The Keto diet is fantastic for weight loss, increased energy and mental clarity. But what about the side effects of Keto, after all, nothing’s perfect, right? Hair loss is a side effect that’s quite common on Keto. This article will help explain why it happens, what to do about it and how to prevent it from happening in the first place. This way you can get back to enjoying the benefits of your Keto without worrying about loosing any precious strands.
What is hair loss?
This may sound like a silly question, but in order to understand what factors on Keto are contributing to hair loss you first need to know a little about how your hair grows and how it falls out. We’re all experiencing hair loss every day, it’s when it becomes really noticeable that it becomes a problem.
Your hair is composed of two main parts, the follicle and the shaft. The shaft is the part that you can touch that’s growing outside of your head while the follicle is the part of the hair that lies below the surface of your skin. The real growth happens in the follicle and the part that we can see is mostly dead.
The living follicle of your hair goes through 3 main stages. The first stage is known as anagen and this can be thought of as the stage where the follicle grows new hair, pushing it through your skin so that you see a longer hair shaft. This phase usually lasts 2-6 years.
The second stage is known as the catagen stage. In this stage your hair is resting for a few weeks and no new growth takes place. The final stage is known as telogen and during this phase, your hair completely stops producing new growth for up to 100 days. During this stage, the old hair falls out. You lose roughly 100 hairs in the telogen phase daily and roughly 6-8% of the hairs in your head are in this stage at one time.
This is the normal cycle of growth and hair loss. However, there are situations that can cause more of your hairs to go into the telogen stage at one time. When this happens, no new growth appears, and the old hairs are left to fall out. The more hairs that are in the telogen stage, the more hair loss you experience and the less hairs are available for new growth.
What causes hair loss on Keto?
There are a lot of factors that might contribute to hair loss while on the Keto diet. The following are some of the most common.
Stress can cause hair loss and when you switch over to a Keto diet, you’re putting stress on your body (at least temporarily). Glucose is the primary fuel of your body because it’s easy to create and it doesn’t take a lot of effort. When you make the switch to running on ketones this is a major shakeup of the way your body metabolizes food for energy. Any major change like this can cause a lot of stress on your body. That’s not to say that this stress sticks around for long. The majority of people find that their body gets used to the Keto diet within a few weeks. After this point, the stress in your body goes down considerably.
Too few calories
When you don’t eat enough calories your body shuttles the energy it has to the most important areas of your body such as your heart, lungs and brain. If there isn’t enough food to go around, your hair will get the shaft (pun intended) and it will switch into the telogen stage.
This can happen to those on the Keto diet if they’re not replacing the carbs they once ate with proteins and fats. Restricting carbs on Keto doesn’t mean that you should restrict calories as well. The Keto diet allows you to lose weight without major calorie restriction so be sure that you’re still eating the number of calories that your body requires in order to fuel every part of your body from the tips of your toes to the hair on your head.
Too little protein
Sometimes it’s the types of calories that you restrict that can send your hair into the telogen stage. Hair requires protein in order to grow. If you restrict the amount of protein you’re eating at the same time that you’re restricting carbs then you may see a loss of hair on Keto. It’s a myth that you need to restrict your protein in order to keep your body in ketosis. You would have to eat an incredible amount of protein for this to happen. Try to aim for 20-25% of your calories coming from protein sources. This will help prevent both hair and muscle loss while on Keto.
Not enough vital vitamins and minerals
When you switch up your diet it’s easy to stop eating minerals, vitamins and other nutrients that you were getting with the old foods you ate. In order to prevent this from happening, it’s important to stick to a whole food diet while on Keto and avoid processed foods. As a general rule, the more processing a food has gone through, the less nutrients remain. Although you may not know exactly what nutrient’s you’re getting in your whole food diet, you can be sure that it has something that your body needs.
When it comes to hair loss, there are several vitamin and mineral deficiencies that can contribute. Specifically, the vitamins A, C, D and E are important for promoting healthy hair growth. You should be sure to eat foods that are rich in biotin, zinc and iron as well as the electrolytes potassium, magnesium, sodium and iodine. On Keto, your body excretes these electrolytes much faster than it does on other diets so it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough to compensate for this loss.
Sudden carbohydrate restriction
When you restrict any macronutrient to a large degree very suddenly it causes your body to experience stress. This is what causes the Keto flu during the first few weeks of your body adjusting to its new energy source. Some people adapt to the change quickly while others take a bit longer.
If the sudden restriction in carbs is causing you to experience hair loss then you might want to consider easing into your new diet a little slower. Instead of going straight from eating carbs as the main course of every meal to eating the recommended 20-25g of net carbs on Keto you could try gradually restricting your carb intake by 50g a day for a few weeks until you reach your Keto goal. This might cause your body to take longer to reach ketosis, but it will also relieve a lot of the stress your body’s going through.
Problems in your gut
The bacteria in our gut play a role in each and every other process in our body. There’s a connection between your brain and your digestive system known as the “mind-gut connection”. If you’ve ever felt “butterflies” in your stomach when you get nervous you’ve felt the role your emotions play on your gut. However, it goes the other way too. When your intestinal tract isn’t healthy, it sends stress signals to your brain that affect everything from your mood to your hair growth.
What can you do to treat Keto hair loss?
The first thing that you need to do in order to treat Keto hair loss is identify the culprit. This means taking a serious look at your diet. Is it composed of mostly processed foods or whole foods? Do you eat a lot of probiotic rich foods? Are you reducing your calories, carbs or protein to unhealthy levels?
A great way of pinpointing potential problems in your diet is to track your meals. This is something that you need to do anyway on Keto since you need to keep careful track of how many carbs you’ve eaten but it can be a great tool for other things as well. When you look at the foods you tracked over the last week you can usually spot the problem quickly.
The next step is to fix the problem. Increase your protein calories if they’re below 20-25% of your overall calories. Increase your overall calories if you’re restricting them in order to lose weight. Add in some probiotic rich foods such as pickles or yogurt if you feel any signs of gut discomfort or constipation.
Next, make sure that the majority of the foods you’re eating are whole foods. This one change can eliminate several of the problems that may be causing your hair loss. Focus on foods that are rich in micronutrients. Eggs, meat, poultry, fish, leafy green veggies, nuts, seeds and high-fat dairy are all great sources of essential nutrients that you should include into your Keto diet.
Hair loss is a common side effect of the Keto diet; however, it doesn’t have to be a reason for concern and it’s not permanent. A few simple changes to your diet is usually all it takes to get your hair back into a healthy state where it can grow.