Most hair loss for men and women is due to factors beyond their control. Largely based in genetics, androgenic alopecia – the term for male and female pattern baldness, although it generally happens in different ways for men vs. women – is largely programmed into the DNA. Hair loss treatments aren’t going to help much with pattern baldness, though some hair loss clinics have developed certain therapies that work for some people.
But there are behaviors, particularly with eating patterns and habits, which can cause or contribute to certain hair loss conditions. The reason for that is our bodies are smart enough to compensate for deficiencies. When an individual fails to take in adequate amounts of nutrients, in particular those that contribute to the production of a protein known as keratin, the first body part to be sacrificed is the hair.
Keratin and yo-yo diets affect hair health
Keratin is important to the structure and health of skin, which is the protective layer for the entire body. When there is insufficient keratin in the diet (or in the case of bulimia, it is not allowed to be digested), the body allocates it away from hair to the more important epidermal layers.
So called yo-yo dieting, involving significant weight losses then gains then losses again, can trigger much of the same effect.
But it’s conceivable that circumstances such as a nutrient-poor diet, without the intention to lose weight, can cause hair loss (high-calorie diets can easily be low in essential nutrients, as one finds in processed foods). So it makes sense that some people experiencing hair loss are just eating the wrong things.
Keratin, biotin, Vitamin A and Vitamin D for hair loss
So which nutrients are best for hair health? As one can easily deduce about keratin, a diet with adequate protein can address that problem. Note that these are foods that enable the body to produce keratin, that it’s not in the foods themselves. Quality proteins include fish, red meat (beef and pork), chicken, eggs, and dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese). Plant foods can also provide the protein necessary for keratin production. Some of the better choices are nuts, beans, nut butters, and quinoa.
Biotin, a B vitamin, helps the body metabolize amino acids that help aid the production of keratin. Beef has the highest concentration of biotin, followed by eggs (yolk and white), salmon, pork, sunflower seeds, sweet potatoes, almonds, tuna, spinach, and broccoli.
Vitamin A is another nutrient that helps synthesize keratin, among other essential biological functions. It’s somewhat easy to know which foods are good sources of Vitamin A because they tend to be the orange fruits and vegetables: sweet potatoes, pumpkin, raw carrots, cantaloupe, and butternut squash. Also, non-orange foods including kale, collards, and spinach have Vitamin A.
Vitamin D has a role in keratin production as well. Rich sources are fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines), beef liver, mushrooms, dairy and all the foods that are fortified with it (milk, yogurt, breakfast cereals, and milk substitutes such as soy, almond, and oat milk).
One dietary habit that counter-intuitively can lead to hair loss is the overconsumption of uncooked egg whites. Indeed, some people eat this in the mistaken belief that this protein minus the fat in egg yolks is beneficial for fitness. If uncooked, the avidin in egg whites prevents biotin absorption.
For better health and hair, eat the whole omelet.