While it’s not life threatening, I’ve never heard of anyone who was particularly happy to lose hair (and it certainly limits your options for hair styles).
Yet it’s very common, especially in women.
In a sample of 1820 women, 33.8% woman reported some level of hair loss.
Studies have also shown that it becomes more common as you get older (specifically over 40 years old).
Research has also found that you’re at an even higher risk of hair loss if you’re vegan (or vegetarian), just because vegans are more likely to be deficient in certain important nutrients like iron.
Now hair loss isn’t something that’s fully understood at this point in time, but we do know some causes.
I dug into the research to first find what causes hair loss, and then what a vegan should do to prevent hair loss (or minimize the chance).
What Causes Hair Loss?
There are 2 main causes of hair loss: genetics and nutrition.
We have no control over genetics (which typically presents as pattern hair loss), but we do have control over our diet.
Over time, deficiencies in many nutrients have been suspected of causing hair loss:
- Omega 3 fatty acids
- Amino acids (L-lysine in particular)
I’m going to break them down one-by-one to see if the science actually supports the claims.
Can a Zinc Deficiency Cause Hair Loss?
For a long time, a lack of zinc has been said to cause hair loss.
According to a robust study by Rushton, there is no concrete evidence that there’s any correlation between zinc intake and hair loss.
At worst, zinc only plays a minor role in healthy hair and any hair loss.
If you want to be on the safe side, here are the best vegan food sources of zinc.
Can an Iron Deficiency Cause Hair Loss?
Another mineral deficiency often said to contribute to hair loss is iron.
And the science supports that claim: An iron deficiency is linked to hair loss.
This is especially important for women, as they require even more iron in their diet than men.
The tricky thing about iron here is that other studies have shown that iron deficiency is only strongly linked to certain types of hair loss, particularly female pattern hair loss.
You still obviously don’t want to be deficient, but there are other factors to consider as well. If you’re interested, here is a post about the best vegan sources of iron, and a summary of the best vegan iron supplements.
So let’s continue.
L-lysine Deficiencies Can Cause Hair Loss (Common for Vegans)
A severe lack of certain amino acids can contribute to hair loss, but none more than l-lysine, one of the essential amino acids.
In the same study linked above (Rushton), he found that there was a strong correlation between a lack of l-lysine in the diet, and hair loss.
A study of Indian participants found similar (while also finding that zinc had no association with hair loss).
L-lysine is used in the body to help absorb nutrients like iron and zinc. Without enough of it, taking supplements that contain iron won’t actually help your body absorb more iron.
In another study, researchers found that a group of women with alopecia (a type of hair loss) who were treated with l-lysine supplements didn’t require any additional iron in their diet to reduce hair loss.
This is particularly important for vegans, because it’s much harder to get l-lysine.
The best plantbased sources of l-lysine are legumes, like:
- Pretty much any other type of bean
You can use a free food tracker like Cronometer to track how much lysine you’re actually getting.
How Omega 3 Fatty Acids Affect Hair Loss
Several studies have shown the importance of omega 3 fats when it comes to hair health.
In one study, 60 female participants used omega 3 and 6 supplements for 6 months. Another 60 used a placebo as a control group.
By the end of the 6 months, the group with the omega 3 and 6 supplements had a reduction of hair loss (89.9% of subjects), and also an improvement in hair density and diameter (87.3% and 86.1% respectively).
Omega 6 fatty acids are easy to get on almost any diet. Most people consume way too much as it is.
But omega 3 fats are harder to come by, especially on a vegan diet, and important for healthy hair.
You can use a supplement, or refer to this list of the best vegan omega 3 sources. The best plantbased foods include:
- Chia seeds
- Hemp seeds
Will Vegan Supplements Prevent Hair Loss?
If you’re worried about hair loss, should you start eating 20 multivitamins and supplements a day?
Our good friend Rushton (from the study mentioned above) also found that consuming too many nutritional supplements can actually increase the risk of hair loss.
The most likely reason for this is because too much of one vitamin or mineral can reduce the absorption of another.
For example, if the ratio of iron to zinc is equal, iron won’t be absorbed well. The ideal ratio is around 3 to 1.
Supplements can absolutely help you, but only if you have a deficiency that needs to be corrected. Otherwise they can actually hurt.
Here’s a list of the best vegan multivitamins if you’d like recommendations.
Summary: The Best Way to Prevent Hair Loss as a Vegan
After reviewing several studies, there are 3 nutritional deficiencies legitimately correlated to hair loss and poor hair health:
- Iron – directly causes hair loss
- L-lysine – affects absorption of iron
- Omega 3 fatty acids – affects hair density
All 3 can be difficult to get on a vegan diet if you’re not careful.
If you’re interested in preventing hair loss, I strongly recommend tracking your diet for a short time period and making sure that you’re consuming enough of all 3 of those nutrients.
If you find that you may have a nutritional deficiency in any of them, find a way to get more.
Ideally, you do this by adding foods rich in the nutrient to your diet, but getting an omega 3 or iron supplement is also a valid option.