By Lyndsey Hafer-Williams
Jul 21, 2018,
Do Vegans Have Thinner Hair?
I’ve always wanted a long, luxurious, thick mane of hair, like the models in the magazines, just tossing it around, seemingly without a care, and where bedhead is nothing but a riotous river of curls. You know the heads of hair, right? The thick luscious locks that fingers can easily glide through to become runway ready.
I was born bald. And I remained bald until approximately three years of age. Seriously. At that point I developed just the faintest bit of what my grandmother lovingly termed “blonde peach fuzz” right on the top of my head. Unfortunately, I never really enjoyed much more than that!
My hair has always been thin, and fine, and straight, and far from the longed-for, luxurious, golden locks of a Disney movie princess. So, you can imagine my sheer horror at seeing multiple posts in the Clean Food Dirty Girl Facebook group regarding hair loss or thinning hair following a change to a plant based way of eating. I ferociously started inspecting my hairbrush on a daily basis and doing research to separate fact from fiction and truth from myth. Do vegans have thinner hair? I didn’t have a minute, nor a strand of hair to lose! I needed answers!
I decided to stay with the most trusted and educated names in the world of plant based eating as I researched this very hairy topic. There’s so much false information out there, and in a world where everyone has an opinion, I needed nothing but true information. The facts, ma’am, just the facts.
I began with Virginia (Ginny) Messina, MPH, RD. She is a well-respected dietitian and has quite a bit to say about hair loss. In her 2013 book, Vegan for Her: The Woman’s Guide to Being Healthy and Fit on a Plant-Based Diet, she states:
“Every so often, we hear from women who believe that they have been losing hair since going vegetarian or vegan. While there are no studies of this issue in vegans, there is research on general nutrition factors and hair loss.”
According to Ms. Messina, the reasons for hair loss vary widely among women, but here are the most common:
Age – our hair definitely thins as we get older (Yay, something else to look forward to!)
Menopause – women can lose up to 100-200 strands per day (Oy vey!)
Certain medical conditions – such as an overactive or underactive thyroid (get thee to a doctor, woman!)
Over shampooing or coloring and excessive use of hair products (Back away from the salon Lynds, back away…)
Increased/prolonged stress – personal or work (Did I mention I was worried about my hair?!?)
Excessive supplement use – especially Vitamin E and folic acid (Ok ladies, let’s stay out of the supplement aisle, apart from swooping up our B12)
She also notes that, “Women who become vegan sometimes initially lose weight quickly and this might account for the hair loss.”
I personally have never lost so much weight so rapidly that my hair fell out. However, for those who do experience hair loss from rapid weight loss, the research shows that once your weight stabilizes, and as long as you are getting the right amount of calories and nutrition, your hair will become healthier and the loss should stop.
Messina says that there used to be a theory that a lack of zinc may be to blame for thinning hair but that this theory doesn’t seem to hold weight. She says that some studies point to low iron levels possibly causing hair loss. She then dives deep into the exciting world of the essential amino acid, lysine. Apparently, lysine is super important for zinc and iron absorption. Ta da!
Low lysine could be a cause of low iron and low zinc in that gorgeous bod of yours. So Dirties! If you follow a plant based diet you must absolutely eat plenty of beans and legumes (I’m talkin’ daily), because they are loaded with lysine. I’m talkin’ chickpeas, lentils, black beans, navy beans, pinto beans, ALL the beautiful beans and legumes!
Jack Norris, RD, another well-respected vegan dietitian also has plenty to say on the topic of vegans having thinner hair or hair loss. He runs a website dedicated to vegan health and helping people maintain a plant based way of eating. His research is in agreement with Messina’s, along with this addition:
Mr. Norris suggests that, sometimes, supplementing with biotin can help strengthen hair and keep it from breaking and falling out. Check with your doctor before supplementing with biotin, though, because taking it can mess with lab test results. He also highly recommends making sure you get plenty of omega-3 and -6 fatty acids. Molly recommends eating plenty of nuts and seeds to make sure you’re covered in the omega-3 and -6 departments.
Regarding hair loss and diet, Norris highlights that it’s important to make sure you have a regular source of iodine in your diet because not enough iodine can affect the thyroid and, as I covered earlier, thyroid conditions can affect hair thinning / loss.
Still awake, Dirties? I know this is not as entertaining as reading People magazine, but bear with me!
Quick recap: we now have some information on the natural causes of thinning/losing hair in women, and we also noted key nutrients that we can think about if we notice our hair starting to thin.
Let’s proceed with our usual Dirty gusto. Onward and upward, through the locks, curls, and tangles.
Next, while perusing the Harvard newsletter on health and diseases, I stumbled across a fascinating little condition called: Telogen Effluvium. I know, I know, it sounds like the missing part for the DeLorean time machine in Back To The Future, but hang with me for a minute while I explain.
Telogen Effluvium can only be diagnosed by your doctor, but it is simply:
“A reversible condition in which hair falls out after a stressful experience.”
Say what? Personally, I’ve had my hair turn gray during a particularly stressful and traumatic six month period in my life, but it never fell out! Holy moly, let’s all stop for a minute, breathe, and send lots of happy sunshine to those anxiety-ridden follicles.
Telogen Effluvium is hair loss and/or thinning of hair, usually on top of the head. Luckily, it’s a temporary situation. There are a number of identified causes, such as: prolonged periods of severe stress, pregnancy and childbirth, menopause, certain medications, underlying health conditions, poor diet/nutrition and sudden/rapid weight loss.
From my research, hair needs certain nutrients to stay strong and healthy. If we are switching to a plant based way of eating (HERE IS THE KICKER, SO LISTEN UP!) and we are not eating a large enough variety of whole plant foods and are rapidly losing weight on top of that, it becomes a perfect storm for this icky hair zapping condition.
Ok. I’m getting hairily excited at this point, but read on for the really hirsute and juicy scoop!
Finally, I turned to Dr. Michael Greger to see what he has to say about vegans having thinner hair. He presented much of the same information as the other plant based expert crew:
“While many animal foods are promoted as beauty foods, I always say turn to plants instead whenever possible. Plants are practically bursting with nutrients to make your hair, skin, and nails look fantastic, not to mention your mind and body. Plus, eating these whole foods that make your hair gorgeous is also friendlier to animals and the planet, so there’s no guilt included.”
Dr. Greger listed the following foods as phenomenal for healthy hair:
Avocado – promotes moisture throughout the body and helps strengthen hair and prevent breakage
Chia Seeds – contains calcium, iron, B vitamins that help strengthen hair and promote growth
Kale – rich in iron and vitamin B-6 that help strengthen hair and prevent breakage
Cucumber – has the mineral silica which promotes healthy skin, hair, and nails
Cacao – full of zinc, magnesium, protein, B vitamins, and rich in sulfur which promotes hair growth
Acai – has omega-3 fatty acids which help keep skin and hair moisturized
Walnuts – loaded with omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin B-6 to support brain health as well as promote healthy skin, hair, and nails
Tahini – rich in iron, zinc, and calcium which promotes strong, healthy hair
There you have it! Eating a plant based diet, in and of itself, does not cause hair loss or thinning of hair. In fact, eating a diet loaded with the above mentioned foods (along with all the other plant foods) will not only provide you with sensational health benefits, it can also lead to healthier hair, skin, and nails.
Woohoo! By crikey, I think we’ve got it!
I believe the takeaway here is that you must include a variety of plants in your diet so that you are not lacking in any macro or micro nutrients. Eating the same three things over and over will not provide you with the full spectrum of nutrients that you need, whether you are plant based or not.
Oh, dear. I think I hear a commercial for the Clean Food Dirty Girl weekly meal plans ready to burst forth from me to you…
It is so critical to “Eat The Rainbow” for maintaining a healthy plant based lifestyle and a healthy head of hair.
What’s that? The CFDG weekly meal plans provide a wide spectrum of plant based nutrients, bursting from whole plant foods?
For me, personally, I’m thrilled to know that, since I’m batching the meal plans, this is something that I don’t have to worry about. In fact, this is summed up perfectly on the meal plan landing page:
“When transitioning to a healthy plant based diet (or just incorporating more plant based meals into your life), it’s important to eat a wide range of whole plant foods so that you get the whole spectrum of nutrients that these foods provide.
Each menu is designed to be different from the next, so ingredient lineups change weekly to add nutrient diversity.
When you follow the plans you don’t have to think about nutrient diversity because it’s built in for you.”
The Dirty meal plan wizards take the guesswork out of it all and provide a weekly plan, rich in all the plants that my wife and I need and love. There is never a need to count calories, worry over carbs, stress over fat, question protein content, or agonize about any of it. We just eat all the fucking plants and take our B12. So much freedom to be found in that! Your body and your scalp will thank you. I feel fabulously confident that while I may never have the long, silky tresses of Rapunzel, I will at least keep what I’ve got!
If you are already doing all these things and still see a thinning or loss of hair then you should absolutely see your physician for further diagnostic testing.
Here’s a glimpse of a few plant based chicks who have luscious locks, check it out!
Thank you Lyndsey for the thorough, educational and entertaining post! I should add that when I was an alcohol guzzling, cigarette smoking, junk food vegan, my hair was thin and dull. When I stopped smoking, stopped drinking and started eating a well round Whole Food Plant Based diet, my hair became much thicker and full of life. I’ve never had better hair than I have right now.
My basic hair maintenance routine involves eating all the whole plants foods (veggies, fruits, whole grains, beans and legumes, nut and seeds – you know, meal plan food!), washing my hair only twice a week, and never blow drying or coloring it. I also don’t use any product on my hair. I supplement with B12 and a seaweed derived DHA / EPA. That’s about it!
Now that you know nutrient density is important for healthy locks, make this delicious lysine-packed recipe, and gobble it up.
- 1/4 packed cup sundried tomatoes, chopped (45g / directions below)
- 2 cups cooked lima beans (already made / 360g)
- 1/4 cup tahini (60g)
- 3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoon cumin powder
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne powder (omit if you don't like spicy)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon black pepper (about 5 turns)
- 1/4 cup kalamata olives, pitted, rinsed, drained and chopped (35g)
- 1 heaping tablespoon chopped parsley
- Soak the sundried tomatoes in hot water for 20 minutes. Transfer to a fine mesh strainer and tap the strainer against the sink to extract excess water. Set aside for now.
- Place lima beans, tahini, lemon juice, garlic powder, cumin, cayenne, salt and pepper into your food processor and process until super creamy and smooth. Scrape down the sides as necessary. You may want to add a tablespoon or so of water if your tahini is on the thicker side.
- Add the sundried tomatoes, olives and parsley and pulse 3 - 5 times, just until the olives, sundried tomatoes and parsley are chopped, but not totally blended.
- Transfer hummus to a container and stir. Store in an airtight container in refrigerator.
Wishing you a happy week. May it be filled with eating the rainbow.