One of the best ways to maintain a healthy head of hair is to eat a balanced, healthy diet. Hair loss is often a sign of a nutritional insufficiency, according to the Mayo Clinic. Crash dieting, unhealthy foods that don’t provide nutrients and lack of certain food groups, such as proteins, can all lead to hair loss.
Insufficient protein intake can lead to hair loss. So can lack of essential fatty acids, according to “Super Nutrition for Women,” author Ann Louise Gittleman, Ph.D. Hair loss can happen after four months of deficiency in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. People who have inadequate iron intakes also suffer hair loss, notes the Mayo Clinic. Women may have an especially hard time getting enough iron because they have heavy menstrual periods and become deficient due to blood loss. Fad or crash diets can cause nutrient deficits that lead to hair loss, as can diets that lack proper nutrition, such as those high in processed and fast foods, according to the Mayo Clinic. When a deficiency exists, the body will send nutrients to vital organs first and to the hair last.
The type of hair loss experienced due to a nutrition deficit is called telogen effluvium. This occurs when something, such as inadequate nutrition, causes a change in a person’s normal hair cycle, according to the Mayo Clinic. Hair roots may be pushed prematurely into their resting state. Affected hairs fall out. Telogen effluvium also can be caused by emotional distress or physiological stress, like an illness or sudden weight loss.
People who have nutrient insufficiencies that lead to hair loss often also have dry skin and brittle hair that breaks easily. Lack of iron can even turn some hair follicles “off,” according to a 2003 study published in the "Journal of Investigative Dermatology." A deficiency in protein that causes hair loss also can lead to frequent colds, fatigue, poor immune function, poor recovery from workouts and anemia, according to according to Harvard University Health Sciences.
Hair will grow back when nutrient deficiencies are corrected, but it may take months. The body requires a variety of nutrients to maintain hair health, especially B vitamins. Vitamins A, C, E and minerals such as calcium and magnesium are also important. A healthy adult requires 0.36 grams per pound of protein each day, while an endurance athlete needs 0.54 to 0.64 grams per pound and a person who strength trains needs 0.72 to 0.77 grams protein per pound, according to Harvard University Health Sciences. Essential fatty acids help cells repair and construct new membranes and help the body use vitamins A and E, which also are needed for hair health. Supporting cell formation is important for hair, as it grows through the formation of new cells at the base of the hair’s root. The cells multiply and form a tissue rod in the skin, which then moves upward as new cells form beneath.
Hair loss due to poor nutrition is a sign that the body is in an unhealthy state. Eating properly is essential for heart health, bone health, vital organs and body systems, as well as hair health. Modern diets often contribute to insufficient nutrition and poor general health and and poor hair health. When grains are refined, for example, they lose B vitamins that boost body and hair health. The lower fiber in refined foods also impairs the digestion process, which makes it harder for the body to pass needed nutrients into the bloodstream, according to My Hair Loss Advisor. Stimulants like caffeine, alcohol and cigarettes, meanwhile, often leech vital nutrients from the body.
- Mayo Clinic: Hair Loss
- Journal of Investigative Dermatology: Decreased Serum Ferritin and Alopecia in Women
- "Super Nutrition for Women;" Ann Louise Gittleman; 2004
- Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of D. Sharon Pruitt
This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.