Like birthdays and taxes, one of the few constants in life is hair loss. However, not all hair loss is caused by aging. In fact, some hair loss can be triggered by our eating habits. Here, we walk you through six nutritional deficiencies that can negatively impact your locks.
Hair Loss: What’s Normal And What’s Not
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, the average person loses up to 100 strands of hair every day. And that’s totally normal! How much hair we lose—and the pattern in which we lose it—though, varies from person to person.
Our genes, as well as certain health conditions (such as hormonal imbalances and immune disorders), can strongly influence hair loss. For instance, approximately 6.8 million Americans suffer from or will suffer from alopecia, a genetic autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks the hair follicles. It’s marked by either patchy or complete hair loss, which can occur in unpredictable, repeating cycles.
Some prescription medications (like blood thinners and certain anti-depressants) can also contribute to hair loss. And though not permanent, extreme hair shedding (called telogen effluvium) can occur because of stressors like childbirth, surgery, or sudden weight loss. Similar to alopecia, this hair loss happens suddenly, but it tends to be temporary.
Nutrition And Hair Loss
In other cases, diet can play a notable role in how much hair ends up in your shower drain. Below are six nutritional issues that may be sabotaging your ability to grow a thick, healthy mane.
1. You’ve Cut Calories
Slashing calories in the hopes of losing a few pounds? The weight may not be the only thing you end up shedding.
“Our bodies rely on a constant source of calories to meet our basic needs,” explains board-certified dermatologist Shari Hicks-Graham, M.D. “When we experience a sudden change in caloric intake, our body adjusts to support our life-sustaining organs.” The result: Less blood (and nutrient) flow to the scalp. This change may lead to a change in hair quality, or increased shedding.
If weight loss is your goal, consult with a registered dietitian before slashing calories left and right. They can help you create an eating plan that supports your goal without sabotaging your health in other ways.
2. You Don’t Eat Enough Protein
Hair is made up of proteins, most notably keratin. Eating a wide variety of protein-rich foods—including eggs, meats, poultry, nuts, seeds, and seafood—provides the balance our hair needs, says board-certified dermatologist Lauren Eckert Ploch, M.D.
3. You’re Low on Vitamins
Both antioxidants, vitamins C and E help prevent free radical damage in the hair follicles. Vitamin C also supports iron absorption (more on why that matters in a minute). According to the National Institutes of Health, the average adult needs 22.4 IUs (15 milligrams) of vitamin E and 75 to 90 milligrams of vitamin C daily.
Plus, vitamin D deficiencies have been associated with hair loss, and are even implicated in the development of alopecia. “Therefore, we know it is essential for the health and maintenance of the hair follicle and hair growth,” says Ploch. The FDA recommends adults consume about 600 IUs of D daily.
4. You Have Low Iron Levels
Iron supports the red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout your bloodstream. Without ample amounts of the mineral, blood-flow becomes less oxygen-rich, which can slow hair growth and even increase shedding or thinning.
Since the body doesn’t produce iron on its own, we have to get it from our diet or supplements. Adult men need just about eight milligrams a day, while adult women need 18.
“Vegetarians and vegans, and those with medical issues like heavy menstrual bleeding, a recent surgery, or gastrointestinal conditions may be at risk for iron deficiency,” explains Hicks-Graham. If any of these apply to you (and you’ve experienced hair issues), talk to your doctor about whether an iron supplement could help.
5. You Don’t Get Enough Biotin
“Although data directly linking increased biotin intake and hair growth is somewhat limited, biotin has been linked to keratin production,” says Hicks-Graham. That’s why this B vitamin is known for making hair stronger, adds Ploch.
Although rare, deficiency in biotin can cause hair thinning and hair loss. The average recommended daily intake of biotin for adults is 30 micrograms, and you’ll find the vitamin in all sorts of supplements formulated to support hair, skin, and nails.
People with hereditary conditions that influence hair loss may especially benefit from biotin supplementation, says Ploch. (If you have a hair loss-related condition, talk to your doctor about adding a biotin supplement.)
6. You Have a Zinc Deficiency
Another essential nutrient for healthy hair: the mineral zinc, which supports normal cell function and helps the body synthesize proteins. In fact, zinc deficiency has been identified as a key nutritional component in telogen effluvium hair loss. (This is especially common in people with hypothyroidism.)
Adult women need eight milligrams of zinc per day, while adult men need 11. Though zinc deficiencies are uncommon, vegetarians, pregnant or lactating women, heavy drinkers, and people with digestive disorders all have increased risk.
When To See Your Doctor
If you’re concerned your hair loss may be abnormal, take a trip to the doctor (either your dermatologist or primary care practitioner).
Many of the health issues that cause hair loss—and the resulting hair loss itself—are treatable, but it’s important to be evaluated as quickly as possible, since changing patterns in hair loss and growth can take months.
“My approach to hair loss is to first do a detailed physical exam, and then order bloodwork,” says Ploch, who typically tests for iron deficiency and anemia, vitamin D deficiency, thyroid abnormalities, and autoimmune issues right off the bat. A registered dietitian can also help you identify connections between your current eating habits and hair health.
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