How Food Can Help Hair Loss and Thinning

June 15, 2019

One question our nutritionists are frequently asked is, “Are there any supplements or certain foods I should add to my diet that will help to slow down or stop my hair loss?” If you are experiencing hair thinning, you are not alone. As many as 40% of women experience female pattern hair loss and hair thinning. One of the biggest culprits is lack of nutrients. Listen in as we discuss key nutrients we need for hair growth, who is at risk for hair thinning, along with supplement and meal ideas that might help.

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JOANN: Welcome to Dishing Up Nutrition. My name is JoAnn Ridout and I'm a Registered and Licensed Dietitian, and I'm in the studio this morning with Carolyn Hudson, who is also a Registered and Licensed Dietitian. Both of us have had over 30 years of experience each. That's a lot of experience in the nutrition field. And like that insurance company's commercial on TV says, we have seen it all.

CAROLYN: Oh boy. Have we ever, JoAnn.

JOANN: Because of our extensive experience working with many, many clients over these 30+ years, Carolyn and I thought today we would address some of the frequently asked questions that we've been asked. One of those questions is, are there any supplements or certain foods I should add to my diet that will help to slow down or stop my hair loss? I'm getting bald spots on my head and I'm so embarrassed. Boy, I've heard that one. Personally, I've found that both women and men are very willing to change their diet or take some supplements, even give up alcohol or whatever I suggest if only I can help them get their hair to grow again.

CAROLYN: That is true. And if you are experiencing hair thinning, you are not alone. As many as 40% of women experience female patterned hair loss and hair thinning. We know both women and men experience this and these take a real toll on a person's well-being. In fact, JoAnn, I found a statistic here that says that by age 50, 85% of men experience some degree of hair loss. There can be many causes of hair thinning such as childbirth, or times of excessive amounts of stress, lack of sleep—that's a really big one for a lot of people—thyroid problems. But interestingly, one of the biggest culprits is lack of nutrients. In fact, I was just saying to somebody last night, "Oh yeah, Mike, the show tomorrow is on hair thinning." And he said, "What! You could do something about that with nutrients and food? I don't believe it." I said, "Yeah, well you'll just have to tune in."

JOANN: We live in a country of plenty, right? Plenty of food. So why would we be deficient in key nutrients? I believe the reason could be traced back to that low-fat, low-protein, starvation, weight loss types of diets. And they were so very popular and in fact, unfortunately, still are in many cases, right? So our hair needs two key nutrients for hair growth: protein and fat. And sadly both of these nutrients are really missing in those low-calorie and weight loss plans. So why do we need that protein for our hair? The fact is that a simple strand of hair is made up of protein fibers. So it makes perfect sense that we need enough protein in our diet for healthy hair.

CAROLYN:And when a client asks me, "How can I get my hair to grow again?" As a dietitian, I sit down and calculate the number of ounces of protein the client should eat most days. And unfortunately so many women and men are getting less than six ounces of protein each day.

JOANN: Yeah. I'm always shocked. Especially my elderly parents or clients and whatnot. People think, "Oh one big meal a day and then just a few snacks." It really is not enough. So let me ask you, listeners, how much protein are you eating each day and what protein do you eat for breakfast? Do you eat eggs? What protein do you eat for lunch and what protein do you eat for dinner? So we're recommending protein at every meal. And are you eating any protein at your snacks? That's a big one too. A lot of people think a piece of fruit is fine for a snack. But of course we like all of our clients to be eating protein.

CAROLYN: Exactly.

JOANN: When we actually ask our clients, how much protein do you consume daily, we're really asking about that animal protein such as eggs, cheese, beef, pork, fish, turkey or chicken. We're not recommending soy protein or pea protein. However, for those of you who are vegetarian, eggs are an excellent source of protein and are great for hair growth. So eating adequate amounts of protein is really very important for hair growth because hair follicles are mostly made up of protein, as I said a little bit earlier. In fact, every cell in our body needs protein. So of course we need protein.

CAROLYN: The nutritional deficiency may impact both hair growth and structure. So it's interesting to note, and it's been cited by a number of experts. Hair follicles are among the most metabolically active in the body, and hair growth may be impacted negatively by lack of calories, starvation diets, and protein deficiencies. I have seen many clients that have experienced hair loss when they come in to me, especially newer clients, and they've gone through years of extreme dieting or repeat dieting on and on for years. The good news to that is that it will get better. Their hair can start growing again and getting thicker again as a good food plan is put in place.

JOANN: Some of you may be thinking, so how much protein do I really need daily? It seems four ounces of protein eaten three times a day is an adequate amount for most women. So we say eat 12 to 14 ounces for women every day, and for men about 16 to 20 ounces of protein every day. Another thing before we move on to any other nutrient deficiencies is collagen. Collagen is the most abundant protein in our body and it helps make up your hair, your skin, your tendons and ligaments. Your body actually produces collagen, but you can also get it from foods such as bone broth or chicken, beef, pork, fish, or turkey. And of course, some supplements. So hair is primarily made up of the protein Keratin. And Keratin is made from several amino acids that are in collagen. Collagen can act as an antioxidant and fight the damage that is caused by free radicals. What causes free radicals? Free radicals are a result of stress or pollutants, smoking, poor diet, and alcohol, and these free radicals actually damage those hair follicles. So collagen makes up about 70% of the dermis. That's the middle layer of your skin that actually contains the root of each individual hair, and it provides elasticity and strength. And lastly, it is also very important to note that foods high in vitamin C help boost your body's natural collagen production. So eat your peppers, strawberries, Brussels sprouts, or oranges to get that vitamin C.

CAROLYN: That's right. Many people have heard the buzz about collagen powder, which promises to help everything from bones to joints to wrinkles and skin. And yes, even hair. So collagen works to unlock glycine, which is an amino acid, which is essential for moisturizing healthy skin, also supports the hair shaft, along with helping out our bones, our joints, supports our liver, helps with our skin and hair, and helps with sleep. So collagen is found in quality bone broth from grass-fed animals. That's actually the best source of collagen. I know it can be hard to keep up with that bone broth, but if you keep it cooking in your Crockpot for 24 hours, it is an awesome source of collagen because it also supplies us with key minerals such as magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and copper. And then we also do have a supplement called Whole Body Collagen that's a collagen powder from Designs For Health that we now carry, and one scoop supplies 12.5 grams of collagen, which is about what we need each day. About 10 to 15 grams is roughly needed. And for more information on collagen, Leah wrote a great article on collagen and put it on our blog from May 14.


CAROLYN: Welcome back to Dishing Up Nutrition. When new studies come out that we believe will have a major impact on our health, we like to share them with you. So a study recently from researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis has linked long-term use of drugs known as the proton pump inhibitors or PPIs to fatal cases of cardiovascular disease, chronic liver disease, and upper gastrointestinal cancer. The longer people took these drugs, the more their risk increased. So common brand names of these PPIs are like Prevacid, Prilosec, Pepcid, Zantac, Nervim, and Protonix. And this study actually followed 214,467 patients for 10 years. That's a good study. And found a 17% increased risk of death in the group who use these PPIs. The lead author of the study said, given the millions of people who take PPIs regularly, this translates into thousands of excess deaths every year. Heartburn is a nutrition problem that we can help reverse so you will no longer have to risk your life by taking a proton pump inhibitor medication of any sort. So take action today and call us at (651)699-3438 to set up your appointment. And JoAnn, I can't even tell you how many people who say, "Well I have a little heartburn." And I'm going, "Well, we're going to get rid of that." And I ask how often do you take these PPIs or Tums even, and they say, "Oh, well, you know, maybe four or five times a week." And some say, "Oh, I've been taking it for 20 years." I just, I go in a panic mode. This may not be a concern for you, but it's really high on my priority list.

JOANN: Absolutely. So we were talking about the lack of protein and the lack of collagen. Getting back to the hair loss topic that we're on, what is another nutrient deficiency that causes hair loss? Well, iron is the most common nutritional deficiency in general, and it's also a well-known cause of hair loss. So researchers are not sure of the actual mechanism of action by which iron impacts hair growth, but there's enough evidence out there that an iron deficiency affects hair growth.

CAROLYN: That's right. And I'm one of the teachers of our menopause survival seminar that we offer about every three or four months. While I was reading some research, I discovered that certain populations such as women in perimenopause are at a higher risk of developing an iron deficiency because of excessive blood loss during menstruation.

JOANN: Others who may be at risk of hair thinning or hair loss are people with gluten sensitivities, especially those with celiac disease or another auto immune disease called alopecia because these people usually have a nutrient malabsorption problem. And in this day and age, so many people have a problem with gluten and need extra nutritional education and support to learn exactly what foods will be beneficial to their hair health as well as their overall health and what foods will be detrimental.

CAROLYN: That's right. And I'm working with a couple of men currently who have an autoimmune condition called alopecia. So this can affect either men or women, but these two men I'm working with, they're dealing with chunks of hair falling out. So both are working also with a dermatologist. But in this case, because alopecia is auto immune, I know that we have to eliminate gluten, which is very strong with any autoimmune connection, right along with implementing a really solid anti-inflammation food plan, such as a Weight and Wellness eating plan which would include about 14 to 16 ounces of animal protein each day, men can go up to 20 ounces of protein. Including healthy fats is so important. Such as six tablespoons a day of either butter, coconut oil, olive oil, nuts, avocados, olives. Including healthy vegetable carbohydrates and a few fruits for the carbs and the antioxidants that people need. This anti-inflammation plan also includes reducing sugar, processed foods, and alcohol. And this can be a drastic change but is well worth it when you see the result of better hair growth. So next week on Dishing Up Nutrition, you'll hear Dar, Leah, and Britni discuss the food connection to autoimmune disease. So be sure to tune in again.

JOANN: One thing that we see quite often are people who are vegetarians or vegans. They're also at a higher risk for iron deficiency because of the lack of animal protein. So potentially they would be more at risk for hair thinning or hair loss. So we recommend they eat a diet containing animal protein. So it could be as simple as adding whey protein to a protein shake or adding eggs or other foods like that. Another risk for that iron deficiency which could result in hair thinning and hair loss is back to those acid blockers in those PPIs. I just mentioned iron actually needs an acidic ph level for absorption, and iron deficiency from whatever the cause seems to impact hair growth. So this iron deficiency, it could be from a lack of protein, a gluten sensitivity that interferes with absorption, could be from a heavy menstrual blood flow or as I just said, the acid blockers. So if you have an iron deficiency, you need to work really closely with your nutritionist to understand the cause of your thinning hair or hair loss and how to remedy it. And I'll just mention here that like your hemoglobin level, it should be between 12 and 15 if you're a woman, and 13.5 to 17.5 if you're a man, but sometimes your hemoglobin level is fine, but your ferritin level, which is your iron stores in your body, might be low. These ranges are really wide. Men are between 12 and 300 nanograms per milligram, and women 12 to 150, so that's quite large.

CAROLYN:That's right. So if you need to supplement with iron, we recommend a supplement called Reacted Iron from Ortho Molecular. It is a cheladed form of iron and is very well absorbed. This iron supplement seems to be free of the common side effects such as gas or bloating or constipation. It is easy to take but we recommend regular blood tests to monitor iron levels. So I think it's about time to take another break.

JOANN: They really rush up on us, don't they?

CAROLYN: This is going fast. You are listening to Dishing Up Nutrition. We are talking everything nutrition from heartburn to hair growth. This is a recent comment from a client who took our Nutrition 4 Weight Loss series. "Loved the class. I learned so much and my husband and I have lost weight. Me, 11 pounds, and he lost 30 pounds. We are both changing and we love it.”

JOANN: That's really good. I love to hear some of these stories from our clients and participants in our classes. It's always really, really great.

CAROLYN: It is great to hear those success stories and we hear a lot of them. So we'll be right back.

JOANN: Welcome back to Dishing Up Nutrition. In about one month we will be offering our Nutrition 4 Weight Loss series at all seven of our Nutritional Weight and Wellness locations. The classes are scheduled from July 23-October 8. We'll spend one hour of your time in class each week, and you can experience the results we hear all the time. This is a 12-week series. "It has changed my life," we've heard. "I feel so much better." So please call us and sign up at (651) 699-3438. If you call today you can enroll in our early bird special and save $50.

CAROLYN: Yes, that's always helpful. Before we talk about our next nutrient that helps with hair, I have another story about hair growth. I'd like to share Mary's story. I did check in with her yesterday to make sure I could use her name and she was happy to use her name, and also she's one of our teachers. She came into a meeting where several of us were meeting as a group of teachers and shared a picture of herself. She actually had two pictures. She shared a picture of herself with thinning hair and that was taken before she started eating the Weight and Wellness way. She was kind of new to the whole Weight and Wellness concept at that time and several years later she had another picture showing much thicker hair. So she was commenting on the difference. The food plan, the protein, the healing fats, and the supplements she takes all have helped her hair growth so much and it was just such an amazing difference.

JOANN: Yes, that's a great testimonial. One more nutrient that affects our hair growth is zinc. Zinc really plays an important role in hair tissue growth and repair. It also helps those all oil glands around the follicles to work properly. So the food source for zinc yet again is animal protein. Research has found that 73% of the population is currently deficient in zinc. That's a lot. I guess I thought it was a little bit lower than that, but I love it when we do this research and we find all these new numbers. Just one more reason that we should be eating protein for zinc. It's a really simple solution for several nutrient deficiencies to eat adequate amounts of protein because protein is loaded with key vitamins and minerals.

CAROLYN: So how do you manage to eat somewhere between 12 to 14 ounces for women and 16 to 20 ounces for men every day? Here are some suggestions for breakfast. Eat one or two eggs with two ounces of Turkey sausage and some spinach, all of that you can saute in some butter and maybe add a half a cup of fruit. Then for lunch, eat a steak salad, a handful of mixed greens, topped with two to four ounces of thinly sliced steak, a slice of hard cooked egg. Also an ounce of grated or sliced cheese, topped off with a half an avocado and some of your favorite veggies. Drizzle some of your homemade olive oil dressing over it and dig in. Doesn't that sound good?

JOANN: And then for dinner you could have four to six ounces of salmon, some asparagus and half a sweet potato and top both with some butter. All you listeners out there, I have a challenge for you. Have you ever actually weighed your cooked protein? I ask my clients this all the time. You need to see how much you're actually getting. So I encourage you and challenge you to start weighing that cooked protein. A lot of us know raw how much it is, but how much are we actually getting into our bodies?

CAROLYN: That's a really good challenge because so often I talk about that with all my clients too and I even say, if you're not going to weigh it every single time at least weigh it once in a while when you have time so that you really know what that looks like because it changes.

JOANN: I've been a dietitian for, as I said, over 30 years and I still have my original scale that I got when I was in school and I still do weigh things just to make sure I'm not gypping myself. So also we want to get into another frequently asked question about hair. Is it normal that I'm losing my hair? So with hair loss, maybe you wonder what exactly is normal and what is not. The average person loses up to a hundred strands of hair throughout a day, which is totally normal. Losing more than a hundred strands a day is not normal. So if you start seeing clumps of hair or quite a bit in the bottom of your shower or tub, if you're getting thinning hair or bald spots, we know that's not normal. Also, nutrition and diet play an important role in how much of your hair falls out and plugs up that shower drain.

CAROLYN: We've talked about five causes of critical nutrient malabsorption that may be the cause of your hair thinning or your hair loss. So when you cut your calories to lose weight, that's one of them. So you have fewer nutrients flowing to your scalp or perhaps you don't eat enough protein, which we know contains key amino acids that are important for healthy, strong body tissues, including our hair follicles.

JOANN: That's right. And you may have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity as we've talked about, that interferes with the absorption of vital nutrients. Or maybe you have an iron deficiency. Iron is so important because it supports the red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout your bloodstream. And without sufficient iron, blood flow becomes less oxygen-rich. And that can slow down hair growth. I always recommend to my clients to have their hemoglobin checked as well as their ferritin level. That's a measure of stored iron in your body. So it's more of a measure over time. Your ferritin level should be at least 70, but we know that people feel better when it is 75 or above. So if you have restless legs when you're trying to sleep, be sure you ask your medical practitioner to check your ferritin level. And I actually had that experience where my hemoglobin level was absolutely fine and it always was. And then I was talking to the nurse practitioner about restless legs and I take magnesium and I knew that was helping quite a bit. But she said, well, let's check your ferritin. And sure enough it was low.

CAROLYN: So if you are deficient in the mineral zinc, you may expire and be experiencing hair thinning and also hypo-thyroidism. We recommend that you take a zinc supplement, that is well-absorbed such as the Nutrikey Zinc, which is a zinc glycinate. You can take a quality zinc product for less than 25 cents a day. So we really recommend that you do that because 73% are deficient in zinc.

JOANN: And almost any nutrient deficiency can cause thinning or hair loss. We're going through quite a few this morning, but two vitamins I think are critical for hair growth are both vitamin D and vitamin E. Research shows that vitamin D helps to create new hair follicles, which are the tiny pores in your scalp where new hair can grow. And every cell in our body appears to have vitamin D receptors. So having adequate amounts of vitamin D is critical to the health of your hair and to your overall health.

CAROLYN: We've seen studies that show people with sufficient levels of vitamin D also have lower rates of heart disease, stroke, and cancer. It also helps for people that have maybe a tendency toward autoimmune disease to stave some of that off. The recommended vitamin D level is between 50 and 80. We believe it's best to have your vitamin D level tested yearly, and you will have to ask for that because the doctor is not going to bring that up. That's something I talk to my clients about every day. I think it's time for our last break. Time flies. You're listening to Dishing Up Nutrition. If you are concerned about hair loss, I recommend you sit down with one of our Weight and Wellness dietitians or nutritionists and get your individualized plan to restore your hair growth. Just like our bones, when we feed our bones the correct nutrients, they regrow and become strong. So feed your hair follicles the correct nutrients and your hair will regrow and become strong and healthy. Set up a two-hour nutrition appointment so you can start having those good hair days. Once again, call (651) 699-3438 and our staff will find a convenient appointment for you at a convenient location and they'll probably find exactly the right nutritionist or dietitian for you to see.


JOANN: Welcome back to Dishing Up Nutrition. Next week, please tune in to Dishing Up Nutrition to hear Dar, Britni, and Leah discuss the food connection to autoimmune diseases.

CAROLYN: JoAnn, I see that we have a caller today. Barb, welcome to the show.

CALLER: Thank you. I'm calling to ask a question for my daughter who I know when I have her listen to the podcast is going to be fiercely taking notes on this. And in addition to what you've said, what about things that cause temporary hair loss? For example, for the second time now she had this hair loss most recently to a surgery she had in December and she had the same sort of thing happen with a traumatic experience in college. So looking down the road, childbirth, those sorts of things are probably going to have that. So in addition to these changes she can make now, which I know she's open to, for people who have this kind of experience, can you build up in advanced or something you might anticipate and then for the recovery process?

JOANN: That's a great question. And that does tie in with what we talked about with times of extreme stress. So surgery would definitely be a time of stress. You did mention another time of stress. Yes, you can in advance build up your protein and just be very mindful of the amount of protein and by weighing it and really being careful with your protein and with your nutrients that you are getting enough. And yes, you can build that up ahead. We do have a supplement called Surgical Support, a formula for surgical and injury support. That is a very powerful support formula, but it does have MSM in it that helps with tissue healing. But then definitely everything we've talked about today can be done ahead of surgery and post-surgery.

CAROLYN: Eating the pattern that we talked about: protein, enough fat, and enough good vegetable carbohydrates. We can't emphasize that enough because you're never going to supplement your way out of a bad diet. So number one: eating the Nutritional Weight and Wellness way is probably the most important thing. But then listening to this podcast a few times to get all of the other things would be great. Well, thank you so much Barb for your call. And as JoAnn just mentioned, we were talking a little bit about vitamin D, but also vitamin E is another critical vitamin for hair growth. So you're wondering, does vitamin E really help with the hair growth? In fact, yes it does. One study found that people with hair loss experience a 34% increase in hair growth after just supplementing with vitamin E for eight months. Vitamin E is actually a very powerful antioxidant and that can prevent that oxidative stress in those free radicals. I take about 400 IUs daily, but my favorite foods to get vitamin E are avocados. I love avocados, almonds, and spinach.

JOANN: As you've heard today, sufficient nutrients are a must to have a good hair day. But two other key supplements I recommend for both hair growth and healthy skin are these essential fatty acids. Omega-3 fish oil, about three a day, and an activated Omega-6 called GLA, Gamma Linolenic Acid, and about three a day of those. Both of these fatty acids help to reduce inflammation and hydrate the body from the inside out. All of the supplements we mentioned today are available at each of our seven Nutritional Weight and Wellness locations or online at

CAROLYN: We haven't really talked too much yet about hair products and things like that. So I wanted to share my story. I had my struggles with my scalp, so it wasn't so much about thinning hair, it was about the health of my scalp. So a number of years ago, I developed these little sores on my scalp. I had no idea. They were just there all the time and they would be kind of itchy and I would scratch and then they would bleed. It was awful. But I started thinking maybe it's the shampoo or the products that I'm using. Lo and behold, I found out I have a sensitivity to sodium lauryl sulfate. And we find that a lot of people with hair thinning and balding or problems with their hair have this same sensitivity. Once I started using products without sodium lauryl sulfate, which is the foaming agent so all those shampoos have them in it, my problems with my scalp totally disappeared. I was just so ecstatic. I can't even tell you. So to this day, I don't use any products with sodium lauryl sulfate in them, but one of the resources that I wanted to share with our listeners today is the website from the environmental working group, EWG, and they have guides that will help empower people to live healthier lives and have a healthier environment. One of their guides is called Skin Deep and it's a database. It rates the safety of products. So I encourage our listeners today to go to that website. It's great. That's a great resource. I do have one more additional story to share about a few clients that I have worked with over time who lost their appetite after taking Ritalin. What's interesting is as we know, women always want to be a little thinner. And even though they didn't need to lose weight, either one of them, they became thinner. They were definitely not eating enough protein. They were definitely not eating healthy fats, probably the old low-fat mentality. And one of them said, my hair just started breaking off and she had to get her hair layered into a different style because it was not just thinning, but it was breaking off. What a huge difference in her hair. And I actually noticed that when I saw her. It was very interesting how much changed over the medication.

JOANN: Right. And we see a lot of clients with a hypothyroidism. One of the things that is always a clue, like before they have it diagnosed usually, is hair falling out in clumps. And we didn't really talk a lot about that. So I would encourage people to really look at their thyroid and take a full thyroid panel because you don't really know exactly what's going on with just one or two tests. One test is usually the typical TSH test, but we need like what we call a full thyroid panel. I can't even tell you how many clients I've had over the years that have said, "Oh, my hair's falling out and I don't know what's going on." Maybe they're a little bit tired or gaining weight or something like that. They really do need a full thyroid panel because quite often the doctor is going to take our TSH level and see that and say, "Oh, this is in the normal range." And it might be at the very top end of the normal range, which is not normal. I want to stress again the things that we recommend eating for hair thinning. Protein, so women 12 to 14 ounces, men, 16 to 20 ounces.

CAROLYN: And vitamin D, vitamin E, collagen, Omega-3 fatty acids, and Omega-6 and those essential fatty acids we don't get enough of in our food, and we need good healthy fats like avocados, olive oil, olives, nuts and seeds. Those are all good healthy fats. Coconut oil too.

JOANN: As you said earlier today, Carolyn, we cannot supplement our way out of a poor diet. And we've talked about a lot of supplements today but that does not diminish our need for healthy food. So if you are troubled with thinning hair or hair loss and want to do something about it, make an appointment with one of our dietitians or nutritionists from Weight and Wellness. Our goal at Nutritional Weight and Wellness is to help each and every person experience better health through eating real food. It's a simple yet powerful message. Eating real food is life changing.

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