For some people (but definitely not all), hair loss seems to accompany the ketogenic diet. And since no one wants to lose their hair, even if they are experiencing fantastic weight loss benefits on the diet, these people are more likely to give up on their keto dreams.
The truth is that there are some perfectly logical reasons why you might experience hair loss on the keto diet, and most of them are easy fixes. So before you give up on your ketogenic diet due to hair loss, hear us out.
This article discusses everything you need to know about hair loss and how to overcome it. You will find that the ketogenic diet might not be the true cause of your hair loss. You will also find out the real causes of hair loss, how to stop it, and some natural hair treatments you can try to improve your hair health.
First, let’s go over some basic science of hair.
Understanding The Hair Growth Process
It seems like a no-brainer, but many people don’t really know much about their hair other than it’s falling out of their head quicker than they’d like!
To understand how hair loss occurs, it’s helpful to know how it grows in the first place. This includes what hair is made of and how it’s structured.
On a very basic level, hair is designed to keep you warm and protected from harmful elements, such as the weather. To keep your hair coat intact, it requires a constant supply of new hairs throughout your lifetime.
For the creation of new hairs, your current hairs must undergo three different cycles: growth (anagen), regression (catagen), and rest (telogen) (1).
During the first phase (anagen), your hair follicles must create an entire hair shaft that stretches from root to tip. During the second and third stages (catagen and telogen), your hair follicles reset themselves and prepare their stem cells to “listen up” for the signal to start the next growth phase.
Stem cells are special types of cells that grow and differentiate into different cells. This is what creates a new hair shaft. This process is then repeated over and over again for the rest of your life!
When it comes to the structure of your hair, there are two different types you should be aware of. The first is the follicle itself, which is located in the skin. The second is the shaft. This is the part that is visible from the scalp and above.
Each hair follicle consists of a tunnel-like segment. It runs from one area of your skin (the epidermis) to another (the dermis). Hair follicles structures are made of several different layers, and each layer has a separate job.
The papilla is the structure located at the very base of the hair follicle. It contains tiny blood vessels that provide nourishment to the hair called capillaries.
The part of your hair that is alive is the very bottom part that surrounds an area known as the papilla called the bulb. Cells that are located in your bulb divide every 23 to 72 hours, which is much faster than any other cell in your body divides (2).
Surrounding each hair follicle are two sheaths. One is an inner sheath, and one is an outer sheath. These structures are designed to protect your hair follicle and help form the growth of a new hair shaft.
The inner sheath extends down the hair shaft and finishes just before the opening of the hair’s oil gland, which is known as the sebaceous gland. Sometimes, it ends before the scent gland or the apocrine gland. Your outer sheath extends the way up from the base of the hair follicle to the gland.
There is a muscle that attaches below each gland to a layer of fiber that is located around the outer sheath called the arrector pili muscle. This muscle’s job is to contract and cause the hair to stand up. It also makes the oil gland secrete oil. Your oil gland is important because it makes sebum to condition your skin and hair.
Your body automatically creates more sebum after you hit puberty, but these levels decline as we age, which is what causes dry, flaky hair, and skin. Research shows that men don’t lose their sebum levels as much as women do during the aging process.
Finally, your hair shaft consists of a hard protein called keratin that is made up of three layers. Ironically, keratin is actually dead. This means that the hair you see on top of your head is not alive. The first layer of the hair shaft is called the medulla. The second layer is the cortex, and the third is the cuticle.
Most of your hair shaft is made of the cortex. The cuticle is made up of a tight structure that has shingle-like scales that overlap each other. The color of your hair is located in both the cortex and medulla.
The Science Behind Hair Loss
So now that you know how hair grows and what a hair follicle is made of, let’s look at all the possible ways you can lose your hair. Hair loss is most commonly associated with aging, but the truth is that anyone can experience hair loss at any age.
Research shows that there is a difference between shedding hairs and hair loss. For example, everyone loses up to 100 hairs each day. This varies based on age, gender and other factors. This is considered to be part of the normal hair growth cycle. But if you were to lose more than this, then you might have a right to be worried (3).
Typically, your hair grows about half of an inch per month. Research shows that about 90 percent of the hair on your body is actively growing at any given time and the other 10 percent is simply in a dormant phase (4).
Your dormant hair falls out about every two to three months and the hair follicles where this dormant hair was starts to grow new hair while another area of your body then goes through a dormant phase. You can see the pattern here.
There Are Many Reasons Why Your Hair Might Fall Out!
Research shows that most of the time, alopecia, which is the medical term for hair loss, is not caused by a disease. It may be falling out simply because of the aging process. You may also have some predetermined genetic factors that put you at an increased risk for hair loss (5).
Additional factors that may contribute to hair loss are listed below:
- Emotional trauma
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Protein deprivation
- Hormonal changes such as pregnancy, postpartum, menopause or puberty
- Harsh hair treatments such as bleaching or using overly tight ponytails
- Certain medications and treatment (such as chemotherapy)
- Certain diseases, such as thyroid disease or iron deficiency anemia
- Fungal infections
- Bad habits such as pulling on hair or biting it
- Autoimmune diseases
- A poor diet
Of course, you can’t discuss hair loss without mentioning dihydrotestosterone or DHT, which is a male sex hormone that has been linked to hair loss in both men and women.
DHT is an androgen sex steroid, which means that it is produced in the gonads. Its job is to provide males with male characteristics, such as increased muscle mass, a deep voice, body hair, and male reproductive development of the prostate gland and penis.
These all sound like good things for men. But research shows that DHT might cause hair loss by shrinking hair follicles, which causes male pattern baldness. Because of this, many hair loss treatments are designed to block DHT so that your hair has a chance to grow back.
It’s important to note that DHT only blocks the hair on top of your head. Research shows that it actually stimulates the growth of hair on the face, chest, and in the genital area (6).
So, how does DHT cause your hair follicles to shrink? Well, for starters, DHT is a very powerful hormone. In fact, it’s more powerful than testosterone. It also requires the use of testosterone to make it. An enzyme called 5-alpha-reductase (5-AR) takes testosterone and converts it into DHT in the prostate gland and testes (7).
DHT conversion usually accounts for about 10 percent of a man’s testosterone levels. From here, DHT attaches to the same receptors in your body as testosterone, so the two sort of compete with each other. Once DHT attaches, it tends to stay there for longer, which makes it hard for hair to grow.
According to a study published in 2017, researchers are closer to understanding exactly why hair loss occurs, and surprisingly it doesn’t involve DHT (although it’s probably too soon to rule out DHT as a possible cause).
Researchers of the study used a combination of math and biological data to map hair growth patterns across the entire body so that they could track how baldness occurs.
According to one of the study authors, their new model was able to predict details about the communication and signals that occurred between hairs. They examined certain types of proteins called Wnt proteins and bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs) and studied how these proteins communicated with each other. Specifically, the authors found that defects in either protein cause a lack of communication that may disrupt the hair growth process (8).
Basically, what this means is that hair follicles have a way of communicating with each other across different areas of the head. When these signals are interrupted due to the lack of a certain protein, it may cause baldness.
Furthermore, the researchers determined that if they can get the non-balding and balding regions of man’s head to start communicating again, it can help them start to grow again.
The Ketogenic Diet And Hair Loss
As you can see, the science behind hair loss is a little more complicated than most of us realized, but the real question on everyone’s mind is this:
Does the ketogenic diet cause hair loss? Is hair loss really a side effect on the keto diet?
Here is the short answer: so far, there is no research to indicate that the keto diet causes hair loss directly. In reality, many people reported that they experience better hair growth on keto.
With that being said, there are some people who seem to experience hair loss, so it seems like there has to be some sort of connection.
So if you’re experiencing hair loss while doing keto diet, it might not be the diet itself, but it could be because of these common reasons:
#1. Biotin Deficiency
According to a 2013 study, hair loss on the keto diet could be explained by a biotin deficiency. The study explained that biotin is a water-soluble B vitamin that is responsible for acting as a cofactor for several enzymes.
The study went on to say that in Japan, there is an infant version of the keto diet that is called the ketone formula, but it does not contain sufficient amounts of biotin. Biotin deficiency is a big deal in infants. It can cause skin rashes, seizures, developmental delays, poor muscle tone, and hair loss.
Researchers of the study found that at week nine, the typical symptoms of biotin deficiency were hair loss and dermatitis was found in the ketogenic biotin-deficient (KBD) diet group only, which shows that the ketogenic diet may cause a biotin deficiency that leads to hair loss (9).
Luckily, a biotin deficiency is easy to treat because biotin supplements and biotin rich foods should be able to get you back to where you need to be so that you stop losing hair.
#2. Telogen effluvium
Another reason why people experience hair loss especially when they first start the keto diet is because your hair is in shock. According to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology, there is a bit of a system shock that occurs when you first go on the keto diet (10).
It occurs when about 70 percent of your scalp hairs are shed in large numbers within two months. In medical terms, this type of hair loss would be described as telogen effluvium. But this hair loss tends to be temporary and is usually only linked to yo-yo dieting.
In other words, your body might be shocked at first, but once it adapts to your new diet and sees that you aren’t going to quit, your hair should adjust.
As explained above, there is a good portion of your hair that goes into a resting phase while another part of your hair grows. These phases aren’t permanent, which means that your hair will eventually start to grow back.
The worst thing you can do is give up your keto ways and revert back to a high-carb diet that sends confusing messages to your body (and head).
#3. Thyroid or Autoimmune Problem
In some cases, hair loss has nothing to do with the keto diet and may be due to an underlying thyroid or autoimmune problem. For example, hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism may cause changes to your hormone levels, and this could be the reason behind hair loss.
Alopecia is an autoimmune condition that is characterized by hair loss, and although the cause is unknown, research shows that it’s linked to hyperthyroidism (11).
These conditions might become exaggerated by the keto diet or any diet change for that matter. Iron deficiencies have also been linked to hair loss, so it’s a good idea to have some blood work done if you really want to see the cause of your hair loss.
#4. Lack of Protein or Not Eating Enough Calories
Finally, a lack of protein or eating too few calories could be to blame for the reason why you’re losing hair.
Although the keto diet is not exactly a high-protein diet, it’s far from being too low in protein. You may want to adjust your protein intake to see if you can stop some of the hair loss.
Keep in mind that excessive amounts of protein might kick you out of ketosis. Be sure you’re keeping track of your numbers, so you’re not going overboard.
However, you shouldn’t be afraid of protein. It is so vital for your health. If you want to find out exactly how many grams of protein you should eat to achieve your goal with keto diet, check out this keto macro calculator.
If you’ve been practicing intermittent fasting on keto, it might be a good idea to take a break to see if it has any effect on your hair growth or at least increase your calorie intake so that you’re getting enough nutrition to prevent deficiencies.
#5. Stress and Not Getting Enough Sleep
If all else fails, it’s a good idea to take a look at your lifestyle habits.
Are you overly stressed? Do you get enough sleep? Are you pulling your hair out or biting it without even knowing it? For some people, chewing on their hair is a nervous habit.
Keep in mind that the timeline regarding when your hair loss came on is essential. If you started experiencing hair loss within one to three months of starting the diet, don’t worry. Your hair loss is likely just temporary, and it won’t last very much longer.
If you’ve been on the keto diet for at least six months or longer and suddenly you’re having problems, you might want to readjust your diet and lifestyle habits to make sure you’re not depriving yourself of nutrients.
How To Stop Hair Loss
One of the first things you should do if you think you’re losing your hair due to the keto diet is to take a deep breath. Remember that your hair loss is probably temporary and will come back as soon as your body adjusts to your new diet. In the meantime, it might be a good idea to see where your hormone levels are at.
Do you have an underlying thyroid problem? Are you experiencing any other symptoms that could be the result of an autoimmune disease?
It’s also a good idea to have some blood work done to determine if you have a vitamin or mineral deficiency. In most cases, an iron supplement and a B vitamin blend can help supply the nutrients that your hair needs to grow.
Natural Hair Growth Treatments
Here are some remedies that can help with natural hair growth:
#1. Peppermint Oil
According to a 2014 study, peppermint essential oil can help promote hair growth without any toxic side effects (12).
The animal study tested peppermint oil on four different groups. After four weeks, hair growth measurements were taken and compared against initial measurements. Results found that the peppermint oil group had the most hair growth. Specifically, they had the most significant increase in follicle number, dermal thickness, and follicle depth.
The researchers concluded that peppermint oil induces a rapid anagen stage and can be used topically to help promote hair growth.
The publication stated that type XVII collagen, which is located near the hair follicle and stem cells underneath the scalp, is the reason why hair thins. The study found that mice who supplemented with collagen had fewer thinner hairs than mice who didn’t get the collagen supplement.
In the mice that lacked collagen, researchers noted that damaged stem cells turned themselves into skin cells and then fell off from the scalp, which causes hair loss. The researchers determined that the collagen helped the mice become less prone to hair loss even during the aging process. They believe that the same theory can be applied to humans as well.
You can eat more collagen foods or find a high-quality collagen supplement at any health store. We recommend going with grass-fed bovine collagen, which contains the most complete sources of collagen from the cleanest sources.
This one is good news for coffee lovers. Research shows that caffeine may help spur hair growth. According to a 2014 study, caffeine helps hair shafts grow faster by reducing the effects of DHT on the scalp (14).
Good sources of caffeine include green tea, black tea, and coffee. Green tea is especially beneficial for hair growth because it has been shown to boost your metabolism, which can also boost the rate in which new hairs grow. This is according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.
One study found that a compound in green tea known as epigallocatechin-3-gallate, or EGCG, aided in the growth of hair follicles and stimulated the dermal papilla cells to grow hair quicker (15).
Green tea is also high in antioxidant polyphenols, which can help your hair grow because it protects cells against oxidative damage and stress. Antioxidants also help slow down the aging process, which is a big reason why so many people lose hair to begin with.
Additionally, green tea is high in the antioxidant panthenol, which is often used in shampoos and conditioners to help you grow strong hair.
You’ll want to avoid energy drinks. Even though they contain caffeine, they also tend to contain added sugars, sugar alcohols, and artificial flavors and colors. They also tend to contain WAY more caffeine than you need in one serving. These can also be hard to digest and lead to stomach problems.
#4. Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkin seeds are high in zinc. Research shows that zinc deficiencies are often linked to hypothyroidism and hair loss (16).
Pumpkin seeds are also high in vitamin E, which has calming antioxidant and antiinflammatory effects on the skin to help improve the health of your scalp.
Keep in mind that although seeds are high in fat, they also tend to be high in carbs so monitor the amount you eat on the keto diet. You can either use raw pumpkin seeds or pumpkin seed oil. Add them to salads or enjoy a handful as a snack.
#5. Saw Palmetto
Research shows that saw palmetto extract helps keep testosterone levels balanced, which can promote hair growth.
One study found that men and women who applied saw palmetto extract lotion topically to their heads in the form of shampoo for three months had a 35 percent increase in hair density. It also helps block dihydrotestosterone (DHT) from preventing the growth of new hair (17).
#6. Ginkgo Biloba
Ginkgo Biloba is another herb that you can use to promote hair growth naturally. It works by strengthening the hair shaft and preventing thinning. Herbs are also great for encouraging blood flow, which helps nourish your hair so that it grows better (18).
#7. Coconut Oil
Dandruff is a condition that causes dry, flaky skin on your scalp. It can become so itchy that you end up scratching it so much that you lose hair. Dandruff also causes the scalp to become inflamed, which prevents the growth of new hair.
Coconut oil contains lauric acid and capric acid, which are medium-chain fatty acids that have powerful antifungal, antimicrobial and antiviral properties.It also has a protective effect on hair damage (19, 20).
Plus, it’s highly soothing and anti-inflammatory to help calm down an inflamed scalp. Coconut oil is sure to target and clear up any bad bacteria on your head that is causing the dry, flaky skin.
Try applying it topically to your scalp and letting it sit for about 20 minutes before washing it off and cleansing your hair as you normally would. Some people even apply coconut oil to their scalp, wrap their hair in a towel and sleep on it overnight for some extra TLC. You would wash your hair as you normally would in the morning.
Can probiotics help you grow healthy hair? All indications point to yes.
First, probiotics help to restore the good bacteria in your body and get rid of the bad stuff, including any bacteria on your head preventing your hair from growing.
It’s pretty easy to tell the difference between a person who takes probiotics from a person who doesn’t just by looking at their skin. One study found that probiotics induce a “glow of health” by giving you great looking skin and shinier hair (21).
The study found that mice who were fed probiotic yogurt improved their coat appearance compared to mice who weren’t fed probiotics. Additionally, the researchers of the study found that probiotics lead to “robust” hair growth. They also noted that mice who were fed probiotics had more hair growth during their anagen phase than control diet mice.
L-lysine is an amino acid that appears to play a role in the growth of new hair. Interestingly, Japanese men tend to have less hair loss than American men. One theory is that Japanese men have more l-lysine in their diet. According to one study, l-lysine plays an important role in hair loss (22).
The study found that subjects responded favorably to l-lysine treatment. You can find l-lysine in pistachios and pumpkin seeds, or you can take it in supplement form for convenience.
#10. Apple Cider Vinegar
Some research indicates that apple cider vinegar can help stimulate hair growth because it improves blood flow to the scalp and provides hair with more nutrients. It also contains natural antibacterial properties, so you can use it optically to combat dandruff.
When you buy apple cider vinegar, make sure it’s organic and unfiltered so that it has the “mother” intact, which is the term used to describe a product that has all the healing enzymes in it. Avoid store-bought brands because these have been heated to high temperatures and have lost all their nutrition.
What To Do Now?
As we mentioned earlier, the best thing to do is to get your blood work done to see if you’re lacking certain vitamins or have any particular medical conditions that might directly or indirectly cause hair loss.
Next, check your lifestyle to see if you’ve been stressing or not getting enough sleep. Exercise doesn’t appear to directly help your hair grow, but it can help you sleep better. Consider adding a moderate exercise regimen to your daily schedule to balance hormones, reduce inflammation, and support whole body health, including hair growth.
Finally, check your diet to make sure you’re eating enough protein and calories. One of the things that we find works best for many members in our keto community is that they start supplementing with collagen. You can try these collagen peptides.
No doubt, hair loss is frustrating. But before you point the finger at the keto diet, consider that there might be other factors to blame.
There is no research to show that keto causes hair loss. At best, we know that keto may cause biotin deficiencies, which can easily be treated with a B complex vitamin supplement.
It might be a good idea to get some blood work done to see if you’re deficient in a particular vitamin as this can be the reason behind the hair loss.
It might also be a good idea to have your thyroid checked to make sure your hormone levels are stable.
Finally, keep in mind that people lose hair as early as in their 20’s due to the natural process of aging.
Some people might already be going through a period in their life where they are losing their hair naturally due to age and they just so happen to be on the keto diet, so they think there is a connection.
If you’re new to the keto diet, keep in mind that your body might be going through a bit of shock due to the drastic dietary changes. This will likely wear off within a few months, and your hair growth may go back to normal after your dormant hair comes out of this phase.
The worst thing you can do is return to a diet high in inflammatory carbohydrates as this will cause your hair to fall out quicker than the keto diet. You may want to experiment with some topical anti-inflammatory agents to help soothe your scalp and increase blood flow to this area but stick with your keto diet. Yo-yo dieting will only make your hair loss worse.
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