Fact-checked by Dr. Anthony Gustin, DC, MS.
Written by Lorenz Mac
Have you noticed more strands of hair fall into the sink after going keto?
Hair loss is a common occurrence with low carb dieters mainly due to the increased stress that comes with large dietary changes.
Take a look at low carb forums and you’ll notice thinning hair is a major concern.
Luckily, this is a temporary setback on the keto diet.
It usually happens three to six months after any new diet and only a small percentage of your hair will fall out.
The good news is, after a few months your hair follicles will begin to regrow just as thick as before.
There are also several precautions you can take to prevent it altogether.
In this article, we’re going to talk about:
Hair is more complicated than it seems. It has two separate structures:
- The follicle: The part of your hair that resides in your skin.
- The shaft: The visible part of your hair. There are two separate shafts — inner and outer — that surround the follicle. These are the structures responsible for protecting and growing your hair.
To ensure proper hair health, you need to make sure both the follicle and the shaft are healthy[*].
- Anagen phase — This is the phase of active hair growth which lasts from two to six years. Hair grows up to 1 cm every 28 days during this stage.
- Catagen phase — Growth stops during this short transitional phase, which lasts for two to three weeks.
- Telogen phase — This stage is known as the resting phase, where there is no growth, and it lasts for up to 100 days. Up to 20% of your hair is in the telogen phase while the rest is growing[*].
Lifestyle factors like temporary increases in stress from low carb diets can speed up the rate of your hair cycle, which causes hair loss.
Research has found hair loss can be a common side effect of low carb diets.
One study looked at the efficacy of the ketogenic diet in helping with seizures in epileptic teenagers. The results were overwhelmingly positive in mitigating seizures but two out of the 45 participants experienced hair thinning[*].
While a ketogenic diet in itself is not the main culprit behind hair loss, the initial side effects of going keto may be to blame for sudden hair loss.
Some of these side effects include:
#1. Large Calorie Deficits
When we look at the same study from above, the results showed seven participants lost more than 25% of their initial body weight. To lose such a large amount of weight means their food intake was extremely low compared to their usual diet.
Studies have shown that major weight loss causes hair loss[*].
During low calorie intakes, your body spends less energy on non-vital systems such as hair growth.
Many people who are new to the ketogenic diet don’t replace the calories they would usually get from carbohydrates with healthy fats and protein. This leads to a drastic calorie deficit and any low calorie diets can impact hair health.
A proper meal plan can help mitigate thinning hair by ensuring the correct amount of food consumption.
#2. Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies
One study observed vitamin deficiency and its relation to hair health. The authors found that a lack of amino acids and micronutrients such as zinc were responsible for hair thinning in the participants[*].
When going low carb, many people forget to replace essential vitamins and minerals that got flushed out during their first days on keto.
As you eat fewer carbs, your body produces less insulin, and glycogen stores get depleted. When glycogen stores are depleted, your kidneys excrete water and electrolytes like sodium, zinc, magnesium, potassium and iodine in large amounts.
You have to replenish these electrolytes to enjoy healthy hair.
#3. Stress Plays a Large Role
Stress is one of the main culprits behind hair loss, and when your body undergoes major dietary transitions, stress is at an all-time high.
Here are a few reasons why you may be experiencing major stress on keto:
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Major caloric deficits
- Extreme calorie restriction
- Psychological stress
- Keto flu
- Keto rash
Stress can lead to the following conditions[*]:
- Alopecia Areata — Sudden loss of large clumps of hair in areas around the scalp
- Telogen Effluvium — Condition where more hairs than usual are ready to fall out
- Trichotillomania — A habitual condition caused by stress where a person pulls on their hair without realizing it
Telogen effluvium is the most common hair condition at the start of the ketogenic diet. In most cases, it is temporary and only lasts for two to three months.
Since a transition to a low carb diet can trigger stress, it’s important to keep stress to a minimum in every other area of your life during the beginning stages of your keto journey.
#4. Lack of Biotin
Biotin, also known as vitamin H, helps your body convert food into energy.
#5. Not Enough Protein
It’s common for keto dieters to undereat protein.
A standard ketogenic diet consists of low carbohydrates, moderate protein and high fat intake.
Many beginners will consume too little protein because they think too much protein can knock them out of ketosis through gluconeogenesis — which is not true.
In fact, even low carb, high protein diet like the carnivore diet can easily keep you in ketosis.
One study looking into which nutrient deficiencies were responsible for hair loss found that calorie deficits and protein underconsumption were the two main factors responsible for hair loss[*].
Furthermore, iron deficiencies are also known to cause hair loss. The main iron storage molecule, ferritin, is a protein. If you have inadequate ferritin levels, it can cause symptoms of hypothyroidism, which directly affects hair health[*].
#6. Gut Health
Your gut microbiome directly affects every system in your body, including your hair, skin and nails.
An unhealthy gut microbiome can lead to leaky gut syndrome, which can create stress on your body and exacerbate your hair loss symptoms.
A recent study conducted on mice found that certain bad gut bacteria was responsible for preventing biotin production. The researchers gave mice a course of antibiotics to destroy the bacteria in their gut and, as expected, they saw mild hair loss[*].
They concluded that improving gut health through probiotics in addition to biotin supplementation could be more effective for preventing hair loss than taking biotin by itself[*].
Additionally, supplementing with bone broth will further benefit your gut.
While eating enough calories and replenishing your electrolytes is a great start for preventing hair loss, certain foods and supplements can also help.
Here are the 7 best foods and supplements you can take to ensure a full head of hair while going keto!
Biotin is one of the most effective supplements for increasing the thickness of hair follicles.
The best way to increase your biotin intake is through ketogenic-friendly whole foods like:
- Eggs (with yolk)
- Peanuts (in moderation)
- Dairy products
Adults only need around 30 micrograms of biotin daily, so if your low carb diet plan contains ample amounts of the foods listed above, you can get away with a smaller dose of a biotin supplement.
MSM or methylsulfonylmethane is a compound that can be found in animal products, vegetables and algae.
MSM helps form links in the structural tissue in your body, including skin, nails, and hair. Specifically, it helps build up keratin, which a fibrous structural protein responsible for hair and nail health.
In supplement form, MSM is used to strengthen cartilage and connective tissue.
It may also boost hair health because it’s rich in sulfur, which is needed to make cystine, a sulfur amino acid that helps form keratin[*].
#3: Bone Broth
Bone broth and the ketogenic diet are extremely complementary.
Collagen is the most abundant protein in your body and it’s essential for skin strength and elasticity, hair growth, muscle growth, proper organ function, and more. Bone broth is made up of type II collagen, which is only found in bones and connective tissue.
Bone broth also helps prevent Leaky Gut Syndrome, which improves your absorption of nutrients needed for healthier hair.
To add more collagen to your foods and drinks, skip bone broth and go right for a collagen supplement.
Oral collagen could prevent:
- Early hair loss
- Hair thinning
- Hair graying
Collagen is part of your hair follicle stem cells (HFSC) — the cells that create new hair. A collagen deficiency can trigger early aging in these stem cells, causing premature hair loss[*].
Unfortunately, your natural collagen production goes down the older you get, so supplementing can help replenish your collagen levels.
Perfect Keto Collagen is made from grass-fed cows and it’s paired with MCT oil for optimal ketosis support. It also comes in 4 flavors: chocolate, vanilla, salted caramel, and unflavored.
Several studies have shown that zinc deficiencies can lead to hypothyroidism and extreme hair loss[*].
Here are ketogenic-friendly foods high in zinc:
- Grass-fed beef
- Cacao powder
- Pumpkin seeds
#6: Coconut Oil
Coconut oil may not directly improve growth, but it can help prevent hair loss.
Regular use, both topically and orally, can make your hair softer and moisturized.
Additionally, coconut oil is loaded with essential nutrients and antioxidants like vitamin K, vitamin E and iron.
Keto Induced Hair Loss Is Only a Temporary Setback
Seeing extra strands of hair in the sink can be a major cause for concern, especially if you have noticed it after going keto.
But this shouldn’t discourage you from staying on the keto lifestyle.
The truth is, any major nutritional changes will cause additional stress on your body, which could trigger temporary hair loss. Once your metabolism gets used to your new, healthier way of eating, your hair will go back to normal.
If you continue to experience hair loss on a keto diet after following these recommendations, seek medical advice from your healthcare provider.
Bottom line: pay attention to other factors like calorie deficits, nutrient deficiencies and major stress before putting the blame on the ketogenic diet.
Following a proper ketogenic diet meal plan will ensure you enjoy the benefits of rapid weight loss and better cognitive function on keto while maintaining healthy hair!