinc levels fall the hairs tends to follow suit. There are a number of foods that are good sources of zinc, but zinc tablets can make the supplementation process fast and painless.
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    Coconut oil - Coconut oil is widely believed to help prevent hair loss. Coconut oil is also higher in beneficial medium chain triglycerides than most other types of oil. Even if you are not currently experiencing hair loss, you should consider adding coconut oil to your diet to maintain a healthy, vibrant head of hair and to stave off a range of potential health problems.
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    Iron - When protein levels drop iron is never far behind. Iron supplementation is a fast, easy way to help ensure your hair stays put when you switch to keto. However, as Daniel Pendick of the Harvard Men's Health Watch points out “The body does not excrete iron rapidly. That means it can build up over time and, in some people, becomes toxic.” So supplement, but do so cautiously.
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    Protein powder - Protein deficiency is often behind hair loss in keto dieters. It’s also a gateway to iron deficiency and anemia. Making sure you get enough protein is essential to proper nutrition so you should consider a good protein powder when you switch to the low-carb diet. This will not only help stave off hair loss it will also help ramp up your body conditioning efforts as you lose weight and get back into shape.

Final Summary:

While it is true that a small number of people experience short term hair loss after switching to a low-carb diet that hair loss can often be effectively treated using any of the above supplements. It can be prevented outright in most cases by simply being mindful not to ignore your overall nutrition needs in the rush to get and stay below 20 grams of carbohydrates per day.

The bottom line is that the keto weight loss diet needs to be a well-balanced diet plan to save hairs. And not just a race to 20 grams of carbs.

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