Honestly, hair loss isn’t something I’ve directly dealt with. Personally, I’ve not experienced a loss of hair while on the ketogenic diet and likewise, I’ve not had any clients report hair loss on keto. So either my clients are holding out on me (certainly a possibility), or I’ve tapped into a way around this unfortunate ketogenic side effect.
So how do I know hair loss is even an issue on keto?
As a Keto Coach, I spend a fair amount of time creeping around Pinterest, ketogenic forums, and popular Facebook groups such as Keto for Beginners. And I’ve noticed a concerning trend— TONS of women (potentially men too) are dealing with hair loss while on the ketogenic diet.
How is it that my clients are somehow avoiding this awful keto side effect while others are losing hair by the handful? In order to get to the bottom of this it’s important we have a look at what causes hair loss in the first place.
What Causes Hair Loss?
There are a number of factors that could potentially cause hair to prematurely fall from your head— whether you’re keto or not. There are four factors that seem to be the most likely culprits.
Let’s have a look at those.
Stress is a complex concept, often promoting different complications depending on the individual. What we know to be universally true— when the body undergoes stress, the adrenal glands make and release the hormone cortisol (1). And heightened cortisol levels can contribute to hair loss (2).
Which means, if you’ve been under tremendous stress lately there’s a possibility your hair is falling out due to poor stress management rather than the ketogenic diet.
However, keep in mind that making extreme dietary changes often prompts physiological stress. Therefore, taking on the ketogenic diet in times of high-stress may not be the wisest decision. Better to manage the stress with yoga, meditation, sex, a punching bag— whatever works for you— prior to taking the keto plunge.
2. Lack of Sleep
I’m not sure who started this whole “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” thing— but I’m not on board! Getting sufficient sleep allows you to live your best life. According to WebMD, “Many biological processes happen during sleep: The brain stores new information and gets rid of toxic waste. Nerve cells communicate and reorganize, which supports healthy brain function. The body repairs cells, restores energy, and releases molecules like hormones and proteins.” (3)
Beyond that, adequate sleep also promotes healthy stem cell activity, and stem cells are specifically responsible for generating epithelial cells for hair growth. (4)
3. Hormonal Imbalances
Hormones are no joke right?! Hormones are basically the body’s steering wheel. And when your hormones are out of balance it can seriously feel like you’re sitting shotgun to some maniac behind the wheel. What fun!
Hormones are behind SO many regulatory functions within the body— one of them being— hair growth.
Testosterone and DHEA are the major hormones that dictate hair growth. (5) In women, the ovaries and adrenals are responsible for producing these hormones from cholesterol. An excess of testosterone or DHEA can lead to unwanted hair growth on the face and body. Alternatively, a lack of such hormones can lead to thinning hair.
Hormonal imbalances are often caused by a number of underlying issues such as thyroid disease, medications, or autoimmune diseases. (6) Consult with your doctor if you suspect you’re suffering from hormonal imbalances.
4. Nutritional Deficiencies
Yet another reason for hair loss could be due to nutritional deficiencies. Inadequate nutrition can negatively affect everything from healthy hair follicles and nerve cells, down to our DNA structure and gene expression. (7)
Nutritional deficiencies are likely the most common reason individuals are suffering from hair loss while on keto. The reason being, many are jumping on the keto bandwagon before fully understanding how to properly formulate a ketogenic diet.
A properly formulated ketogenic diet ensures proper nutrition and appropriately avoids nutritional deficiencies. (8) But before we dive into what it means for keto to be properly formulated, let’s have a look at some of the most common nutritional deficiencies associated with hair loss.
10 Nutritional Deficiencies That Cause Hair Loss
According to Dermatology Practical & Conceptual, “Iron deficiency (ID) is the world’s most common nutritional deficiency and is a well-known cause of hair loss.” (9) WebMD supports this by stating “A review of 40 years of research shows that iron deficiency has a much closer link to hair loss than most doctors realize. It may be the key to restoring hair growth, Cleveland Clinic dermatologists find.” (10)
Even so, iron deficiency and hair loss remain a controversial issue. Many doctors still believe there’s just not enough hard evidence to make ID screening a routine procedure for people with hair loss. (11)
The way I see it, what could it hurt do to a little self-testing? Try adding more iron-rich food into your diet, or supplement and see how your hair responds.
Foods high in iron: shellfish, spinach, liver and other organ meats, grass-fed beef, pumpkin seeds, broccoli, wild-caught fish, dark chocolate (85% cacao or higher). (12)
Zinc is an essential mineral required by hundreds of enzymes and multiple transcription factors that serve to regulate gene expression. Zinc is thought to play an important role in a critical signaling pathway responsible for healthy hair follicle development. (13)
What’s more, the Boston University School of Medicine has found hair loss to be a common symptom of zinc deficiency. (14)
Ketotarians should take special efforts to supplement zinc as the bioavailability of zinc is lower in vegetables than meat. (15)
Foods high in zinc: grass-fed beef, consciously-sourced pork, shellfish, seeds, nuts, grass-fed dairy, organic eggs, green beans, kale, dark chocolate (85% cacao or higher). (16)
Niacin, also known as vitamin B3, is important for good health in general. All B vitamins help the body convert carbohydrates into glucose, which the body uses to produce energy. B vitamins also help the body use fats and protein which are essential for healthy liver, skin, hair, and eyes. (17)
Beyond that, one of the major functions of niacin is to improve blood circulation. A deficiency in niacin could affect blood circulation, and poor blood circulation plays a huge role in hair thinning and hair loss. (18)
Foods high in niacin: liver, organic chicken breast, sustainably-sourced tuna, wild-caught salmon, anchovies, grass-fed beef, avocado, mushrooms. (19)
4. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
If there’s one type of fat everyone can agree is good for the body— it’s omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3’s come in three forms, EPA, DHA and ALA. EPA and DHA are primarily found in certain fish, whereas ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) is found in plant sources such as nuts and seeds. (20)
Omega-3’s are well known for their role in combating inflammation. Hair follicle inflammation is directly tied to hair loss. Therefore, by combating the inflammation the hair follicle will be restored. (21)
Foods high in omega-3’s: anchovies, bluefish, herring, mackerel, marlin, salmon, sardines, lake trout, oysters, caviar, flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts. (22)
Selenium is a trace element that plays a role in protection from oxidative damage as well as hair follicle growth. (23)
Although humans only need a very small amount, selenium plays a key role in metabolism and cellular wellbeing. (24)
While there is evidence that selenium deficiency can lead to hair loss, there is also evidence to support that selenium toxicity (generally achieved by over-supplementing), can also play a roll in hair loss. Therefore, you want to be cautious not to overdo it. (25)
Foods high in selenium: Brazil nuts, wild-caught fish, grass-fed beef, organic chicken and eggs, organic cottage cheese, sunflower seeds, spinach, cashews. (26)
6. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is an essential nutrient. It boosts immunity, strengthens bones, stimulates cell growth, and helps generate new hair follicles. For the most part, vitamin D is absorbed through sun exposure. Although, there are certain foods that contain vitamin D as well. (27) And of course, if you happen to live in a situation where sunshine is stubborn— there’s always supplementation.
Foods high in vitamin D: wild-caught salmon, sardines, herring, cod liver oil, egg yolks, mushrooms. (28)
7. Vitamin A
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin aiding in vision, immunity, and reproduction. (29) Beyond that, in murine studies, vitamin A has been shown to activate hair follicle stem cells. (30) Although vitamin A deficiency is rather rare within the U.S., it’s still worthy of notation. (31)
Foods high in vitamin A: grass-fed beef liver (and other organs), wild-caught salmon, green leafy vegetables, grass-fed (or raw) dairy products. (32)
Biotin is a vitamin that aids enzymes in breaking down certain substances like fats and carbohydrates. (33)
Biotin deficiencies are rather uncommon because intestinal bacteria are typically able to produce adequate levels of biotin. (34) However, with the growing amount of individuals suffering from leaky gut, I wouldn’t be surprised if those deficiencies are on the rise.
Biotin has a substantial reputation in fighting against hair loss, brittle nails, and other conditions. But in all honesty, there’s not a lot of scientific evidence to support these uses. (35)
Foods high in biotin: liver and organ meats, organic eggs, grass-fed beef, seeds, nuts, bone marrow. (36)
9. Amino Acids + Proteins
Consuming adequate amounts of protein is important for hair growth because hair follicles are made predominately of protein (specifically keratin). (37)
And according to the RDA, “Amino acids are required for the synthesis of body protein and other important nitrogen-containing compounds, such as creatine, peptide hormones, and some neurotransmitters.” (38)
So basically, protein is worthless without the support of amino acids.
What’s more, the essential amino acid L-lysine is thought to play a role in iron and zinc uptake. (39) Which means, if your body contains insufficient levels of L-lysine, those iron and zinc supplements are fat waste of money.
Foods containing essential amino acids: grass-fed meat, organic eggs, unadulterated tofu, raw or grass-fed dairy, bone broth. (40)
Antioxidants are compounds able to neutralize reactive oxygen species, therefore preventing oxidative stress. (41) Oxidative stress is linked to all sorts of nasty health conditions such as cancer, diabetics, rheumatoid arthritis, stroke, and cardiovascular diseases. (42) Oxidative stress has also been linked to hair loss. (43)
The following are a few substances classified as antioxidants: (43)
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin E
Foods high in antioxidants: pecans, berries, kale, spinach, red cabbage, artichokes, dark chocolate (85% cacao or higher). (44)
Alright, now that we’ve discussed the many possible reasons your hair is falling out in clumps, let’s get to the important stuff— how to remedy it!
3 Ways to Prevent (and Reverse) Hair Loss on Keto
1. Eat Clean Keto
I don’t think it’s a fluke that my clients aren’t suffering from hair loss while on the ketogenic diet. My practice promotes clean keto, and clean keto (unlike dirty or lazy keto) involves eating a LOT of nutrient-dense whole foods such as green leafy vegetables, grass-fed beef, nuts, and seeds as well as notable superfoods like bone broth, bone marrow, liver, and organs. (45)
What is Dirty Keto?
Essentially, “dirty keto” is the ketogenic diet gone wrong. It involves eating the wrong fats, cutting the wrong carbs, and inevitably leads to dietary disaster. Matthew Black, a registered dietitian with the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center states, “The main difference with dirty keto (versus clean keto) is that users believe they have the freedom to eat whatever they want, providing they maintain a low enough carbohydrate intake.” (46) Meaning, all sorts of unhealthy, processed foods such as sugar-free syrup, hot dogs, and American cheese are a-GO on dirty keto.
What is Clean Keto?
In order to cash in on ALL the serious keto benefits (HULK-like energy, disease prevention, longevity, etc.) you’ve got to focus on clean ketogenic foods. Clean keto is about eating nutrient-dense, whole foods. Period. Leafy greens, consciously-sourced proteins, and unprocessed fats.
Although deriving nutrients straight from the food source is always the most bioavailable approach, supplementation isn’t a bad idea either (especially if you’re going the ketotarian route). You could certainly supplement individually with all of the dietary recommendations listed above, or better yet, you could supplement with a mighty multi-vitamin. I’m a big fan of the brand Garden of Life— their products are always non-GMO, gluten-free, and reasonably priced. (47)
Aside from a multi-vitamin, I’d also recommend supplementing with high-quality fish oil. Be sure to select a brand that has been tested for mercury and contains DHA as well as EPA. I prefer the brand Wiley’s Finest. (48)
Finally, in order to ensure you’re body is effectively absorbing your multi-vitamin it would be wise to supplement with a grass-fed collagen peptide. Collagen peptides contain essential amino acids and remember, amino acids are crucial components of protein synthesis as well as iron and zinc uptake. (49) Personally, I supplement with Vital Proteins (50) or Primal Kitchen. (51)
3. Give it time
If I were you I’d be thinking, that’s a shitty suggestion— my hair is falling out in handfuls for f*cks sake. But the fact is, if you’re doing everything right (meaning eating clean and getting your nutrients) then either there’s a larger issue at play (in which case, best to pay your practitioner a visit) or it may just take some time.
Keep in mind that the ketogenic diet works to regulate your hormones. However, the whole process of bringing them into balance can cause some wacky things to happen. Over time, your hormone health should improve eventually leading to relief from nasty side effects such as fatigue, mood swings, and hair loss. (52)
The Bottom Line
As with any major dietary change, you may experience some unpleasant transitional effects (generally relating to the gut) but energy, mood, and hair can certainly be affected. Such side effects are not entirely dependant on whether you choose to go the route of clean or dirty keto.
Keep in mind, every BODY is different. And the way your body responds to the ketogenic diet could be entirely different from the way my body responds.
For the most part, if it’s gonna happen, adaptational hair loss on keto generally occurs within three to six months of beginning the ketogenic diet. (53) If you’re experiencing excessive hair loss well beyond the sixth-month mark you’d be wise to follow the recommendations mentioned throughout this post.
Ready to “go-keto,” but have no idea how to begin?
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- What to eat on a CLEAN ketogenic diet
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This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Katie Rodriguez nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement or lifestyle program.