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There are many factors that can lead to hair loss in women. One is simply age; another is hormonal imbalances that come with childbirth and menopause. But a fairly common cause that is often overlooked is poor nutrition.
Nutrition advice isn’t something you’ll find at most hair loss treatment centers, which do not typically focus on hair loss prevention methods, such as avoiding hair loss through proper nutrition. Prevention is cheaper than women’s hair loss treatments such as nonsurgical wigs, laser hair therapy and even female hair loss surgery.
The clearest example of issues arising from poor nutrition is where individuals (and groups) are subjected to starvation. Under such circumstances, such as in parts of the developing world where war and famine have a severe impact, it is common to see even younger people who are bald or nearly bald. This is because when nutrients are scarce, the body’s vital organs get what is available first and hair last. People, women and men alike, who go on extremely restricted diets will experience something similar.
But even the well-fed can still have nutrient deficiencies, particularly if they already have a genetic predisposition to hair loss. The good news is diets and other behaviors can be changed.
Missing nutrients that affect hair loss
The nutrients most important to hair growth are nutrients the body needs elsewhere. That includes protein, certain vitamins (Biotin, Vitamin D, Vitamin E), and minerals (Zinc, Iron, Selenium). Here is where you get those naturally, through food:
Biotin: Egg yolks, nuts, seeds, soybeans, and soy-derived products (e.g., tofu), whole grains, sweet potatoes, mushrooms.
Vitamin D: While sunshine exposure is a primary source – and hard to come by in northern latitudes during winter – both dietary supplements and some foods can add to it as well. Those foods are fatty cold-water fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines), diary, orange juice, beef liver, and egg yolks.
Selenium: Seafood, poultry, eggs, mushrooms, whole grains, sunflower seeds, and Brazil nuts.
Protein: While animal sources are well understood (beef, pork, poultry, fish), the healthiest versions of these are the least processed (e.g., hot dogs, sausages, lunch meats, etc.). Vegans and vegetarians are not left out, as legumes (lentils, peas, and beans), nuts (almonds, peanuts, cashews, walnuts), seeds (flax, sunflower, hemp), grains (brown and wild rice, barley, quinoa, millet), soy products, and seitan (a meat substitute derived from wheat gluten). The vegetables with more protein than others are broccoli, spinach, Brussels sprouts, and asparagus.
Zinc: Meat, poultry, seafood (oysters, crab, lobster), beans and lentils, nuts and seeds, whole grains, dairy.
Iron: Red meat, poultry, fish (including shellfish), beans and lentils, dark leafy greens (e.g., spinach), soy-derived tofu, and cereals that are fortified with iron.
Selenium: Brazil nuts, seafood (especially oysters, tuna, and shrimp), poultry, eggs, mushrooms, whole grains, and sunflower seeds.
Why your body might not be absorbing what you eat
Aging, some medications, some medical conditions, stress, alcohol consumption, natural anomalies in stomach acids, and food sensitivities can disrupt absorption of the aforementioned nutrients. In particular, those medications (antibiotics, acid-reducing drugs, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) and medical conditions (Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome) can damage the digestive track, reducing how much of your diet is actually nutritive.