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“Old, fat, and bald.” It’s a cliché disparagement that is an unkind indictment, yet commonly used in an appearance-conscious world.
And while the three are associated with each other as if the individual has committed grand aesthetic sins, they have more than a correlative relationship. There is some indication that it is causative: the fat part, being obese, can lead to thinning hair. And thinning hair leads to spending money at hair loss treatment clinics.
Now to be clear, almost everyone’s hair thins with age, men and women alike. And androgenetic alopecia – male pattern baldness – very often affects the young and healthy. So where it comes to weight management, not all hair loss can be stopped through a diet. In fact, rapid weight loss, as well as fluctuating weight (the so-called yo-yo diets), can cause its own kind of hair loss. People who undergo rapid caloric reductions, such as from bariatric surgery, might also experience temporary hair loss because reduced nutrition can deprive hair of nutrients (the body prioritizes vital organs over hair, allocating scarce nutrients to the things that keep us alive).
But recent research shows a direct relationship between a high fat diet, as well as genetic obesity – which is thought to affect between only 5% and 10% of individuals.
A study of mice published in the journal Nature (“Obesity accelerates hair thinning by stem cell-centric converging mechanisms,” Hironobu Morinaga, et al., 2021) looked at hair follicle stem cells (HFSCs), which are tiny organs that produce hair, as they affect hair follicles. The study found that in just four days of feeding mice a high-fat diet, the hair follicles miniaturized and eventually shed hair due to an inflammatory signaling process.
Now, to be clear this miniaturizing of hair follicles is what happens in many forms of hair loss, including the age-related pattern baldness. But this study established for the first time that it can be directly related to a high-fat diet.
It stands to reason that avoiding higher-fat foods not only keeps weight gain to a minimum, that practice can keep hair loss to a minimum as well.
So while it’s not possible to change the year you were born – aging is not a variable that can be controlled – it turns out the fat and bald part are somewhat under the individual’s discretion.
“Mature, fit, and well groomed” is likely the better descriptor any man or woman would like to hear.