The ketogenic diet is a low carbohydrate and high-fat diet that is known for the many health benefits it offers. It shares many similarities with the Atkins diet and some other low-carb diets. Commonly referred to just as keto, the ketogenic diet dramatically reduces the intake of carbohydrates and replaces it with fat instead. The ketogenic diet is famous for being an efficient weight-loss strategy, but there can be some potential side effects that come with this diet. Among them is the potential of hair loss or a change in the condition of your hair. Fortunately, there are many steps you can take to counter this side effect of the keto diet. Read on to learn how to prevent hair loss while on a ketogenic diet.
What is a Keto Diet?
The ketogenic or keto diet is a popular low-carb and high-fat dieting plan that focuses on drastically cutting down your intake of carbohydrates, while boosting the intake of fat. This decrease in carb intake puts your body into a metabolic state known as ketosis.(1)
- During a state of ketosis, the body is said to become highly efficient at burning fat for energy, thus leading to weight loss.
- The condition of ketosis also turns fat into ketones in your liver, which supplies further energy to the brain.(2)
- Over 20 studies have shown that a ketogenic diet helps you not just to lose weight, but it also improves your overall health.(3)
- Ketogenic diets also benefit against diseases such as cancer, diabetes, epilepsy, and even Alzheimer’s disease.(4)(5)(6)
- However, for all the benefits it provides, the keto diet does come with certain side effects as well.
- Among these is the possibility of hair loss as well as a change in the overall condition of your hair.
Luckily, there are many steps you can take to counteract the effect of the keto diet on your hair. Most people find that changing the foods they eat or increasing their intake of certain vitamins helps return their hair back to its pre-keto condition.
Let us take a closer look at how the keto diet affects your hair and what you can do to prevent hair loss while on a ketogenic diet.
Effect of Ketosis on Hair
The state of ketosis is known to have an impact on your hair. Under usual circumstances, the body utilizes carbohydrates from the food we eat for providing energy for all the bodily processes. However, if you follow a high-fat and low-carb ketogenic diet, then the body can go into a state of ketosis. When this happens, the body begins to use fat for energy instead of carbohydrates.
There are many aspects of ketosis that causes hair loss and an overall change in the health of your hair. The two most common reasons behind this are:
Reason 1: Lesser Nutrient Intake – When you restrict your intake of carbohydrates, this also includes a limitation on some higher carb vegetables and fruits, which reduces the wide variety of nutrients your body typically needs for promoting healthy hair. This is one of the reasons that cause you to lose more hair than you would normally. It can also be a reason for the hair growth to slow down.
Reason 2: Body’s Response To Limited Calories – When you restrict your calorie intake, your body responds to this by ensuring that the energy available to the body goes to completing the most critical processes first. This would include functions such as the functioning of the heart, ensuring cell growth, operation of the lungs, as well as other organs. This also means that there will be lesser energy left for hair growth.
Why Does Your Hair Need These Nutrients?
Hair growth is similar to any other function in the body, and since you need vital nutrients to ensure the proper functioning of these different processes, it means that for proper hair growth also you need to have these nutrients. You need the vital vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients to ensure that everything in the body works properly, and your hair is no different from these other processes. Certain nutrients are especially essential for having healthy hair growth and for preventing hair loss.
When you are on the keto diet, the emphasis is on high fat and low carb foods. When you follow this concept of eating, there are certain key nutrients that may be less abundant than others.
To protect and ensure the healthy growth of your hair, you may want to explore other ways of adding more of certain nutrients and vitamins to your diet. If you find it challenging to get these nutrients and vitamins through food, then you can always consider adding them on as supplements to make up for the deficiencies in your eating plan while you are on the keto diet. Here are some of these essential nutrients and vitamins that you need for healthy hair growth:
In 2013 the University of Hyogo in Japan carried out an animal study that showed that deficiency of biotin is strongly linked with a ketogenic diet.(7)
Biotin is a type of B vitamin, and it has been associated with hair growth for the longest of time. Biotin is available naturally in a wide variety of foods, but many foods that are rich sources of biotin (including fruits and legumes) are either restricted or allowed only in small portions when you are following the keto diet.
Foods that are rich sources of biotin and can also be fitted into your keto diet plan include:
- Organ meats such as kidneys and liver
- Egg yolks
- Nuts, such as walnuts, peanuts, and almonds
Biotin is also available as a supplement, but you should not start taking a supplement without consulting your doctor first. Medical experts recommend that people should get at least 30 micrograms (mcg) of biotin each day, which is generally the amount available in one biotin capsule.
Vitamin A is another important nutrient required for hair growth. You also need vitamin A in adequate amounts in the body for healthy skin, clear vision, and a robust immune system.
Unlike some of the other nutrients that you require for healthy hair growth, many of the foods that are known to be potent sources of vitamin A are all the very popular foods in a ketogenic diet, and you can easily include them in your daily diet. Good sources of vitamin A that are also a part of the keto diet include:
What is important to note here is that you do not need to consume vitamin A in very high amounts. Having too much vitamin A in the body can cause vitamin A toxicity.(8)
The symptoms of vitamin A toxicity include:
The recommended dietary allowance for vitamin A is 700 micrograms per day for women and 900 micrograms for men. It is possible to easily reach this target by eating the commonly included foods in a keto diet.
You should also avoid taking a multivitamin that contains vitamin A because if you are already on a keto diet, then the chances are high that you are already getting all the vitamin A you need from the foods included in the diet plan itself. Remember, exceeding the recommended dietary allowance of vitamin A may lead to vitamin A toxicity.
The fact that vitamin C is absolutely critical for having a robust immune system and overall good health is well known. However, a lesser-known benefit of vitamin C is that this vitamin helps boost the production of collagen. Collagen is the protein the body needs for producing healthy hair and skin.
So although berries and citrus fruits are the most commonly known sources of vitamin C, here are some other rich sources of vitamin C that you can easily include in your keto diet plan as well:
- Brussels sprouts
- Yellow peppers
- Mustard spinach
It is also possible to get vitamin C from supplements and multivitamins, but again, do not start any supplements without the advice of your doctor. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for vitamin C is 90 milligrams (mg) per day.
You should be getting vitamin D naturally from the sunlight that reaches our skin. It is also possible to get vitamin D from the food we eat. Vitamin D is essential for many functions in the body, including the absorption of calcium and healthy hair.
Low levels of vitamin D in the body are known to lead to hair loss and a condition known as alopecia, which is an autoimmune disease that causes hair loss all over the body.(9)
Here are some keto-friendly foods that are a rich source of vitamin D:
- Fatty fish such as herring, salmon, and sardines
- Egg yolk
The recommended dietary allowance for vitamin D is 600 international units (IU) a day from food. If your skin is getting some exposure to sunlight, then your intake is likely to be closer to 1,000 international unit per day.(10)
Vitamin E, an antioxidant like vitamin C, is also needed by the body to promote the healthy growth of hair and cells. If you want to make sure that you are getting a sufficient amount of vitamin E every day, then try to include the following foods in your ketogenic meal plan:
- Sunflower seeds
The recommended daily allowance of vitamin E for adults if 15 milligrams.
If you feel that you are not getting sufficient amounts of vitamin E through your diet, then you can opt for taking a supplement of vitamin E. However when you are taking synthetic supplements of vitamin E, it is essential to remember not to exceed 1,000 international units per day.(11)
Apart from the necessary vitamins, your body also needs adequate iron to ensure the healthy growth of hair. If you are deficient in iron, then you will not only notice dry and damaged hair, but you will also experience many health problems, including:
- Shortness of breath
In general, women are known to be at a higher risk for developing iron deficiency than men.
Here are some foods you can include in your keto diet to get the required dietary iron:
- Dark turkey meat
- Pumpkin seeds
- Red meat
The recommended dietary allowance for iron each day is 18 milligrams.
A ketogenic diet tends to include many protein sources such as fish, poultry, and red meat. However, if you are following the ketogenic diet and you are vegetarian or vegan, then there is a possibility that you are not getting the required amount of protein that your body needs. This can also lead to hair loss as well as some more severe complications, including impairment of the immune system and loss of muscle mass.
If you do not want to consume any animal sources of protein, then you should make an extra effort to include a healthy amount of plant-based protein sources. Here are some great keto-approved sources of plant-based protein:
- Chia seeds
- Soybean products such as edamame, tempeh, and tofu
- Nuts and nut butter
- Green peas
- Vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, asparagus, and Brussels sprouts
Tips to Prevent Hair Loss While On Keto Diet
Apart from ensuring that your keto diet plan includes all the nutrients you require to prevent hair loss, here are some other tips you can follow to help prevent hair loss and also to boost the health of your hair, especially when your body is in a state of ketosis.
Opt for Probiotics: When you are changing your diet plan, it can have an impact on the balance between good and bad bacteria that are present in your gut. Probiotics are a form of good bacteria that can help restore this balance in your stomach. Having the correct bacterial balance in the gut helps improve your digestion. Having proper digestion makes it easier for your body to absorb nutrients from foods, ensuring better overall health and also healthier hair.
Practice Good Hair Hygiene: wash and dry your hair gently. Use a gentle shampoo and a moisturizing and nourishing conditioner. If you want to ensure good health for your hair, then you must avoid using products that have harsher formulas that can dry out the hair and also lead to more hair loss and damage. Also, restrict the amount of time you blow-dry your hair. Avoid rubbing your hair with a towel in an attempt to remove extra moisture from the hair after washing. This friction created while you rub the towel against your hair can cause further damage to your hair. Try to wrap your hair in a microfiber towel instead to help speed up the drying process, and it is best to allow your hair to air dry.
Avoid Going In For Harsh Hair Treatments: While your body adjusts itself to the new keto diet, you should avoid any harsh hair treatments for the time being. Limit coloring your hair, or straitening, curling, or any other treatments. Also, avoid pulling your hair back into a tight ponytail or braid. This pull on the hair starts loosening it from the roots, leading to more hair loss.
Should You See A Doctor For Hair Loss?
If you are having extreme hair loss while being on a keto diet, and you have already taken all the steps needed for hair loss prevention, then you should consider seeing a doctor. It is also a good idea to talk with your doctor before you begin a ketogenic diet in order to make sure that the diet format is safe for you. This especially holds true if you have any of the following:
- Heart condition
- High blood pressure
- Any other chronic medical condition
Maintaining a state of ketosis is the ultimate goal of the keto diet. However, in order to achieve a state of ketosis, there are some drastic changes that you will need to make to your diet.
Switching to high fat and low-fat diet may lead to a reduction in some of the crucial nutrients your body needs for maintaining healthy hair. A change to the keto diet can also reduce your calorie intake, which can also restrict the amount of energy your body has to focus on hair growth, thus leading to hair loss and damage.
In order to decrease the risk of hair loss, take steps to ensure that you are having foods that meet your daily nutrient requirement and are rich in sources of biotin, proteins, iron, and vitamins A, C, D, and E.
If you still experience significant hair loss after taking the recommended steps for healthy hair, hen consulting a doctor will help you rule out any underlying health condition that might be responsible for the hair loss.
- Phinney, S.D., Bistrian, B.R., Evans, W.J., Gervino, E. and Blackburn, G.L., 1983. The human metabolic response to chronic ketosis without caloric restriction: preservation of submaximal exercise capability with reduced carbohydrate oxidation. Metabolism, 32(8), pp.769-776.
- Westman, E.C., Mavropoulos, J., Yancy, W.S. and Volek, J.S., 2003. A review of low-carbohydrate ketogenic diets. Current atherosclerosis reports, 5(6), pp.476-483. Freeman, J.M., Kossoff, E.H. and Hartman, A.L., 2007. The ketogenic diet: one decade later. Pediatrics, 119(3), pp.535-543.
- Westman, E.C., Yancy, W.S., Mavropoulos, J.C., Marquart, M. and McDuffie, J.R., 2008. The effect of a low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet versus a low-glycemic index diet on glycemic control in type 2 diabetes mellitus. Nutrition & metabolism, 5(1), p.36.
- Zhou, W., Mukherjee, P., Kiebish, M.A., Markis, W.T., Mantis, J.G. and Seyfried, T.N., 2007. The calorically restricted ketogenic diet, an effective alternative therapy for malignant brain cancer. Nutrition & metabolism, 4(1), p.5.
- Gasior, M., Rogawski, M.A. and Hartman, A.L., 2006. Neuroprotective and disease-modifying effects of the ketogenic diet. Behavioural pharmacology, 17(5-6), p.431.
- Yuasa, M., Matsui, T., Ando, S., Ishii, Y., Sawamura, H., Ebara, S. and Watanabe, T., 2013. Consumption of a low-carbohydrate and high-fat diet (the ketogenic diet) exaggerates biotin deficiency in mice. Nutrition, 29(10), pp.1266-1270.
- Hathcock, J.N., Hattan, D.G., Jenkins, M.Y., McDonald, J.T., Sundaresan, P.R. and Wilkening, V.L., 1990. Evaluation of vitamin A toxicity. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 52(2), pp.183-202.
- Gilhar, A., Etzioni, A. and Paus, R., 2012. Alopecia areata. New England Journal of Medicine, 366(16), pp.1515-1525.
- Lu, Z., Chen, T.C., Zhang, A., Persons, K.S., Kohn, N., Berkowitz, R., Martinello, S. and Holick, M.F., 2007. An evaluation of the vitamin D3 content in fish: Is the vitamin D content adequate to satisfy the dietary requirement for vitamin D?. The Journal of steroid biochemistry and molecular biology, 103(3-5), pp.642-644.
- Ods.od.nih.gov. (2019). Office of Dietary Supplements – Vitamin E. [online] Available at: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminE-HealthProfessional/ [Accessed 24 Dec. 2019].
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