Did you go vegan recently and have noticed that your hair isn’t as healthy as it used to be? Maybe you’re even experiencing vegan hair loss. This question has come up quite a few times in the last year, and in this article, I will address all the main concerns with being vegan and hair loss.
Of course, please check with your primary care provider about any health concerns, and if you’d like to speak with a dietitian about your nutrient intake, you can schedule a nutrition call here.
Can a vegan diet make you lose hair?
In short, maybe! Having an unbalanced diet of any sort can cause issues with hair growth and hair loss. Getting adequate fat, protein, and carbohydrates is vital for having healthy hair.
In vegan eating, specifically whole food plant-based eating, people often avoid all fats, but our bodies still need healthy fats. An imbalance of macronutrients or even some micronutrients can cause vegan hair loss.
These changes can happen in any eating pattern, and if you’re over 50 years old, about half of men and women experience hair loss, which can also be genetic.
You should contact your healthcare team if you notice changes in your hair. Ensuring you are getting yearly bloodwork can also help determine deficiencies.
The National Institute of Health has also found that non-food factors like stress, anxiety, and depression can also harm hair health.
How does hair work?
Your hair goes through phases similar to skin cells. In hair, there are four phases of hair growth.
- Anagen: when hair starts to grow
- Catagen: when follicles are transitioning
- Telogen: when follicles are at rest
- Exogen: when hair sheds
Hair can shed or fall out for various reasons, one of the main reasons being diet and stress. For women, hair changes in times of hormonal changes like pregnancy, childbirth, and menopause.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, losing around 50 to 100 hairs daily is normal. If you have excess hair shedding, it’s best to contact your doctor or dermatologist and look closely at these vitamins and minerals.
Which vitamin deficiency causes vegan hair loss?
Our bodies use zinc for many different functions, which is most important in times of growth. Our hair cells turnover quickly, and zinc can play an essential role in hair growth. Most of the common sources of zinc come from products that vegans and vegetarians do not consume, such as meat.
There are plant-based sources of zinc that should be considered, including, but not limited to;
- Kidney beans (1.4 mg in ½ cup)
- Chickpeas (1.7 mg in ½ cup)
- Tofu (1.6 mg in ½ cup)
- Quinoa (1.6 mg in ½ cup)
- Green peas (1.2 mg in ½ cup)
- Pumpkin seeds (2 mg in ¼ cup)
- Hemp seeds (3 mg in ¼ cup)
- Cashews (1.8mg in ¼ cup)
Consuming a low amount of zinc can lead to a deficiency in zinc, resulting in hair loss.
How much zinc do I need?
Women over 18 years old need 8mg per day
Men over 18 years old need 11mg per day
The most common nutrient of concern with plant-based eaters is Vitamin B-12, for a good reason. B12 comes mainly from animal sources and can’t be found in unfortified plant-based products.
Studies have seen hair loss in instances of B12 deficiency. B12 cannot only help play a role in overall hair health, but it can also help prevent premature graying (1).
There are many fortified B12 options, such as;
- Fortified soy milk (2.5 mcg in 1 cup)
- Nutritional yeast (2.2 mcg in 1 Tablespoon)
- Fortified cereals (0.6 mcg in ⅔ cup)
How much vitamin B12 do I need?
Women and Men need 2.4 mcg per day, but if solely relying on a supplement, it’s advised to have 2,000 mcg per week.
Iron deficiency is one of the most common deficiencies across the globe. Because it’s so common, it doesn’t mean we should normalize it. Not getting enough iron in your diet can significantly impact your hair health.
Excessive hair shedding, called Telogen effluvium, can occur with iron deficiency. Telogen hairs account for about 15% of our hairs (2), which can play a large role in vegan hair loss.
Plant-based sources of iron are in common everyday foods. Here are some of the top options
- Lentils (3.5mg in ½ cup)
- White beans (3.5mg in ½ cup)
- Tofu (2.4 mg in 4 ounces)
- Tempeh (2.4 mg in 4 ounces)
- Edamame (2.6 mg in 4 ounces)
- Spirulina (2mg in 1 tablespoon)
Please read my blog post about iron on the Plant-Based Whole30 for a more comprehensive list of plant-based iron sources.
How much iron do I need?
Plant-based eaters need more iron per day than non-plant-based eaters. The recommended daily allowance or RDA for plant-based women of childbearing age is 32.4mg and 14.4 mg for other plant-based adults.
More research is needed on exact amounts, but plant-based eaters need more iron.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that helps support cell growth. It works by helping to stimulate NEW hair follicles. Without enough vitamin D, hair growth may be slowed or completely stopped, leading to vegan hair loss.
Vitamin D2 and vitamin D3 are the two types of vitamin D. Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) is always vegan, and vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) traditionally comes from animal sources, but it can be made vegan today.
Hanging out in the sun can help with vitamin D intake, but having more melanin or using sunscreen all the time can decrease its absorption. It’s best to check your labs yearly and adjust your diet and lifestyle accordingly.
Vitamin D sources
- Fortified breakfast cereals (2.6mcg or 105 IU)
- Fortified non-dairy milk (2.5 to 3 mcg or 100-120IU)
How much vitamin D do I need?
Adults aged 19-71 of all genders need 15 mcg or 600IU of vitamin D daily.
Healthy fats support hair growth by offering nutrients to the scalp and hair and reducing inflammation in the scalp that may negatively interfere with hair growth.
Omega 3s are essential in hair growth and can even improve vegan hair loss. This study found that after only six months of omega-3 supplementation, hair loss improved, and those experiencing hair loss saw vast improvements.
Curious about your omega-3 levels? Join my Omega Wellness Program to test your levels with the guidance of a registered dietitian.
Omega 3 Sources
- Chia seeds ( 4g ALA in 2 tablespoons)
- Ground flaxseeds (3.2g ALA in 2 tablespoons
- Hemp seeds (1.7g ALA in 2 tablespoons)
- Walnuts (2.6g ALA in 1/4 cup)
How many omega-3s do I need?
Women older than 14 need 1.1g per day. Without a source of ALA, 2.2 g is needed per day.
Men older than 14 years old need 1.6g per day. Without a source of ALA, 3.2g per day is needed.
Proteins are made of amino acids, the building blocks of all our cells, including our hair. Amino acids are divided into two groups: essential amino acids and non-essential amino acids. Essential amino acids are the ones that must come from food because the body doesn’t make them on its own.
Limited research suggests that cystine and lysine may help with hair growth. Lysine is also an amino acid to keep an eye on with plant-based eating.
It should also be noted that not eating enough can cause damage to the body, including vegan hair loss.
- Extra firm tofu (11g in ½ cup and 700mg lysine)
- Tempeh (16g in ½ cup and 800mg lysine)
- White beans (9g in ½ cup and 670mg lysine)
- Split peas (9g in ½ cup and 620mg lysine)
- Lentils (9g in ½ cup and 620mg lysine)
- Black beans ( 8g in ½ cup and 500mg lysine)
- Green peas (8g in ½ cup and 460mg lysine)
How much protein do I need?
Plant-based eaters need a little more protein than non-plant-based eaters. The research has found that 0.9g of protein per kilogram of body weight was sufficient.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a lysine intake of 30mg per kilogram of body weight. If someone weighed 150 pounds, that would be 2,040mg.
Drinking enough water has endless benefits. One of them is keeping your hair healthy. Proper hydration during the day keeps all your cells hydrated, which means your hair cells, too! More research is needed on drinking water and hair health, but water is required to transport many of the nutrients listed above, meaning water could be one of the most essential nutrients for your hair!
How much water do I need?
Generally, the recommendation is half your body weight(lbs) divided by two, the number of ounces to drink daily.
All eight nutrients should be considered if you are experiencing vegan hair loss. Many factors may go into hair loss, but nutrition is always an important place to start. If you’d like, you can click here to book a session.