Is diet linked to hair loss?
The knowledge that nutrition (what we choose to eat and drink) – inﬂuences our health, well-being, and quality of life, is as old as human history. Deprivation of calories (energy), proteins, minerals, and vitamins in deficiency states can potentially lead to structural changes in the hair shaft, loss of pigmentation or hair loss. But this fact should not be extrapolated to suggest that by consuming all these substances (nutrients) in a non-deficiency state will alter the quality and quantity of hair. There is a huge discrepancy between number of claims supporting supplementation with nutrients/diets/organic foods etc. for hair health and the number of controlled studies in assessing the same. Also, we must acknowledge, that most of our hair attributes like caliber, color, distribution and number are genetically programmed. And it is not possible to override the genetic influences by following a certain diet or increasing supplementation of nutrients to get great looking hair.
The hair follicle is a metabolically active miniature organ with a high cellular turnover. Obviously, with such a high metabolic rate, there is need for constant supply of nutrients and energy. Due to this fact signs of nutritional deficiencies are predictably seen in hair. Either because of intelligent design or evolutionary pressure, in deficiency states, nutrient supply is prioritized towards vital organs away from hair. Also, today we are faced with a situation where we are apparently well fed but technically malnourished (Malnutrition has another meaning – obesity, which is a common problem in todays’ society due to consuming processed foods, sugary drinks etc.). This is further compounded by poor lifestyle, lack of physical exercise and environmental pollution. These factors affect the whole body and obviously also, the hair follicle.
One of the ways to deal with this issue of losing weight is dieting. To lose weight (adipose tissue) one has to reduce calories and some of the diets recommend a caloric intake as low as 1000 Kcal/day. Increased hair shedding is a common feature in the people who follow such diets (crash diets) losing weight in a short span of time. The weight loss diets are essentially those that either restrict fats (anti fat) or those that restrict calories (anti carbohydrate). Most of these diets have some impact on the hair which can lead to increased shedding, poor caliber (thinning) etc.
It is important to understand that overall pattern of food eaten is more important than one type of food or meal. As I have always maintained, all types food, if consumed in moderation and in appropriate portions, combined with regular exercise, can be considered as healthy food.
Categorizing foods as good or bad promotes wrong kind of thinking. Most of the so called diet fads are not sustainable in the long term and can also have harmful effects on the body. A particular type of food which is considered a good food – for e.g. egg whites-a source of good quality protein, if used as the sole source of protein may actually cause zinc deficiency.
Hence, from all the above, it can be seen that people who have a poor diet or eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, are at an increased risk of temporary hair loss due to nutritional deficiencies that weaken their hair shafts and follicles. Thus it is important to have a proper diet. A healthy and balanced diet will definitely help in improving your hair condition as well as stop it from falling due to any diet related deficiency.
Nutritional deficiencies (or as you put it, restrictive diet) can cause hair loss. In addition, this may trigger a stress response and turn on a gene that may kick start your male pattern hair loss. Unfortunately, after the process has started it is difficult to stop the progression of hair loss.
In our practice we do recommend nutrition supplements but only when there is an indication of deficiency associated with hair symptoms and signs.Excess or deficiency of any kind will affect the system and thereby affect the hair follicle. Including fresh fruits, leafy vegetables, sprouts and cutting down oil and refined sugar will go a long way in tackling hair loss. Crash dieting is one of the major reasons for accelerated hair fall in females.
Can we improve hair health through our diet, and if so, what do we need to eat for good hair quality?
Diet is shown to have a major influence on the composition of the hair. When it comes to healthy hair, what we put in our bodies is just as important as what we put on our hair.
First and foremost what is needed is a healthy, well-balanced diet that includes plenty of growth-promoting protein, iron and a right mixture of vitamins & trace elements.
- High quality, lean protein is one of the best nutrients for great hair (Chicken, turkey, fish, and eggs are great sources of protein). Specifically foods those are high in cysteine. Cysteine is the main amino acid that forms keratin and is present in Pork, poultry, eggs, red peppers, garlic, onions, Brussels sprouts, dairy products, oats and broccoli.
- Iron – Prunes and dates (great sources of iron)
Beans like kidney beans, lima beans, pinto beans, etc. (good source of biotin, protein,
iron, and zinc.),
- Vitamins – Leafy, green vegetables (excellent sources of vitamins A and C, besides being full of calcium and iron, dark green veggies like spinach, broccoli, kale, and salad greens), Green peas (multivitamins + iron) and carrots (vit A), Eggs – loaded with essential nutrients such as proteins, Vitamin B12, iron, zinc and Omega 6 fatty acids in large amounts and also a good source for biotin. Shrimps – high concentration of Vitamin B12, iron and zinc
- Trace elements and minerals – Nuts (natural source of zinc). Oats (full of fiber plus zinc, iron and omega-6 fatty acids polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs)). Walnuts also contain Selenium which is important for the hair.
- Omega 6 fatty acids – Fish (salmon, herring, tuna, mackerel, sardines, and bluefish), flaxseed, canola oil, pumpkin seeds and walnuts are great sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
- Low fat dairy products (skim milk and yogurt) are sources of calcium also contain whey and casein, two high-quality protein sources and probiotics
Is there a link between smoking and hair loss?
Tobacco smoking-especially long-term and heavy tobacco smoking-has numerous ill effects on the body including increased risk for lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease and systemic circulatory disease. The nicotine and other chemicals in smoked tobacco may cause or contribute to disorders of blood circulation that can increase risk for excessive bleeding. They may also reduce elasticity of small blood vessels in the skin, diminishing the blood supply to hair transplants and thus increasing risk for transplant failure.
The mechanisms by which smoking causes hair loss are multifactorial and are probably related to effects of cigarette smoke on the microvasculature of the dermal hair papilla, smoke genotoxicants causing damage to DNA of the hair follicle, smoke-induced imbalance in the follicular protease/antiprotease systems controlling tissue remodeling during the hair growth cycle, pro-oxidant effects of smoking leading to the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines resulting in follicular micro-inflammation and fibrosis and finally increased hydroxylation of oestradiol as well as inhibition of the enzyme aromatase creating a relative hypo-oestrogenic state.
Which medications can cause hair loss?
The following is the list of drugs which may lead to hair loss usually with long-term use:
- Cholesterol-lowering drug: clofibrate and gemfibrozil
- Parkinson Medications: levodopa
- Ulcer drugs: cimetidine, ranitidine and famotidine
- Anticoagulents: Coumarin and Heparin
- Agents for gout: Allopurinol
- Antiarthritics: penicillamine, auranofin, indomethacin, naproxen, sulindac and methotrexate
- Drugs derived from vitamin-A: isotretinoin and etretinate
- Anticonvulsants for epilepsy: trimethadione
- Antidepressants: tricyclics, amphetamines
- Beta blocker drugs for high blood pressure: atenolol, metoprolol, nadolol, propranolol and timolol
- Antithyroid agents: carbimazole, Iodine, thiocyanate, thiouracil
- Others: Blood thinners, male hormones (anabolic steroids)
What are other types of hair loss?
The word “alopecia” is the medical term for hair loss. Alopecia does not refer to one specific hair loss disease — any form of hair loss is alopecia. There are hair loss disorders arising from pathology in the skin or from mechanical disturbances to hair or due to psychiatric problems. Probably the most common forms of non-pattern hair loss are alopecia areata, scarring alopecia, traction alopecia, trichotillomania and hair loss due to over processing of hair.