Can low-carb diets result in hair loss?

Hair Loss on Low Carb

Is it possible to lose hair when starting a low-carb diet? Yes, and there are many misunderstandings and myths about it.

Here’s what you may need to know.

Temporary hair loss can occur for many different reasons, including any big dietary change. This is especially common when severely restricting calories (e.g. starvation diets, meal replacements) but it can also occasionally happen on low-carb diets.

If so, it usually starts 3-6 months after starting a new diet, at which point you’ll notice an increasing amount of hairs falling out when brushing your hair.

The good news is that even if you should be so unfortunate this is only a temporary phenomenon. And only a percentage of the hair will fall out (the thinning will rarely be very noticeable to others).

After a few months all the hair follicles will start to grow new hair, and when they have regrown your hair will be as thick as before again. Of course, if you have long hair this could take a year or even more.
 

Background

To understand exactly what is happening it’s necessary to know the basics of how hair grows.

Every single hair on your head usually grows for about 2-3 years at a time. After that it stops growing for up to 3 months. Then a new hair starts growing in the same hair follicle, pushing the old hair out.

Thus you’re losing hairs every day, but as the hairs are unsynchronized it’s not so noticeable. You lose one hair and another starts growing, i.e. you always have about the same number of hairs on your head.

Stress and synchronized hair loss

If your body experiences significant stress more hairs than usual can enter the resting phase at the same time. This can happen for many reasons, like these:

  • Starvation, including calorie-restricted diets and meal replacements
  • Diseases
  • Unusually demanding exercise
  • Pregnancy
  • Breast feeding
  • Nutrient deficiencies
  • Psychological stress
  • Any big diet change

Then as the new hairs start growing a few months later all these formerly resting hairs will fall out at almost the same time. This is called “telogen effluvium” in fancy medical terms (read more about it), and it’s relatively common.

What to do

If there was an obvious triggering factor 3-6 months before you noticed the problem – such as giving birth or transitioning to a strict low-carb diet – you don’t really have to do anything. In all likelihood the problem will be temporary.

As long as you eat a varied and nutritious low-carb diet it’s very unlikely that stopping it will speed up the hair regain, it will likely happen as quickly anyway. And unfortunately you can’t stop the hair loss from happening once it’s started, as the resting hairs will fall out no matter what you do.

It’s possible to run blood tests for nutrient deficiencies, but unless you are on a vegetarian or vegan diet (with no supplements of iron, B12) it’s unlikely that they will show anything interesting.

How to minimize the risk of hair loss when starting low carb

First, temporary hair loss is relatively rare after starting a low-carb diet, most people never notice anything like it.

There are no studies on how to minimize this small risk, but it’s likely helpful not to restrict calories, i.e. don’t do a low-carb and low-fat diet (AKA “starvation”). Instead eat as much fat as you need to feel satisfied and not hungry, an LCHF diet.

It may also be helpful to reduce other sources of stress during your first few weeks on low carb. Sleep well, be kind to yourself in general, and preferably don’t start an intense exercise program at the same time.

More

Read everything about possible side effects on low carb:

Low-carb side effects & how to cure them

Top 6 common problems when starting

Less common issues on low carb

 

Low-carb myths

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61 comments

  1. nonywaji
    A potassium deficiency, also called hypokalemia, can actually cause your hair to fall out. High-salt diets cause excess sodium accumulation around the hair follicles, preventing the absorption of vital nutrients required for healthy hair. This, in turn, causes hair loss. Increasing potassium intake will remove excess sodium and eliminate potassium deficiency and resulting hair loss.
    Hope this helps :)
  2. nonywaji
    very informative post keep it up
  3. naturalrizado.com
    This is really useful. I am going to see a dermatologist to rule out age-related hair loss (although not in my family) and if it proves to be linked to diet I will report back. Seems a big coincidence that it happened now though. Thanks for the link to the Ron Rosedale video - if he is genuine then it seems very possible I (all of us) may recover from this. Don't know if he is though?
  4. Randall
    I know this is an old post but I hope you haven't given up Dee. It sounds to me like you are doing all the right things. Although, I was reading on a reputable hair regrowth website (Harklinikken) that your hair requires ample protein to grow to perhaps limiting the cheese and other sources of protein is a factor in your hair loss and possibly your weight stall. My husband and I have been keto for almost 2 years. He has lost 50 lbs so far and I have lost 35 lbs. We both eat dairy and cheese. Our intermittent fasting consists of only eating from 12pm to 10pm (we don't eat breakfast). We eat plenty of protein. I have hair loss but he does not. That is why I was checking out the website I previously mentioned. My hair loss has not been temporary. Tanya
  5. Randall
    Her comment said to take "internally". So, probably a capsule or liquigel. ;-)
  6. 3 comments removed
  7. Nancy
    This hair loss has totally got me stressed (I know don't stress). My hair loss is mostly in the front on top :( Went to doctor, blood work was fine. Thinks I just "shocked" my system as about 4 months earlier, I started keto, stopped taking estrogen (52-post menopause), had a systemic allergic reaction that lasted 5 months and have lost 60 lbs. You tell me what caused it. I take a multi-vitamin, collagen and biotin. Now my doctor tells me to get some rogaine. Just not sure if I want to put rogaine on my head or not. My hair looks fried...not coloring or cutting at all. Washing only twice a week now because I'm afraid to touch it. Come on baby grow! Do you think I should start the rogaine or just wait it out? Hair loss does not run in my family for men or women.
  8. 1 comment removed
  9. alopeciaherabal
    We fully appreciate your post. The information you have given is very interesting and helpful. Will definitely bookmark it!
  10. Sophie Nigam
    Hey, valuable info you provide in your articles about Hair Loss.
  11. 1 comment removed
  12. Susanne
    Im not loosing my hair, but it is knotting at the back of my neck and breaking off. Has any one else experienced breakage?
  13. Brenna
    About 5 months into a ‘liberal low carb’ way of eating, I’ve lost 13 lb (my goal was to lose 11 lb) and I’ve been maintaining for nearly 2 months. I had noticed I was shedding a lot more hair than usual when I washed it, and I realized this is recent—within about 2 months or so. I eat a balanced diet, including a lot of veggies, but I avoid the bread, grains, and pasta, all of which used to be my dietary staple. I do eat some carbs now, mainly small portions of potato, sweet potato, rice, corn, and the occasional pizza. I eat a lot of vegetables and berries. I eat nuts and cheese. Not lacking in dairy. I started a multi-vitamin supplement about a month ago. I just purchased a strong Biotin supplement. I had no idea when I started low carb that hair loss might be a side effect, or I probably wouldn’t have done it. I had some shedding about 8 years ago after major surgery and it was terribly upsetting, so I would likely have avoided it. And I would likely be even heavier because nothing else was working.
    I will stick with the healthy eating and try the biotin, hoping this settles down. I had a lot of hair to start, so it’s not obvious. Yet.
  14. Mary
    Hi, did the biotin help?
  15. Siri
    I really appreciate this article! It's been hard to find much on this topic. I've been keto for 1 year and I'm turning 43 in a month. I've lost a stubborn 25 lbs and my arthritis has pretty much subsided which was a daily pain and kept me from exercising. I had long thick hair that I've never worried about. 3-4 months into Keto, I pulled my hair into a ponytail, I was left with a handful of hair. Then when ever I washed it, same. At 6 months in ketosis I brought it up with my doc and she said that any stress on the body can start this, not to worry and it'll sort its self out. (Side note- during pregnancy and after labor, I had a stint of hair loss but was told it was normal and I was so distracted by my baby that I never really cared- but it seemed to be only a few months then, stopped). I also spoke with my hairdresser who said people don't realize how much hair we normally lose...
    Anyway, I started taking different hair formula supplements at 7 months (any suggestions of what's worked for you would be appreciated) and am still waiting for a slowdown. I have noticed that I have lots of breakage and/or baby hairs... I can't tell which. Do I quit Keto in place of having a head of hair?? If I return to carbs, will that too shock my system? Any more ideas?
    My current plan is to go 14 months keto (a year from the start of hair loss) and see if it stops...
    Thanks for all of your ideas!!
    Reply: #69
  16. 1 comment removed
  17. Kristin Parker Team Diet Doctor

    I really appreciate this article! It's been hard to find much on this topic. I've been keto for 1 year and I'm turning 43 in a month. I've lost a stubborn 25 lbs and my arthritis has pretty much subsided which was a daily pain and kept me from exercising. I had long thick hair that I've never worried about. 3-4 months into Keto, I pulled my hair into a ponytail, I was left with a handful of hair. Then when ever I washed it, same. At 6 months in ketosis I brought it up with my doc and she said that any stress on the body can start this, not to worry and it'll sort its self out. (Side note- during pregnancy and after labor, I had a stint of hair loss but was told it was normal and I was so distracted by my baby that I never really cared- but it seemed to be only a few months then, stopped). I also spoke with my hairdresser who said people don't realize how much hair we normally lose...
    Anyway, I started taking different hair formula supplements at 7 months (any suggestions of what's worked for you would be appreciated) and am still waiting for a slowdown. I have noticed that I have lots of breakage and/or baby hairs... I can't tell which. Do I quit Keto in place of having a head of hair?? If I return to carbs, will that too shock my system? Any more ideas?
    My current plan is to go 14 months keto (a year from the start of hair loss) and see if it stops...
    Thanks for all of your ideas!!

    Most people find that the weight loss stops or slows down as weight loss slows down. If your hair loss does not stop, definitely work with your doctor as there may be other causes at play.

  18. Janine
    I did banting and lost 20kgs and totally understand the hair loss comments - mine after 2 years of stopping banting has still not fully grown back at the top of my head & I used to have super thick hair.....it still grows incredably fast where there is hair - my hair dresser said the hair loss is due to the lack of carbs.
  19. Michelle
    I've been keto for 14 months and have lost alot of hair (also lost 50 lbs) . I have thin fine hair but not alot of it but anymore. My blood work was impeccable and my skeptical doctor was surprised ;) my only complaint is the hair loss. I take a multi supplement most days and even took biotin for awhile but I still have a thin head of hair now. Turning 51 later this year and I hope I can stop hair thinning without having to resort to a chemical on my head. I dont get my hair colored or anything like that. Its become so thin I went to a pixie type cut because it actually made me look better. When I had more hair I could wear long or medium hair no problem. If my bloodwork is normal, BMI normal now why is my hair still thinning?
    Reply: #72
  20. Kerry Merritt Team Diet Doctor

    I've been keto for 14 months and have lost alot of hair (also lost 50 lbs) . I have thin fine hair but not alot of it but anymore. My blood work was impeccable and my skeptical doctor was surprised ;) my only complaint is the hair loss. I take a multi supplement most days and even took biotin for awhile but I still have a thin head of hair now. Turning 51 later this year and I hope I can stop hair thinning without having to resort to a chemical on my head. I dont get my hair colored or anything like that. Its become so thin I went to a pixie type cut because it actually made me look better. When I had more hair I could wear long or medium hair no problem. If my bloodwork is normal, BMI normal now why is my hair still thinning?

    It could possibly be related to not eating enough. https://www.dietdoctor.com/low-carb/controversies#hair
    If it continues, you may want to see your doctor for more testing.

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