Hair loss is a condition that affects millions of men and women worldwide. There are a variety of causes, and therefore no one-size-fits-all treatment or cure.
But one very common factor is your diet.
Your dietary intake can have a large impact on the functioning of your bodily systems. This is true for functions even as ‘simple’ as hair growth.
If you can get your diet right, half the battle is won.
In this article, you’ll learn about the diet most likely to contribute to healthy hair. And while this diet may not work for everyone, it can be the first step in the right direction.
NOTE: These aren’t separate diets, they should all be used in combination, but I’ve broken them down separately for clarity and to show how they relate to hair loss.
IMPORTANT! Before making any drastic changes to your diet, consult with your doctor, especially if you have any medical conditions.
Watch our video on the topic if you prefer viewing to reading:
A High Fiber Diet
Dietary fiber is a carbohydrate that resists both digestion and absorption. It therefore passes relatively intact through the stomach, intestine and colon on its way to being expelled from the body. For this reason, a fiber-rich diet (or supplementation with fiber) is a go-to for dealing with constipation, as well as improved digestive health in general.
Foods naturally rich in fibers include many fruits, vegetables and seeds. On the other hand, processed and packaged foods – those that make up the majority of the Western diet – are low in fiber.
According to various epidemiological and clinical studies, “the intake of dietary fiber and whole grain is inversely related to obesity … and cardiovascular disease (CVD)”.
But the health benefits of fiber don’t stop there.
One of the greatest benefits – and one that may be indirectly linked to pattern baldness – is its ability to improve and maintain metabolic health.
As I’ll discuss in further detail below, there is research available that may link androgenetic alopecia to other metabolic syndromes.
If this is true, a high fiber diet may help to slow the development of – or even the progression – of pattern balding.
A ‘Healthy Gut’ Diet
Speaking of fiber, let’s move onto the gut and how a ‘healthy gut’ diet may contribute to a healthy scalp.
The gut contains billions of bacteria, archaea, viruses, and eukaryotic microbes – both ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Taken together, these make up the so-called ‘microbiome’ of the gastrointestinal tract.
But what exactly is a healthy gut, and what does the healthy gut diet consist of?
In short, a healthy gut is one that contains enough good bacteria (known as probiotics) to keep the bad bacteria in check. This promotes overall health and helps protect from viruses and food-borne illnesses such as salmonella.
A healthy gut diet, then, is one that aims to protect our internal balance of microorganisms, so as not to push it too far towards a preponderance of bad bacteria.
This is achieved by directly eating probiotic-containing foods, as well as prebiotics, which are foods that ‘feed’ the probiotics so as to grow their colony.
Processed foods contain preservatives which, almost by definition, are there to kill bacteria. This is great when you want to store something for a long time, but not so good when it comes to our gut bacteria.
Due to their preservatives and other artificial additives, these processed foods kill many of the healthy bacteria, upsetting the balance and causing health issues down the road.
Although the connection between healthy gut bacteria and hair loss is not entirely clear, there is strong evidence that improving the balance of healthy gut bacteria can aid hair growth, while also leading to great-looking skin.
Here’s an in-depth guide to healthy gut bacteria for beating hair loss.
For now, a few very simple tips to improve your gut bacteria:
- Avoid processed foods
- Avoid preservatives
- Avoid antibiotics whenever possible
- Drink fermented drinks like kombucha, and kefir
- Take a high-quality probiotic and/or prebiotic
- Eat fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles, and yogurt
(See also here a guide to one of the best probiotic supplements for hair loss).
A Low Glycemic Index Diet
The glycemic index of foods is a way to measure how much a food (when digested) will cause our blood sugar levels to rise.
You see, when we eat foods containing carbohydrates, our digestive system breaks these down into sugar. This sugar then enters the bloodstream, causing our blood sugar levels to spike.
Glycemic index is a measure of how much foods raise blood sugar levels.
Foods rich in highly processed carbohydrates have high glycemic indices, as do carb rich junk foods. On the other hand, natural, plant-based and whole or unprocessed foods have low glycemic indices.
The table below will give you an idea of the glycemic index in various foods. 1 to 55 is considered a low value, 56-69 is medium, and 70 or more is high.
As you can see in the table, the glycemic index of a food has an inverse relationship to its nutritional value.
However, glycemic load is now often used as a fairer estimation of the quality of a food, instead of glycemic index.
The difference between the two measures is that glycemic load takes into account the glycemic index, as well as the amount of carbohydrate in a typical serving.
So, whereas you could say that glycemic index measures the quality of a food, the glycemic load takes into consideration both the quality and quantity.
For example, the glycemic index of watermelon and doughnuts is the same, namely 76. However, whereas a serving of watermelon provides 11 grams of carbohydrate to be broken down into sugar, a doughnut provides 23 grams.
This difference is captured by their respective glycemic loads, which as you can see in the table below is around 37 for doughnut but only 5 for watermelon.
|REFINED FOODS||UNREFINED FOODS|
|Food||Glycemic Load||Food||Glycemic load|
|Crisped rice cereal||77.3||Parsnips||19.5|
|Jelly beans||74.5||Baked potato||18.4|
|Lifesavers||67.9||Boiled broad beans||15.5|
|Rice cakes||66.9||Boiled couscous||15.1|
|Table sugar (sucrose)||64.9||Boiled sweet potato||13.1|
|Shredded wheat cereal||57.0||Boiled brown rice||12.6|
|Grape-nuts cereal||54.3||Boiled yam||11.5|
|Cheerios cereal||54.2||Boiled garbanzo beans||9|
|Rye crsip bread||53.4||Pineapple||8.2|
|Shortbread cookies||41.9||Boiled beets||6.3|
|Granola bar||39.3||Boiled kidney beans||6.2|
|Angel food cake||38.7||Apple||6.0|
|100% bran cereal||32.5||Cherries||3.7|
|Whole wheat bread||31.8||Peach||3.1|
So when we eat foods high in glycemic index and glycemic load, this causes our blood sugar levels to spike.
In response, our pancreas then releases a hormone called insulin. This hormone attaches to cells in our body, instructing them to absorb the sugar from the bloodstream and use it up as energy. Insulin also helps store sugar into the liver for future use, to be released when blood sugar levels drop too low.
In summary, insulin is essential to keep the levels of blood sugar under control.
But sometimes, when we live on a chronic diet of high glycemic load foods, our body can’t cope with all this flood of sugar.
Our cells then develop resistance to the effects of insulin, and the levels of blood sugar stay permanently elevated.
In the medical literature this is described as insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance and the corresponding chronically elevated blood sugar levels can cause all sorts of health issues, including Type II diabetes, Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), and hypertension. This condition is also related to an increased risk of heart disease.
Perhaps you are already aware of some of this. But what you probably didn’t know, is that by this point there is strong – albeit indirect – evidence pointing to a connection between insulin resistance and hair loss.
Hair Loss and Glycemic Loads
Chronically elevated blood sugar damage the blood vessels. Scalp hair follicles, being small-scale organs in their own right, are fully dependent on an adequate supply of blood to receive all the necessary nutrients.
Also, insulin is found in hair follicles, and very possible plays a role in the regulation of androgen metabolism, including DHT.
Tellingly, scientists have now established a strong link between male pattern baldness and the risk of heart disease (see also here). This data suggests that men with baldness might be damaging their hearts through poor lifestyle choices, of which the most important ones are dietary.
The data also shows that on average, men with pattern baldness tend to weigh more, have larger waists, higher BMIs, and have higher fasting blood sugar levels. All this suggests a possible link between pattern baldness and insulin resistance.
The science is far from settled, but the interconnection between pattern baldness and insulin resistance certainly deserves further research.
An evolutionary novelty
It is possible that insulin resistance also causes hair loss because the blood sugar in our bodies becomes much more unstable, and our hair simply can’t cope with the quick and continuous changes in blood sugar.
During our species’ evolution we would never have to cope with such great variations in blood sugar.
Our hair is one of the first and also the most visible part of our bodies that suffers.
It’s possible the quick and on-going changes in the chemistry of our blood (like rising and falling blood sugar) interrupt the growth cycle.
In a similar way to how plants suffer when the pH and amount of nutrients in the soil is changed. Except with humans who eat high glycemic load foods, this is occurring throughout the day, every day.
Primitive cultures don’t have access to processed foods with high glycemic loads (except honey occasionally). So a hunter-gatherer, for example, would not undergo rapid fluctuations of blood sugar levels throughout the day.
It might be beneficial to recast processed foods in a less flattering light. Instead of thinking of highly processed foods as a food source, begin to view them as ‘oral stimulation.’
This will help you shift your diet towards real, whole, natural food with low glycemic load and high nutritional value.
As an interesting thought, why do you think it’s so easy to eat large amounts of junk food, but not so easy to eat lots of vegetables? Well, one of the reasons we eat junk food is because our bodies can’t find the nutrients they are looking for. So we keep on consuming, hoping to get enough of what we need.
Fresh, raw vegetables have everything we need, so we don’t need to eat huge quantities.
Eating processed foods with high glycemic loads that are devoid of enzymes is probably one of the primary reasons the occurrence of hair loss is much higher in more developed countries than less developed countries.
A word about diabetes
If blood sugar levels remain consistently high over a long period of time, this can signal the transition to full-blown type 2 diabetes.
The complications of this devastating disease can include anything from blindness and kidney failure, to nerve damage and hearing impairment.
Considering how far-reaching the disease can be, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. When the whole system is compromised, symptoms can appear anywhere in the body.
Diabetes does the most damage to the body’s circulatory system, which results in a decreased ability to transport nutrients and oxygen. This is especially taxing for distant parts of the body, like limbs (sometimes even amputation is required) and – you guessed it – hair follicles.
Diabetics tend to not only have sparser hair, but also the average diameter of their hair shafts can be reduced. Fascinatingly, trace element analysis of hair samples from diabetic patients also reveals the negative effects of this disease, mirroring the chemical imbalances and mineral deficiencies seen throughout the body.
The damage diabetes inflicts on follicles and also hair growth is so pervasive, that some researchers have suggested that hair changes can be used as an early marker for type 2 diabetes. These changes include the number of hairs, the hair growth rate, percentage of hairs in anagen growth phase and hair diameter.
Hair loss is a complex issue and, as such, a diet change might not resolve the issue entirely. However, it can help to set you in the right direction.
If you have a question, please leave it in the comment section below and I will be sure to answer.
*This article was reviewed by Dr. Debra Rose Wilson.