It seems that for almost as long as food has been readily available, there have been dietary trends and fads. From weight watchers to Atkins to Paleo and beyond, it seems there’s always a “right” way to eat if you want to lose weight, live forever, etc.
One of the latest dietary trends to spread throughout health communities is the ketogenic, or keto, diet.
Just as with any eating plan, though, there is a potential for side effects. One such side effect? Hair loss.
This article will explore the possible link between keto and hair loss. This will include a look at the most likely causes, as well as what you can do to prevent temporary hair loss on the keto diet.
Let’s get started!
What is Keto?
The ketogenic diet, often shortened to keto, is a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet. The goal of the ketogenic diet is to put the body into ketosis, which means the body burns fat instead of carbs.
There are plenty of popular low-carb diet plans, like Atkins, so what makes keto different?
Keto was actually developed as a way to treat hard-to-control epilepsy. As such, it’s much stricter in regards to carbohydrate intake.
The Atkins diet is a gradual plan which means your carbohydrate intake will increase slowly as you move from Phase 1 (20 to 25 grams of carbs per day) to Phase 4 (80 to 100 grams of carbs per day). The aim is simply weight loss by means of blood sugar control.
The ketogenic diet, on the other hand, caps carbohydrate intake from 25 to 50 grams per day based on your caloric intake. This is because carbs should only take up 5% of your day’s caloric needs while fat should take up 75%.
The Benefits of the Ketogenic Diet
There are plenty of dubious claims when it comes to the benefits of just about any eating plan. The same can be said of keto.
There are a few benefits which are more scientifically supported than others. Let’s look at a few potential benefits related to keto.
There’s no doubt that cutting out soda, candy, and other sugary treats will help you lose weight. But it appears that the ketogenic diet contributes to weight loss in other ways, too.
For one, it’s thought that the ketogenic diet may suppress hunger. Full fat foods, such as those promoted on the keto diet, tend to contribute to feelings of fullness. It’s also thought that the ketogenic diet, and ketosis in particular, can suppress one of the main hormones associated with appetite – ghrelin.
While further research is needed, it may also be that a low-carb, high-fat diet can increase your metabolism.
Blood Sugar Control
Insulin is the hormone that controls blood sugar levels in the body. If too much insulin is produced, then blood sugar levels will be low. This is known as hypoglycemia. If too little insulin is produced, then blood sugar levels will be high. This is known as hyperglycemia.
Both hypo- and hyperglycemia can be dangerous if not well controlled.
One way to control blood sugar levels and treat insulin sensitivity? With diet.
Insulin spikes in response to sugar. But candy, soda, and cakes aren’t the only culprits. Other carbohydrates, like bread, rice, and starchy vegetables can also cause blood sugar and insulin spikes.
The ketogenic diet works to reduce carbohydrate intake. As a result, your blood sugar levels are more stable throughout the day.
Of course, not everyone should use the ketogenic diet to treat blood sugar issues. If you suffer from hypo- or hyperglycemia, or if you’re diabetic, it’s important to speak with your doctor before you switch to a low-carb, high-fat diet.
Can Keto Cause Hair Loss?
We’ve discussed the benefits of the keto diet, but what about the risks? There are some health risks associated with keto which will be covered more in-depth below. But one risk that may not get as much attention is hair loss.
So, can keto cause hair loss?
The simple answer? The keto diet, and really any diet change, may trigger temporary hair loss.
Temporary hair loss, also known as Telogen Effluvium (TE), is a condition in which the hair follicles prematurely enter the resting phase of the hair growth cycle. This puts an end to active hair growth and, eventually, leads to increased hair shedding.
Telogen effluvium is a natural response to physiological or emotional stress. This includes a drastic dietary change. The good news is that telogen effluvium will often resolve on its own, though there are things you can do to speed up the hair growth process. We’ll discuss this more in-depth later.
One thing to note is that the keto diet cannot cause or treat pattern baldness. It may help you to create a healthier scalp environment for hair growth, but pattern baldness is much more complicated and requires a multifaceted approach.
Are you ready to learn more about the reasons behind keto hair loss? Let’s take a deeper look!
4 Reasons Keto May Cause Hair Loss
What is it about the ketogenic diet that may cause hair loss? Let’s look at the four most common reasons.
Large Caloric Deficit
When eating a keto diet, it’s not uncommon to consume significantly less calories than you’re used to. Why? Because keto is characterized by high fat intake which is filling.
While many people use keto to lose weight, the significant drop in caloric intake can have many side effects. For some people, the temporary nature of the side effects may be worth the benefits.
The most common side effects of low caloric intake include low energy, irritability, sleeplessness, and hair loss.
If you find yourself suffering from any or all of the above symptoms, it’s important to ensure you’re eating the right amount of calories for your bodyweight. If you do need to lose weight, you can decrease your calories slightly (350 to 500 calories per day below your daily caloric needs). It’s best to speak with your doctor before doing so.
What if you still feel you aren’t getting enough calories?
One way to ensure that your caloric intake isn’t too low is to track your calories throughout the day. You can do so with pen and paper, or with one of many calorie tracking apps on your phone or computer.
Poor Vitamin/Mineral Intake
When your diet experiences a significant shift, such as the one promoted by keto, it can be easy to miss out on key vitamins and minerals.
The most common vitamin and mineral deficiencies on the ketogenic diet include vitamin A, C, K, iron, and folate. These may significantly impact the hair growth process. Why?
The hair growth process is a non-life sustaining process. This means that when vitamins and minerals which are important in the process are low in the body, those nutrients will be diverted to more important processes.
This can trigger a slowing down, or even complete cessation, of the hair growth process.
Inadequate Protein Intake
The keto diet is characterized by low-carbohydrate intake, moderate protein intake, and high fat intake. In general, this looks like a daily caloric breakdown which includes 5% carbs, 20% protein, and 75% fat.
Why is protein so important to hair growth?
Keratin, the key structural component of hair, skin, and nails, is a protein. As such, it needs an adequate protein intake to contribute to the hair growth process.
If your protein intake is low, your body will preserve the little protein you do have for more important bodily functions. This means that the number of hair strands in resting phase will increase significantly which will trigger shedding, slowed hair growth, etc.
Stress isn’t only triggered by mental or emotional tension, though. It may also be triggered by physical tension, including significant dietary changes.
When your body experiences such a stress, it can trigger temporary hair loss known as Telogen Effluvium (TE). This occurs when the hair follicle is pushed prematurely into the resting phase (telogen) of the hair growth process.
This condition is characterized by an increase in shedding. The increase will be most noticeable while showering, brushing your hair, and on your pillow upon waking up.
The good news is that telogen effluvium is temporary. Once the body has adjusted to its new normal or the stressor has been removed, the hair growth process can slowly return to usual. It can take a few months after telogen effluvium has resolved to see noticeable hair growth.
How to Prevent Temporary Hair Loss While Eating Keto
If keto is very different from the way you currently eat, then it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to avoid a shedding period altogether. You can decrease the amount of temporary hair loss, though, with the tips below.
Take a Nutrient Supplement
The truth is that keto is a very strict way of eating. There are many foods that are cut out almost entirely to accommodate the balance of macronutrients (carbs, fats, and proteins). This can easily lead to poor intake of vitamins and minerals that are needed for daily function.
You should aim to eat as much of your daily recommended nutrients as possible, though you can always add supplements to your routine. These include daily multivitamins, as well as specific vitamins and minerals.
If you feel that the diet has led to a significant deficit, it’s important to speak with your doctor. A blood test can determine whether you’re suffering from a deficit. Your doctor can then refer you to a nutritionist for help with your eating plan.
Ensure Proper Protein Intake
While many people may want to stick to the keto diet as strictly as possible, you may need to shift your macronutrient intake slightly to ensure proper protein intake.
As mentioned, the keto diet recommends that you get 20% of your daily caloric intake from protein. Let’s say that you’re a male with a height of 5’10” and 170 pounds. If you’re looking to maintain your weight, you’d need to eat about 2,400 calories per day (give or take based on activity levels).
That means according to the ketogenic diet, you should eat only 480 calories, or 120 grams, of protein. For many people, that’s simply not enough. This is especially true if they’re looking to build muscle or if they suffer from an iron deficiency.
So if you’re suffering from hair loss and you think your new diet is the cause, then consider increasing your protein intake accordingly.
Take Care of Your Gut Health
One way to ensure that your body is absorbing as much of the nutrients you consume as possible is to take care of your gut health.
The gut is full of bacteria, both good and bad. A poor diet can lead to an imbalance in the good and bad bacteria which can cause many health issues including hair loss.
One way to support gut health is why prebiotics and probiotics.
Foods that contain probiotics contain the good bacteria that live within your gut. These foods, like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, etc. promote good bacteria health.
Foods that contain prebiotics contain food for the good bacteria that live within your gut. The more prebiotics you consume, the more you can support the probiotics within your digestive tract. What foods contain prebiotics? Just a few include wheat, oats, soy, garlic, and onions.
You’re unlikely to see significant hair growth results with gut health alone. It can support the rest of your body, though, including the hair growth process.
Are there ‘Side Effects’ Associated with Keto?
There are a few things, aside from hair loss, to be aware of when you undertake a keto diet. The most common side effects associated with the keto diet include:
- Excessive thirst
- Frequent urination
- “Keto” rash
The majority of the above symptoms aren’t specific just to keto diet, but really any diet that requires a major shift in food intake.
It’s important to work closely with your doctor as you undertake this major dietary change.
Is Keto Right for Me?
The keto diet, as with any eating plan, is not a one-size-fits-all solution. This means while it may work for some people, it may not work for others.
You may find the diet to be too restrictive. Or you may find that the strict guidelines enable you to make smart choices with very little thought.
The only way to truly know whether keto is right for you is to give it a try.