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Do Certain Foods Help Prevent Alopecia? An Expert Weighs In

By Taylor Weeks
Medically Reviewed by Jennifer T. Haley, MD, FAAD on November 18, 2020
Find out if it’s possible to prevent alopecia with the right food choices.

Alopecia is the medical term for hair loss. It can have a variety of causes including genetics, hormonal changes, and stress. Another possible culprit is your diet. 

Alopecia and Diet: What You Should Know

“Our hair is deeply connected to our dietary habits,” Gabrielle Tafur, RD, LDN, a registered dietitian and clinical nutrition researcher, tells WebMD Connect to Care. Tafur says that when you don't get enough calories or eat a wide-enough variety of foods, you might not be getting enough of certain vitamins and minerals that are important for hair health. These deficiencies can cause hair thinning and hair loss.

Your doctor or dermatologist can do a blood test to find out if you’re low on key nutrients, the American Academy of Dermatology says. Vitamins and minerals that have been linked to hair health include:

Iron. Being low on this mineral can lead to hair loss, the American Academy of Dermatology says. According to the Mayo Clinic, low iron can also bring on a condition called iron deficiency anemia, which means you don’t have enough healthy red blood cells. Hair loss can be a symptom of this condition, the American Society of Hematology says. 

The society adds that if you’re a vegan or vegetarian, you’re at higher risk for an iron deficiency since red meat and poultry are good sources of this nutrient. According to the American Red Cross, other foods rich in iron include: 

  • Dark, leafy greens (like spinach, kale, and collards) 
  • Seafood (like shrimp, tuna, and sardines)
  • Beans
  • Whole wheat bread
  • Dried fruit

Zinc. If you’re low on this mineral, your symptoms could include hair loss, Harvard Medical School says.

You can get zinc from foods like:

  • Red meat
  • Poultry
  • Beans and nuts
  • Whole grains

Fatty acids.Tafur says that fatty acids, like omega-3s, are important for general hair health, hydration and shine. Studies summarized in a 2017 review in the journal Practical and Conceptual Dermatology also show that a fatty acid deficiency can cause hair loss. 

Tafur recommends these foods for omega-3s: 

  • Walnuts
  • Chia seeds 
  • Wild cold-water fish 

Biotin. It’s rare to be low on this vitamin. If you do develop a biotin deficiency, you may have hair loss. 

Foods that have small amounts of biotin include:

  • Whole eggs (not egg whites only)
  • Milk
  • Bananas

Even though biotin is a common ingredient in over-the-counter hair supplements, the Practical and Conceptual Dermatology review says there isn’t much evidence to indicate that biotin supplements will improve hair health if you don’t have a biotin deficiency.

Protein.It’s essential for a healthy body and healthy hair. In fact, a protein called keratin is the main component of each strand of hair. If you don’t get enough protein, that can lead to hair loss, the American Academy of Dermatology says. 

Some heart-healthy protein sources are: 

  • Legumes 
  • Nuts 
  • Low-fat dairy products
  • Lean poultry 

It also may be possible for you to lose hair if you get too much of certain nutrients. The American Academy of Dermatology says overdoing it on these nutrients is linked to hair loss:

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin E 
  • Selenium 

The academy doesn’t say you should avoid foods with these nutrients. It says the risk to your hair can come from taking supplements. That’s why you should always talk to your doctor or dermatologist before you try a new supplement or cut out healthy foods from your diet.  

Don’t Wait. Get Help Today.

The sooner you address the symptoms of hair loss, the more likely you are to prevent irreversible damage. Speak to a medical professional today to begin your journey to a fuller head of hair.