Does Protein Cause Hair Loss?
Many people are adopting high-protein diets like Atkins, Keto, and Paleo to help them quickly lose weight and burn fat. Some proponents of these programs have successfully reached their fitness goals. But what are some of the downsides of a restrictive high-protein diet?
When it comes to healthy hair growth, there is no doubt that protein is an important macronutrient. But there is some debate and evidence that excess protein can actually cause hair loss and other health issues.
Let’s discuss protein’s role in hair growth and loss and how to find the happy medium for hair health.
Why (Some) Protein Is Key for Healthy Hair
To promote healthy hair growth, a diet with sufficient protein is necessary. Hair follicles, the structure that supports hair, are composed mostly of protein — they need this macronutrient to support growth.
Let’s look at the structure and processes of hair follicles to better understand this relationship.
The Foundations of Follicles
Hair follicles are tube-like structures that surround the hair root and strand. They are found in the upper two layers of skin, the epidermis and dermis. They are primarily composed of the proteins collagen, fibronectin, and laminin.
Humans are born with over five million hair follicles on their bodies. Besides hair growth, hair follicles help repair skin after injury, form new nervous system cells, and form new blood cells.
Healthy hair follicles support and promote hair growth through three major phases:
- The anagen, or first phase of hair growth, lasts between two to seven years. Growth begins at the root of the follicle, supplying blood and nutrients your hair needs to grow. Typical hair grows at about one centimeter a month.
- The catagen, or second phase of hair growth, occurs when the hair transitions from the growing phase to the resting phase, which takes about two weeks. During this phase, your hair detaches from your blood supply.
- The telogen, or final phase of hair growth, is the inactive phase, where your hair sheds or falls out of your hair follicle. This phase lasts up to four months.
Can Too Much Protein Cause Hair Problems?
So we know that some protein is important to healthy follicles and hair growth, but what happens when the body has excess protein intake?
When you follow a restrictive diet focusing on protein, your body will have deficiencies in the other two macronutrients: fats and carbohydrates.
Your body uses calorie-rich carbohydrates as fuel to support healthy body function, including hair growth. A high-protein, low-carb diet can prevent your body from getting amino acids essential to hormonal balance and hair growth. This deficiency can lead to thinning and, ultimately, more pronounced hair loss.
With a lack of carbohydrates, your body turns instead to protein and fat for fuel. With insufficient carbs to support the hair growth phase, hair follicles may be the first to shut down and prematurely enter the resting phase.
Here are some problems that can result from too much protein:
- Hair breaks off easily
- A change in hair texture, hair feels more coarse, tough, or straw-like
- The hair is difficult to condition
- Hair loses luster or shine
- Brushing hair becomes difficult due to tangles
The Right Diet for Hair Health
We’ve seen how a restrictive diet focused exclusively on high protein can cause hair problems. But how can you take a new approach to your diet to prevent this?
These steps will help you create a balanced diet necessary for optimal hair health.
Set the Standard for Daily Intake
Since protein is a necessary building block of hair follicles, it’s important to have a sufficient amount in your diet. Since too little and too much protein can cause hair loss, there is a middle ground we should aim for.
A good rule of thumb for hitting this target is between .5 and 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight daily. For example, a 180-pound person should eat between 90 and 180 grams of protein daily.
A balanced diet of these high-protein foods can help you hit your daily number:
- Meat: Chicken, beef, turkey, lamb, fish, shellfish, sausage
- Bone broth
- Cottage cheese
- Nut butter (peanut, almond)
- Protein powders
- Greek yogurt
Balance Other Macronutrients
Like our general health, we must have a balanced diet to encourage healthy hair production. This also means incorporating carbohydrates and fats into our daily regimen.
These are some of the best carbs and fats to include in your diet for hair health:
- Leafy greens: Spinach, kale, collards
- Fatty fish: Salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines
- Sweet potatoes
Don’t Forget Vitamins and Minerals
Sometimes despite our best efforts and focus, it can be difficult to hit our daily intake of vitamins and minerals critical to hair growth from food alone. We may need an extra boost from a daily multivitamin to get all the nutrients we need.
These vitamins and minerals have been found to be important to healthy hair.
- Biotin: An important B-Vitamin. A deficiency can cause hair loss and thinning.
- Vitamin A: Helps maintain healthy cells surrounding hair follicles.
- Magnesium: Deficiencies can cause hair follicles to enter the resting phase prematurely. Prevents calcium buildup in the scalp, which causes significant hair loss. Reduces dihydrotestosterone (DHT) levels, a byproduct of testosterone that binds to hair follicles and thins them.
- Vitamin C: One of the building blocks of keratin, the type of protein that makes up hair.
- Iron: This nutrient is critical to hair growth. An estimated 10 million people in the U.S. have deficiencies; this is especially common in vegan and vegetarian diets.
- Omega 3 fatty acids: A natural antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, it can reduce antioxidative stress and inflammation, both known causes of hair loss.
Taking a daily multivitamin is one of the most effective ways to get your daily amount of all of these essential vitamins and minerals.
Reversing Hair Loss the Healthy Way
As we grow older, we all want healthy hair. Nearly 80 percent of men and 50 percent of women will experience some hair loss in their lifetime.
Currently, there is no cure for genetically inherited male and female pattern baldness and other types of hair loss. But there are ways to restructure your diet, make lifestyle changes, and other treatments to help reduce and reverse hair loss and encourage healthy hair growth; here’s how:
If you are currently following a restrictive diet focused primarily on protein, you may want to consider restructuring it for optimal hair health.
The USDA guidelines based on calorie intake suggest the following macronutrient ratio:
- Carbohydrates. 45-65%
- Protein. 10-35%
- Fat. 20-35%
This guideline is just a rule of thumb and will vary based on an individual depending on age, activity level, and fitness objectives. The bottom line here is that your diet should aim to balance these macronutrients. Using a calorie tracker or macro tracker app can help make the process of tracking your nutrition easier.
Losing Weight Slowly and Safely
Many of us have struggled with weight issues and may not be at our ideal weight today. We may wish for a quick overnight fix to these issues.
High protein, low carb diets can be effective for many trying to achieve rapid weight loss but may lead to other issues. These include fluctuations in metabolism, hormonal imbalance, and reduced hair health, to name just a few.
The fact is, shortcuts are rarely the best route to take for safe weight loss. The best bet to lose weight safely is by making lifestyle changes and readjusting our mental timelines for reaching these goals.
A healthy lifestyle means reducing stress reduction and increasing physical exercise. The CDC recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity and two days of muscle-strengthening activities per week.
This equals about 30 to 45 minutes of daily activity spread out over five days a week. People who make these lifestyle changes are more likely to keep weight off after losing it and experience reduced blood pressure and cholesterol.
Hair Restoration Methods
In conjunction with a healthy diet and lifestyle, some treatments can help reverse hair loss.
- Medications: Drugs containing minoxidil and the prescription drug finasteride may help slow hair loss and encourage new growth.
- Dermarolling: Also known as microneedling. There is some evidence that it stimulates hair follicles, encouraging hair growth. It may also thicken hair lost from male pattern baldness. Microchanneling is the latest, most effective method.
- Transplantation: Hair transplantation using grafts of healthy hair from donor sites can restore hair to a desired fullness and improve self-esteem.
Protect Your Hair with Smart Protein Intake
One thing is certain: protein is an important factor in our hair health. Too much or too little can lead to unique hair problems, including loss.
Although there is no one-size-fits-all regimen of diet, treatments, and exercise that fits everyone, aiming for a healthful lifestyle and intentional protein intake can help you maintain your healthiest hair.
For your complete hair restoration strategy, connect with Jae Pak, MD, and let’s get on the right track today.
How Much Physical Activity Do Adults Need? | CDC
Are You Getting Too Much Protein? | Mayo Clinic
Find out if Hair Restoration is right for you.
Speak with Jae Pak, M.D. today!