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3 Ways Food Can Contribute to Hair Loss

By Taylor Weeks
Thinning hair? Your diet may be the culprit.

Hair loss is often caused by genetic factors. Androgenic alopecia, also called male or female pattern baldness, is a very common condition that is largely hereditary. But diet and nutrition can also contribute to increased hair loss. Below are foods, supplements, and eating habits that may contribute to hair loss in some people.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is described by the National Institutes of Health and Office of Dietary Supplements as a fat-soluble vitamin that is important for vision and proper organ function. But too much of this micronutrient present in the body, called vitamin A toxicity, can cause hair loss along with a number of other unpleasant symptoms. 

Case studies have noted vitamin A toxicity in people who had recently consumed fish liver or were taking high doses of vitamin A supplements. Acute and chronic forms of vitamin A toxicity present differently. Acute toxicity is associated with a rash, abdominal pain, and vomiting. The chronic form of the condition is the type most often associated with hair loss, along with dry, rough skin, and increased risk for bone fractures.

Selenium

Selenium is a trace element that is nutritionally essential for many cell and body processes. But like with vitamin A, consuming too much of this nutrient can cause health problems, including hair loss. Brazil nuts, certains types of seafood, and organ meats are particularly high in selenium, but it is found in smaller amounts in many different foods. Most cases of selenium toxicity occur in people who have consumed selenium supplements. 

According to the National Institutes of Health, the most common symptoms besides hair loss are nausea and vomiting, bad breath, nail discoloration, fatigue, and irritability.

Crash Dieting

Dramatically restricting your calorie intake means that you likely are not ingesting enough essential nutrients, like protein, fatty acids, and zinc. These deficiencies, especially if maintained over a period of time, can lead to a type of hair loss called telogen effluvium. The good news is that this condition is generally reversible, so adopting healthier, less restrictive eating habits will allow your hair to grow back.

Ultimately, too much – or not enough – of a good thing can affect your hair. And while hair health is certainly connected to dietary habits, Gabrielle Tafur, RD, LDN, a registered dietitian and clinical nutrition researcher, explains that it is “very difficult to provide direct cause and effect between variables” when it comes to nutrition. In general, she recommends that a balanced diet “rich in anti-inflammatory, plant-based foods” will provide the nutrients necessary to promote hair growth and prevent thinning.