The Independent Pharmacy

Can A Vegetarian Diet Cause Hair Loss?

Scott McDougall
Scott McDougallMPharmDirector & Registered Manager

Reviewed on 6 Oct 2023

Experiencing hair loss can be deeply distressing, impacting not just your appearance but also your emotional well-being. As a vegetarian, you might be concerned about missing out on key nutrients for strong, healthy hair. It’s a valid concern that many face, and you’re not alone in this. Cutting out meat can indeed make it tougher to get enough iron, zinc, protein and other nutrients your locks need.

The good news is that with mindful choices and guidance, you can nourish your hair with all the essential vitamins and minerals from plant-based foods. Whether you’re a dedicated vegetarian or just exploring more meatless meals, you want the real facts on how your diet impacts those precious strands.

We get it - your hair is a huge part of who you are. We want to give you useful information so you can make the right food choices and find solutions. So, let’s talk honestly about whether vegetarian diets cause hair loss and what you can do to keep your hair looking its best.

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What You Need to Know About Hair Health and Diet

Hair growth occurs in cycles, with each follicle producing a single hair shaft. On average, each hair follicle on the human scalp goes through 25 to 30 of these cycles in its lifetime. For healthy hair, it’s important to have robust hair follicles and a normal hair growth cycle. Factors like genetics, hormones, nutrition and overall health impact hair follicle size, growth rate and cycle duration. Things like your genes, body chemistry, what you eat, and your overall health can affect how your hair grows and its thickness.

Diet provides the essential building blocks of protein, vitamins, minerals and healthy fats needed to build hair and nourish follicles. For example, protein is required to construct keratin, the fibrous structural protein that makes up the hair shaft. Not getting enough of certain small but essential nutrients can mess up the natural way your hair grows and renews. If your diet isn’t giving you enough nutrients, your hair might get weak and brittle, and it could break or fall out more easily.

How Does Diet Affect Hair Loss?

Research shows that dietary habits substantially influence hair health and appearance - even if not directly. Diets rich in lean proteins, omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, B-complex vitamins and trace minerals promote robust hair growth and shine. In contrast, restrictive diets lacking key nutrients are associated with dry, thinning and lacklustre locks.

While overall calorie and macronutrient balance matters, getting sufficient micronutrients is crucial for healthy hair. Deficiencies in iron, zinc, selenium, vitamin D and other vitamins have been linked to hair loss and diminished hair quality. A balanced, micronutrient-rich diet supports lustrous hair growth.

Nutritional Benefits and Challenges of Vegetarian Diet

A wealth of research confirms the health perks of vegetarian and vegan diets. Lower body mass index, total cholesterol levels, blood pressure and glucose levels are linked to plant-based eating patterns. Reduced risks for chronic illnesses like heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers are also reported.

However, these diets also come with potential pitfalls. Nutrients of concern include:

  • Iron: The iron found naturally in plants is not absorbed as well by the body as the iron found in meat. So, vegans and vegetarians who do not eat any meat have a higher chance of not getting enough iron.
  • Zinc: Some natural substances in grains, fibre-rich foods, and soy can make it harder for your body to use the zinc from your food.
  • Iodine: Low iodine levels can occur if salt with added iodine, seaweed and dairy are not adequately consumed.
  • Calcium: Dairy exclusion increases the risk of inadequacy.
  • Vitamin D: Largely comes from sun, eggs, dairy and seafood.
  • Vitamin B12: Found naturally only in animal products.
  • Omega-3s: Even though plants have omega-3 fats, they don’t have the specific kinds that you find in fish and seafood, which are really good for your health. Vegetarian diets are often low in the omega-3s most important for health.

Thoughtful meal plans considering these nutrients can optimise vegetarian diets for hair and whole body health.

Protein and Hair Health in a Vegetarian Diet

Protein Sources for Vegetarians

Protein is essential for robust hair growth. Vegetarians can meet protein needs by consuming complementary plant proteins like beans and rice, lentils and grains, nuts and seeds or soy foods like tofu and tempeh. Dairy, eggs and meat substitutes also boost protein intake. Variety and adequate calories ensure vegetarians get all nine essential amino acids their bodies can’t make.

The Truth About Protein Intake

Despite concerns about protein in vegetarian diets, studies show vegetarians often match or exceed protein recommendations. Research confirms vegetarian diets can provide adequate protein for all stages of life. Protein deficiencies are extremely rare in developed countries.

While inadequate protein can lead to hair loss, well-planned vegetarian and vegan diets provide sufficient high-quality protein for lush locks. Emphasising sufficient calories and a variety of plant proteins prevents deficiencies.

Practical Strategies for Vegetarians Concerned About Hair Loss

Diet and Lifestyle Tips

If you’re a vegetarian and are concerned about thinning hair or excessive shedding, here are some gentle, evidence-based strategies to consider:

  • Carefully evaluating dietary intake of protein, iron, zinc and other hair-supporting nutrients. Use nutrition tracking apps or food journals to pinpoint any shortfalls.
  • Having periodic blood work done to identify deficiencies early before they severely impact hair health. Common deficiencies to check include iron, zinc, vitamin D, and vitamin B12.
  • Incorporating scalp massage and tools like shampoo brushes to boost circulation to follicles. Proper blood flow nourishes roots and stimulates growth.
  • Managing emotional stress through meditation, yoga, talk therapy and other clinical techniques shown to minimise cortisol and stress that can worsen hair loss.
  • Using gentle hair care habits like limiting heat styling tools, handling hair gingerly when wet, avoiding very tight hairstyles, and sleeping on a silk pillowcase.

Seeking Professional Guidance

If experiencing pronounced hair thinning or loss, consulting professionals can help diagnose the cause and rule out underlying conditions:

  • Doctors can check for medical reasons like thyroid disorders that may be contributing to hair issues. Blood tests help identify deficiencies.
  • Dermatologists specialise in hair concerns and can prescribe medications if appropriate. They may perform scalp biopsies to diagnose conditions.
  • Registered dietitians can provide personalised nutrition advice to correct any dietary shortfalls related to hair loss.
  • Support groups for those with hair loss provide validation and resources for coping emotionally.

Potential Medication Options

Under a doctor’s care, medications that may complement dietary improvements include:

  • Minoxidil (also available as Regaine and Regaine for Women) helps regrow hair by improving blood flow to follicles. It requires consistent long-term use for benefits.
  • Finasteride (Propecia) tablets block a hormone linked to hair loss, especially male pattern baldness. Effects persist only with ongoing use.
  • Biotin supplements provide this B vitamin essential for hair health. They may help strengthen hair and reduce thinning.

Vegan Diet and Hair Health

Key Differences Between Vegetarian and Vegan Diets

Unlike vegetarian diets that include eggs and dairy, vegan diets completely avoid all animal products. This creates an even greater likelihood for potential shortfalls in key hair health nutrients:

  • Vitamin B12: This essential vitamin for cell growth and division is found naturally only in animal products. So vegans need to get the vitamin from foods with B12 added to them, like cereal and plant milk, or take B12 supplements.
  • Iron and Zinc: Your body can use iron and zinc from meat and seafood more easily than iron and zinc from plant-based foods. Eating non-animal foods that are high in iron and zinc, along with vitamin C from fruits and vegetables, can help improve how well the body can use the iron and zinc from plant sources.
  • Calcium: Vegans must get calcium from plant sources like fortified milk, leafy greens, soy, nuts and beans rather than dairy products.
  • Omega-3s: Vegan diets tend to be high in a type of omega-3, which comes from plant sources. But they are low in the other main types of omega-3s, which come from fish and help reduce inflammation important for scalp and hair health.

Key Recommendations for Vegans Experiencing Hair Loss

Vegans concerned with hair health or experiencing loss should ensure adequate intake of:

  • Vitamin B12: Consume fortified foods like plant milks or cereals, or take a B12 supplement.
  • Iron and zinc: Choose plant sources rich in these like lentils, pumpkin seeds, cashews and spinach. Having vitamin C from citrus fruits, berries and peppers can boost absorption.
  • Calcium: Include calcium-set tofu, fortified plant milks, almonds, navy beans and bok choy.
  • Omega-3s: Regularly eat foods like chia seeds, walnuts, flaxseeds and hemp seeds that contain a type of omega-3 fat good for health. You may also want to take algae oil supplements to get additional omega-3 types that are especially helpful for reducing inflammation and supporting scalp and hair health. These beneficial omega-3s are found mostly in fish, which vegans do not eat.

What Should You Do Next?

If you’re a vegetarian concerned about hair health, the most important next step is optimising your diet to ensure adequate intake of proteins, iron, zinc, and key micronutrients that support lush hair growth. Tracking your nutritional intake, having periodic bloodwork done, and consulting a nutritionist or your physician for personalised diet guidance can help identify and address any deficiencies contributing to hair loss.

Incorporating scalp massages, managing stress, and using gentle hair care practices may provide additional benefits. For pronounced hair thinning, medications like minoxidil and finasteride under a doctor’s supervision may complement dietary improvements. With the right nutritional approach tailored to your needs, vegetarian and vegan diets can certainly support healthy hair.

Want to take your hair health journey to the next level? We'd love to help!

At The Independent Pharmacy, our caring pharmacists can have a personalised consultation with you to offer advice on dietary supplements that support your hair goals.

We'll get to know you and your needs, then design a custom hair loss treatment plan just for you. Whether prescription or over-the-counter, we can provide access to hair-benefiting medications and high-quality products for optimal scalp and hair health. All you need to do to get started is to fill in your self-assessment.

Our knowledgeable team is passionate about helping you achieve your health and beauty objectives. Please explore our website and feel free to reach out - we're excited to guide you on your journey to strong, beautiful hair! Call, email, or stop by anytime. With individualised care and the right solutions for you, vibrant, healthy hair is totally achievable.

FAQs

How can I prevent hair loss on a vegetarian diet?

Focus on getting enough protein, iron, zinc and all the important vitamins and minerals that help hair stay healthy. Load up on nutrient-powerhouses like beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and leafy greens. If your doctor’s tests show you’re low on something, take supplements to fill the gaps. Managing stress and handling your hair gently can also help keep those locks lush.

Do vegetarians have thicker hair?

There’s no solid proof of that! Many things besides diet - your genes, age, illnesses - affect whether your hair is thick or thin. But eating plenty of the right plant foods definitely provides the nutrients hair needs to look its best. So, a balanced vegetarian diet can absolutely support a head of strong, vibrant hair.

Should I grow my hair out long if it’s thinning?

Growing your hair long can help hide thin patches, but excess length can also emphasise sparseness and lack of volume. While you address the cause - diet, stress, medications - keep the hair on the shorter side. Once your hair regains its body, length can again equal fullness. But go gentle when brushing and styling long, thinning hair - it’s prone to breakage.

Sources:

Diet and hair loss: effects of nutrient deficiency and supplement use - PMC (nih.gov)

Vegetarian Diet: An Overview through the Perspective of Quality of Life Domains - PMC (nih.gov)

Women and hair loss: coping tips - NHS (www.nhs.uk)

The vegetarian diet - NHS (www.nhs.uk)

The vegan diet - NHS (www.nhs.uk)

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