Excessive dieting and hair loss
Apr, 19 2021 | By Dr. Sangay Bhutia (Hair Transplant Specialist in Delhi)
Our hair needs nutritious food, just like any other part of the body, to stay strong and grow. Hair loss is a common side effect of dieting and weight loss. To be sure, not all kinds of diets cause hair loss; if your body is getting good, nutritious food packed with essential nutrients like iron, protein, vitamins, selenium, and zinc, your hair will be strong and healthy. However, excessive or crash dieting, and restrictive diets, wherein people cut out complete food groups or skip full meals to lose weight quickly, are bad for hair.
To understand how your diet can impact the health of your hair and make it fall, let's understand the hair growth cycle. Hair grows in three phases -- the first is anagen or the growth phase, which lasts between 2-8 years. The second phase is catagen, which is the transition phase; it lasts between 2-8 weeks. The third phase is telogen, which is the resting phase wherein hair starts to shed. Telogen lasts between 2-4 months. After the hair sheds, it goes back to the resting phase and then starts to grow again.
Excessive dieting can cause something called telogen effluvium, a kind of shock hair loss caused by a disturbance to the hair cycle. This is usually temporary and happens when the amount of hair that is supposed to be in the shedding or resting phase goes up to about 30% instead of the usual 5-10%. This can be caused by nutritional deficiencies and stress triggered by excessive dieting.
Avoiding hair fall while dieting
This type of hair loss can be prevented by providing the body an adequate amount of nutrition. Hair needs several nutrients to grow and stay healthy. Take for example, protein. Protein is the main component of hair; more than 80% of the hair structure is made of protein and a deficiency can lead to a lot of hair going into the resting phase and falling. We can get protein from foods like eggs, milk, meat, seafood, chicken etc.
Excessive dieting can also lead to an iron deficiency, which causes hair fall as well. Therefore, if someone is dieting, they need to ensure that their meals still contain green leafy vegetables, lentils, and other sources of iron like shellfish, quinoa, and red meat, to ensure that they are getting enough of the nutrient.
Iron is essential as it helps in the production of haemoglobin, which carries nutŕients to all parts of the body, including our hair. A lack of iron means essential nutrients won't reach our hair and other organs.
Whichever kind of diet we follow, we need to ensure that we get nutrients like zinc, selenium, fatty acids, Vitamins A, D, B complex, folic acid and biotin. These can be found in foods like eggs, broccoli, sweet potatoes, lean meats, berries, nuts, seeds, fish like salmon, and dairy products like milk and yogurt.
Some people, although it is rare, can also have a zinc or selenium deficiency, which can cause hair fall. This deficiency can cause a rare malabsorption syndrome and a rare genetic disease called acrodermatitis enteropathica.
Repairing the damage
The good news is that hair loss from excessive dieting is not necessarily permanent. It can be reversed. The answer, predictably, lies in nutrition. If people are restricting calories excessively, they might want to ease up on it. The body needs a certain amount of calories for proper functioning. These cannot be cut out indiscriminately. While dieting, even if we want to restrict calories, these should be done in consultation with a nutritionist and not on a whim.
Fad diets or restrictive diets, which cut out complete food groups are a big no no; they are also not healthy as they are associated with weight regain, and are harmful to our mental health. If you are trying to regain your hair post excessive dieting, consult a nutritionist as you may need supplements in addition to a healthy meal plan if the nutritional deficiencies are acute.
Secondly, if you have to lose weight, adopt a healthier way to do so. Definitely cut down on sugar, junk and fried food, reduce your intake of sugary drinks, and drink enough water. Don’t make sudden, radical changes to your diet, they should be healthy changes. These changes should also be gradual so that the body gets time to adapt.
Another important thing about losing weight is that it should be a combination of exercise and a healthy diet. Only cutting down food, and not exercising at all is unhealthy. It's important to keep moving and pick an exercise that suits your body. It could be yoga, running, walking, dance, pilates, or working out at the gym. Exercising has additional benefits as it improves blood circulation and can actually better the quality of your hair and skin.