Although there can be many reasons we might lose hair, such as stress or genetics, it can also be an unwanted outcome during weight loss. Especially when you are using fad or starvation diets that are low on important nutrients. And rapid weight loss can cause acute hair loss which can take a person several months to set right.
This article discusses some of the foods and nutrients we need to help prevent or halt hair loss.
Already in the 1970s hair loss was noted after researchers followed people on strict diets that were low in certain nutrients.
Especially those that were low in overall calories, protein and iron.
Since then there’s been a lot more research into this. Another document explains that “hair growth may be impacted by calorie and protein malnutrition as well as micronutrient deficiency.”
After noticing that there’s an issue, many people’s first thought is to rush off and purchase a mixed supplement labelled to overcome hair loss. But sadly the supplement industry is unregulated.
Thus some manufacturers might capitalize on our vulnerabilities and try to sell us fancy concoctions which may or may not contain exactly what the label says. And the preparations may or may not even work. [Most times it’s the latter]
We know that by the age of 50 close to 50% of people complain of some hair loss anyway, so perhaps it is inevitable? It can certainly be age-related and can be brought on by hormonal changes during midlife.
But sometimes even younger women look in the mirror and gingerly tap around the top of their head thinking ‘Hello,…what’s going on here? I think my hair’s thinning!’
Therefore, what should be the first step if we notice this? I’d suggest looking at what you eat.
When people start eating 100% plant-based, often they hear: “you’ll be fine. Just omit all animal-based foods.”
But this message isn’t very helpful. It lulls people into a false sense of security preventing them from taking an interest in healthy eating.
Good news: there’s definitely no need to get a doctorate in plant-based nutrition. But some basic knowledge is beneficial.
Before I start listing some of the points below, please don’t rush off to buy individual vitamins and minerals.
Instead, begin with a healthy balanced eating plan and stay away from crash diets or long-term fasting. You don’t want to remove nutrients. You want to increase them!
If after a while you feel you could benefit from supplementation, please check with your health care professional first to make sure you choose the right product.
What nutrients do we need for healthy hair?
When we don’t eat enough calories, we can’t hit our protein needs. And when this happens, the body prioritises those areas where the intake of amino acids [building blocks of protein] is needed most. This means your hair will take a back seat and you might notice hair loss.
Although all plant food contains a bit of protein [like 1-3g here and there] your best bets are: soybeans, tofu, edamame, tempeh, and all legumes. They contain between 7-10g per serving.
You can also find some protein in nutritional yeast, nuts and seeds and whole grains. To further ensure a good mix of amino acids you may wish to use a good quality protein shake each day. Check out pure Faba bean or pure pea protein. Best not to buy mixed products with gums, thickeners and flavours.
Protein powders are also fabulous hunger busters! Please check out the info over here in our Facebook group.
As vegans, we do not have Vit A in our food. However, no worries because our body can convert beta carotene to the usable form of Vit A.
The recommendations on how much beta carotene we should consume widely differ in each country.
Our UK-based NHS won’t even give us a recommended daily intake. They simply state “You should be able to get the amount of beta-carotene you need by eating a varied and balanced diet.”
That’s not so helpful, is it?
You can find beta carotene in quite a lot of our food. Especially in sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkins, spinach, red peppers, apricots, papaya and kale.
Here is a terrific UK vegan website called Vegan Food & Living, where Dr Justine Butler gives some helpful tips on Vit A and beta carotene.
There is also a nice template at the end of that article showing how much beta carotene is in various plant foods.
She mentions that “Some research suggests that people with more body fat are less able to convert carotenes into vitamin A.”
The UK government is using rather modest recommendations of only 40mg per day. This advice is many decades old. India is the only other place I know of that uses that low RDI.
Other countries are suggesting WAY MORE by now.
For instance, France and EU recommend daily 110mg
Japan 100mg, Italy, US, and Singapore between 85-105mg and so it goes on.
Check out this list. You have to scroll right down to the last ¼ of the article.
You can find this vitamin in many plant foods but especially in raw vegetables and fruit, such as yellow and red bell peppers, citrus fruit, kiwi fruit, and strawberries.
This vitamin is a powerful essential antioxidant that also helps your body to create collagen.
Collagen is needed for better skin and hair growth. It’s also the building block for bones, muscle, tendons, cartilage and blood vessels.
Did you know that collagen is responsible for your skin’s strength and elasticity? As we age, collagen production slows. And without sufficient Vit C, it gets worse.
By the way, at this stage, vegan collagen supplements do NOT contain any actual collagen. Ours contain vitamins, minerals and some amino acids that may help your body to make its own. Perhaps scientists can come up with new options soon to rival its non-vegan cousin that contains animal-derived collagen.
It’s an important antioxidant that prevents oxidative stress in hair follicles and boosts growth. Again, the UK appears to be most cautious with its decades-old recommendations of daily 3-4mg a day. Most other countries suggest between 11-15mg a day. Are they all wrong?
Vitamin E is made by plants and but most have only very small traces of it. The best sources would be oils, but because we don’t use those, we need to find Vit E in sunflower seeds, almonds, spinach, and avocados.
Losing weight can be an exhilarating experience. But using an unbalanced plan can have unintended consequences. Such as becoming low on iron. And that often goes hand in hand with hair loss.
Once we have a deficiency, it takes a while to get the levels back up. To make things more frustrating, plant-based iron isn’t easy to absorb.
According to research, we absorb around 2-20% of what you see on a nutrition label.
This means, you might be consuming enough, but we don’t exactly know how much you can absorb. Because of this poor absorption rate, some nutritionists believe that vegans should consume nearly twice as much iron as the recommended intake.
Women until the age of 50 need about 14.8mg per day but if they’re experiencing heavy menstrual losses, they may need to take a natural supplement. For instance a couple of tablespoons of SPATONE [an iron-rich mineral water]
Women over 50 will about 8.7mg per day.
Tea and coffee can slightly hinder iron uptake if you consume those beverages too close to a meal. Leave about 30-60 minutes between a meal and having coffee and tea.
According to the Vegan Society Iron rich vegan foods are lentils, chickpeas, beans, tofu, cashew nuts, chia seeds, ground linseed, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, kale, dried apricots and figs, raisins, quinoa and fortified breakfast cereal.
Vit C rich foods, especially fruit, can assist you with iron absorption.
Last but not least:
Copy from a study: Alopecia/hair loss is a well-known sign of established zinc deficiency with hair regrowth occurring with zinc supplementation.
We can’t produce this mineral and have to find it via our food. And it’s not abundant in vegan diets. In addition, many of our foods contain antinutrients that may further hinder zinc absorption.
But please note, that if you are supplementing with mega doses of this mineral, it may prevent iron absorption!
And to top it all off, not every study shows an improvement in hair re-growth when subjects took zinc supplements rather than getting it from food intake.
This leads me back to my original statement: it’s best if we don’t use starvation or unbalanced diets and become nutritionally deficient.
I’m all for taking supplements but they are as the name implies: supplementing a healthy diet.
They are simply a support. We can’t expect to see benefits from using them INSTEAD healthy food.
Have you experienced any unexpected hair loss? If yes, are you taking supplements?
I take protein powders and l-lysine [an amino acid] and so far, so good.