Does a Ketogenic Diet Cause Hair Loss or Thinning Hair?

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Short Answer: Maybe but it is very rare and usually reverses in a month or 2

I first became aware that hair loss was possible for some people on Keto when one of the women in our 28 Day Challenge room complained of it a few months ago.  I thought it was an odd symptom but significant enough to begin to do a little research on how common it is or at least if other people complained of it and what I found was interesting enough to merit a blog post so let’s take a look.

What is the Science?

The first thing I did was to go looking for a few scientific papers on the phenomenon and they are very tough to find.  The only one I can see where hair loss is suggested as a side-effect of Keto was The Ketogenic Diet: Adolescents Can Do It, Tooan incredibly interesting paper where teenaged epileptics were put on a Ketogenic diet to see what would happen to the frequency of their seizures.  While it appears that the results were overwhelmingly positive, in the side effects section, we get this paragraph:

Two individuals reported an increase in seizure activity; two, thinning hair and/or hair loss, both of which were corrected with vitamin supplementation; two, increased bruising or bleeding; and two, subjective reports of stunted growth. (This was out of 45 participants)

Why did this happen?  Here’s what we know.

Any Dietary Change can Result in Hair Loss

Sometimes, our bodies aren’t thrilled with changes to our diet no matter how healthy the new way of eating is.  It’s not unheard of to see a little hair loss in the first month or 2 or any new diet.  It’s almost never anything to be afraid of as the issue usually reverses itself fairly quickly once your body adapts to its new reality.

Low Calories can cause Hair Loss

When this study turned to reporting the weight loss of its participants, it had this to say.

To mimic a starvation state effectively, each patient must be as near to his or her ideal body weight as possible; therefore, we frequently plan for weight loss in our patients. Twenty-seven (60%) of the adolescents reported a reduction in their weight during the time on the ketogenic diet; seven specifically exhibited an unintended weight loss of ≥25% of their initial body weight.

That’s a lot of weight loss for people who are already at or near their ideal body weight and was probably caused by a reduction in calories.  When you cut calories, the body reduces the number of calories used in non-vital systems such as reproduction and hair growth.  So if you are starving yourself on keto expecting to lose weight, stop it.  Eat something and see if that helps.

Low Fat and Low Protein can Both Influence Hair Loss

Sometimes when a newbie starts Keto, they really focus on the low carb part of the diet but don’t really understand the High Fat and Moderate Protein parts of the equation.  Sometimes they are “fat-phobic” and don’t eat enough fat to keep their calories up and sometimes they don’t eat enough protein which is also very important in hair growth.  A well-formulated ketogenic diet will correct both of these issues.

Vitamin and Mineral Imbalances can cause Hair Loss

Another common misstep that new keto-ers make is to not get enough salt.  I’m not talking about that terrible over-processed Morton’s salt but something like Redmond’s Real Salt which has the electrolytes we need and our bodies expect from salt like Zinc, Magnesium and Iodine.  Every one of these minerals are important for hair growth.  Another common vitamin deficiency is Vitamin D.. Every one should be getting at least 15 minutes of sun every day and that should get you the Vitamin D you need.  It should be noted that in the scientific paper cited above, both instances of hair loss were stopped with vitamin supplementation so perhaps take a multi-vitamin

The important thing to remember here is that if you are experiencing hair loss on a ketogenic diet, it should stop fairly quickly.  Keep an eye on your total calorie intake as well as your macros and salt levels and you should be fine.  Of course, if problems persist, see your doctor and nothing on this blog should be taken as medical advice.  That’s code for don’t sue me if your hair falls out.

Any other questions?  Let me know in the comments below!

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11 Replies to “Does a Ketogenic Diet Cause Hair Loss or Thinning Hair?”

  1. does ketogenic diet lower thyroid?
    i have been on keto diet 1 week & i feel a little warmer. i have always been the coldest person in the room…& hair thinning since puberty. i wish i could get thicker hair like i had prior to puberty.
    appreciate any suggestions.

    1. The evidence, both anecdotal and clinical, seems to show that the keto diet helps thyroid function but the reference numbers used to measure thyroid function don’t apply as well when on keto. In other words, you can have a test that comes back that your Thyroid function is low but it’s because you don’t need as much TSH when you don’t eat carbs. I have to confess this isn’t an area I’ve spent a whole lot of time studying but a great book on the subject is The Paleo Thyroid Solution by Elle Russ (http://amzn.to/2rswryg) She was also a guest on Episode 24 of the podcast (https://mysugarfreejourney.com/the-my-sugar-free-journey-podcast-episode-24-elle-russ-and-the-paleo-thyroid-solution/)

  2. Nearly any big change in dietary habits brings some changes. For me after years on vegetarian then vegan diet my hair was thin and fell out, my skin was very dry, had dark circles under my eyes. After a few months on very low carb my hair and skin dramatically improved, and my long time peeling fingernails got stronge. I believe lack of iron was major contributor.

  3. Hello! I’ve heard that our hair needs glucose or fructose in order to not fall out. How can we prevent hair loss then if doing a low carb or ketogenic diet excludes both glucose and fructose in the diet?

    1. There isn’t anything that needs fructose for anything. I haven’t heard of hair needing glucose but if it does, our body can make all the glucose it needs on demand through Gluconeogenesis. Your hair may thin a little in the beginning of the diet as could happen with any dietary change but it almost never persists.

      1. The main fuel source for your hair is glucose, hair can use ketones but not very well, but like you stated the body produces glucose through gluconeogenesis, leaving glucose for bodily functions needing glucose. There could be a link between hair loss and this process, or lack of protein for proper glucose production from gluconeogenesis, or the glucose produced being used for only major and important body functions.
        I cannot link the articles because I cannot remember exactly where they came from, but I suffered hair loss on Keto and started researching “fuel source for hair follicles” and did uncover some medical articles on this.

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