The rising popularity of veganism coinciding with increased awareness of hair loss might not just be a coincidence.
More Female Patients With One Thing In Common
Trichologist Anabel Kingsley is one of at least a few medical professionals who suspects the vegan diet is responsible for many cases of hair loss.
She’s observed an increase in young female patients at her London clinic as of late, a great deal of whom are vegans or vegetarians. Her suspicions are partially attributed to the fact that the new patients are in excellent physical shape despite experiencing telogen effluvium, a type of hair loss that can be caused by nutritional deficiencies.
While the plant-based vegan diet has been associated with a variety of health benefits, it can also lead to deficiencies in numerous vital nutrients such as iron, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin B12.
You Can’t Get All Your Nutrients From Plants
"I can completely understand my clients' reasons for being vegan or veggie, but it's very difficult with those diets to combine the correct food groups to give the hair what it needs," Dr. Kingsley told Business Insider. "For example, fish and eggs have all eight essential amino acids (proteins) that you need, while a grain or legume would only have a few of those. If you only get one set from a source of protein you need to get the rest from something else."
Iron plays a major role in healthy hair growth as well and is significantly easier to absorb from meat than plant-based foods. This makes veganism more dangerous for women than men, Dr. Kingsley noted, due to the effect menstruation has on iron levels.
The lack of certain nutrients in the vegan diet can be offset by supplements but Dr. Kingsley says most of the vegans she’s met do not make a conscious effort to take the necessary supplements on a regular basis. This supports a recent study that found that vegans do not devote as much attention to supplements as they do to their food choices, possibly because they are more concerned with animal cruelty than they are with their own health.
Take Your Supplements Every Day
"Hair is not an essential tissue, meaning the body can physically survive without it, even if you are really careful it can be hard to get the protein and iron for hair to grow healthily,” she added. “If you're not eating enough of the correct foods or your body is not absorbing enough of the nutrients, this can result in excessive shredding. Even if you're only slightly deficient in a nutrient, the body withholds this from the hair first."
Dr. Kingsley suggested vegans might not have to worry about losing their hair if they took regular supplements, particularly iron, vitamin C, and vitamin B12.
Nutritional deficiencies might even trigger hair loss even if they are temporary. Dr. Kingsley therefore recommends any young adult with hair loss to think back to any drastic changes in diet over the past few months, since the hair wouldn’t typically start to fall out until about three months after the change in diet.
"It can be quite comforting for my clients just knowing that there's a a definitive reason why they have been losing hair,” she said.