Hair loss can be distressing for many, but knowing what causes it can help us feel better. Discover more from Charlotte Lucas.
Hair loss can be quite stressful for many, especially when we don’t know what the root cause is. So, with the helping hand of pharmacist Charlotte Lucas, we have a much better understanding of what the causes of hair loss are, and what can be done to avoid finding those lost hairs around the house.
Most of us desire a head of strong, healthy and manageable hair, after all, it is one of the first things that people notice about us. We all accept that age, hormones, stress and genetics can affect hair quality and growth but what role does diet and nutrition play?
As it turns out, quite a large one.
Consuming a diet low in important nutrients can actually result in hair loss and thinning, while eating a well-balanced diet helps feed your hair as well as your body and thus encourages hair growth.
There are a number of different types of hair loss. Alopecia areata is a potentially reversible auto-immune baldness on the scalp (sometimes including the entire body). Androgenetic alopecia, female pattern hair loss and chronic and diffuse telogen effluvium are other common types of hair loss. Interestingly, and worryingly, there has also been a recent spike in the number of people reporting cases of hair loss following COVID-19.
Research indicates that sudden weight loss, bariatric surgery or decreased protein intake can lead to marked hair loss.
Low iron stores are commonly seen in patients, especially women, with hair loss. Low vitamin D and B12 levels are also associated with many types of hair loss. Taking higher doses of certain vitamins and minerals can also be problematic and over-supplementing with vitamin A and iron can lead to increased hair shedding. Finding the right balance is vital to help keep your body functioning optimally.
Gut health and dietary patterns are also incredibly important. The health of the gut has a direct impact on inflammation and immune health. Both of these are linked to hair loss. When our gut microbe community isn’t as balanced as it should be, hair loss can result.
Raised blood glucose levels can also have a huge effect on hair growth. Eating the wrong types of foods at the wrong times of day can play havoc with our hair.
Experiencing hair loss or hair thinning can be very distressing. My recommendation would be to firstly seek support, ideally by contacting a reputable hair-loss clinic. A good clinic will aim to find the root cause behind the hair loss. Causes can include things like diet, stress, infection, immune disruption and inflammation or hormone imbalance. This doesn’t have to be an expensive option at all.
GPs are another good place to start though many just don’t know enough about hair. GP’s will often look at thyroid function, blood glucose levels and maybe iron levels but can often miss things. Patients can then find themselves shunted from pillar to post with very little support from dermatologists who often resort to the use of steroid preparations as they focus on just treating symptoms not the cause.
If you are found to have very low iron storage, low vitamin B12 levels, or aren’t currently taking a vitamin D supplement (all UK citizens over the age of 4 should be taking vitamin D supplementation from September through to April) then you may well benefit from upping your intake.
I’m very much a diet first advocate but sometimes rectifying a nutrient deficiency first with supplementation is necessary to kick start the healing process as well as tackling the causes of deficiency. Supplements are not all born equal so look out for reputable pharmaceutical grade formulations.
When it comes to hair health, iron is a highly significant nutrient, especially if you’re female. You don’t necessarily have to be anaemic though. Low levels of the iron storage protein ferritin are often linked to marked changes in hair health.
Iron supplements come in a number of forms and it’s important to find one you can tolerate because they can cause gastric side effects. Taking iron with an acid, ideally vitamin C, is the great way to ensure good absorption. Once levels have been boosted, a diet rich in iron should be the focus to maintain levels.
Seaweed, liver, dried apricots, chickpeas and beans, cashew nuts, spinach and spring greens. Iron from animal foods, also known as haem iron, is more readily absorbed than from plant sources and if vegetarian or vegan it may be that supplementation is necessary, especially if your female.
Vitamin D is technically a hormone known as the sunshine vitamin because we make it through our skin’s exposure to UV light.
In the UK vitamin D supplementation is recommended for everyone over the age of 4, from September through to April, and if you are dark skinned or you spend lots of time inside. Supplementation is something you should continue all year round. 500- 1000IU of vitamin D3 should meet the needs of most UK adults. Vitamin D can be stored for up to about 3 weeks, but regular top ups are needed.
It’s very tricky to get what we need from food but foods rich in vitamin D are free range eggs and fish.
Just 30 minutes in the UK sunshine in a t-shirt and shorts should be sufficient time for the body to make enough vitamin D. The body is very clever and production shuts off once levels are sufficiently high, meaning further sun exposure will be of no additional benefit.
Hair health and Vitamin B12 status are strongly linked. B12 levels tend to drop with age, as our ability to absorb it declines. Deficiency is also common in vegans and in individuals with inflammatory bowel disease. Certain medicines can also impact our vitamin B12 levels, which may lead to a vitamin B12 deficiency, such as antacids and metformin.
Supplementing with oral B12 or B12 injections can be a good way to boost levels with choice of supplementation depending on the reason levels are low.
Animal foods are rich in B12. Foods include eggs, dairy, fortified plant milks, fish and meats.
For optimal hair health we need good patterns of eating and a good, balanced diet that feeds us AND feeds our gut microbiome, but what does that looks like, and what does that mean?
Add probiotic/fermented foods like kefir, kimchi and sauerkraut into your daily diet.
These are great steps, but it is important to recognise these are just the are the building blocks. Good nutrition comes from creating an eating plan and it’s important to also understand that WHEN and HOW you eat also matters.
Aim to eat two to three main meals a day with a good period of time in between each meal, to allow insulin levels to settle back to normal. Ideally, aim to eat within a 12-hour window – for example consuming all food between the hours of say 8am and 8pm.
Taking time to sit and eat slowly without distractions allows you to focus on your hunger and feelings of fullness. Mindful eating has been shown to be incredibly beneficial in balancing hormone levels promoting hair health.
Nutritional needs can vary widely depending on activity levels, genetic make-up, your culture beliefs, and of course any underlying medical conditions, but these are great first steps on the road to hair recovery. It may take a little while for results to become apparent but even if you just manage to incorporate a few of the changes I’ve mentioned and focus on the quality of the foods you eat, you should see a marked improvement in your hair health and feel a lot better as a result.
Want to read more about hair health and best treatments for thriving, lushes locks? Read our article on top 10 hair loss treatments for healthy, thriving locks.
Written by Charlotte Lucas BSc (Hons), PG Dip, GPhC, MRPharmS, mIFM, mBSIO on 8th August 2022.