Keto Hair Loss: Causes and Remedies

Moving to a ketogenic diet can be a very exciting time.

In fact, it might be the very first time you have ever been able to lose a significant amount of weight on a weight-loss diet.

This is because keto uses up your carbohydrate stores and places you in the state of Nutritional Ketosis, which makes it easier to eat at a calorie deficit.

Excess hunger and cravings for less nutritious food often completely disappear on the keto diet.

No one knows exactly why this is, but one theory suggests that it might be the reduction in insulin. Other experts believe it is an increase in protein or healthy fats.

Regardless of the reason why hunger reduces, eating less can result in faster weight loss, but lowering your carbs too much for an extended period of time can also affect your stress-related hormones.

Both fast weight loss and stress can result in hair loss on keto.

Hair loss can be very disturbing, but it isn’t something that you need to be overly concerned about, unless you have a medical condition, such as thyroid issues, undiagnosed gluten intolerance, or alopecia areata.

Most of the time, the reasons for hair loss can be easily corrected.

You just have to find the trigger before you can start to address a solution.

What Causes Hair Loss on the Keto Diet?

There are a several causes for hair loss that can affect those on a low-carb diet:

  • telogen effluvium
  • severe stress
  • poor diet choices
  • fast weight loss
  • medications
  • autoimmune disease
  • thyroid issues
  • surgery
  • heavy metal toxicity
  • iron deficiency
  • mineral imbalances
  • gluten intolerance
  • very low carb intake
  • too little or too much dietary fat
  • not enough protein

Many of the above conditions can be remedied or reversed by either correcting the problem or just waiting it out.

And while waiting it out may sound like a frustrating situation, if the problem is simply telogen effluvium, that’s the best plan of action because telogen effluvium is a temporary situation.

Telogen effluvium is when hair loss occurs after a stressful situation, a sudden shock, or some type of trauma.

The hair growth cycle stops in order to cope with the situation.

Hair Growth Cycle

The hair growth cycle happens to everyone, and that includes hair loss — but to a much lesser degree than it does for those who are under severe stress or recently underwent some type of trauma in their life.

The growth cycle for hair is divided into three stages:

  1. Anagen is the growth stage.
  2. Catagen is the transition stage.
  3. Telogen is the resting stage.

The anagen stage is where new hair growth begins. The catagen stage is a resting state.

The telogen stage is where hair actually falls out.

In the average person, up to 14 percent of your hair is in the telogen stage at any one time and up to 2 percent is in the catagen state.

At the telogen stage, hair actually falls out so it can be replaced with new hair strands. This occurs in a regular 6 month cycle.

If you are under stress, however, the first two stages go into a dormant condition.

This means new hair won’t replace the old hair that is falling out, so hair loss on keto can be more noticeable than it otherwise would be.

Keto Diet, Stress and Hair Fall

When you severely restrict your carbohydrate intake, your body has to find a new way of getting the blood glucose your brain needs to survive.

While there are plenty of back up choices that the body can make to get the glucose it needs on keto, the lack of carbs is interpreted by the body to be a famine situation.

This increases your cortisol level, a hormone that helps the body acquire the alternative fuel sources it needs.

In the average person, this is an intermittent situation.

But when you go keto, your cortisol levels will be elevated more consistently in order to provide the body with alternative sources of fuel, such as pyruvate, lactic acid, glucogenic amino acids, and the glycerol backbone attached to triglycerides.

If the body sees your diet as life threatening, it might shut down systems that are not important to survival, such as the hair growth cycle.

This seems to be a lot more common in dieters who choose to stay beneath 20-net carbs for an extended period of time, but in some individuals, it can happen very quickly.

Especially, if you are a yo-yo dieter that has gone on and off a low-carb diet quite a bit over your lifetime.

How to Cure Hair Loss on the Keto Diet?

The first step is always to identify the cause of why you’re losing your hair. This includes going to the doctor for a full check up. You’ll want to rule out:

  • thyroid issues
  • potential gluten intolerance
  • alopecia areata (permanent hair loss)
  • autoimmune diseases, like celiac disease
  • vitamin or mineral deficiencies, like iron or electrolytes
  • heavy metal toxicity
  • medications

Once you make sure that the problem isn’t a medical condition, you can begin to address the other possibilities.

Below are three strategies for reversing your hair loss:

1. Increase your protein intake

Not eating enough protein never used to be a problem among ketogenic dieters until Nutritional Ketosis became one of the more popular low-carb diets used today.

Most people who claim to be doing low-carb high-fat are not doing Nutritional Ketosis correctly.

Many are listening to myths, rumors, and bloggers online instead of taking their information from Dr. Phinney, the author of The Art and Science of Low-Carbohydrate Living.

Dr. Phinney is the person who actually coined the phrase Nutritional Ketosis and created that diet for endurance athletes.

In The Art and Science of Low-Carbohydrate Living, Dr. Phinney recommends that you eat about 15 to 25 percent of your maintenance calories in high quality protein sources, which is much higher than the 50 grams of protein that most women on keto are consuming today.

The movement to dramatically slash protein consumption is for those who’ve been doing keto for a long time and stalled, or are sensitive to protein foods.

If you are sensitive to protein foods, you can have a larger insulin reaction than normal when you eat large amounts of protein at one time.

Typically, it’s best to eat about 0.8 grams of protein per pound of lean body mass that you have.

For an average dieter, with 90 pounds of lean body mass, that comes to a minimum of 72 grams of protein.

This isn’t the maximum you should eat, just the minimum.

If you don’t eat enough protein, which is needed to replace your old hair that naturally falls out, the hair growth cycle can dramatically slow down or completely stop.

To fix the problem, you simply up your protein intake with protein bars or shakes to a more healthy 72 to 90 grams per day.

2. Consume More Dietary Fat

Dietary fats are used to dial in your calorie deficit.

They are not a free-for-all on keto, like many dieters believe. Dr. Phinney has said this a number of times, but it seems to be ignored quite a bit.

Ketogenic diets are very low in carbs, which is why the fat content of your diet is higher than a typical well-balanced diet.

However, the amount of fat you eat consistently must be lower than what you need to maintain your current weight, so the body will be forced to use its body-fat stores to compensate.

Eating too little fat, however, can be stressful on the body because you’ll begin to lose weight too fast.

Many dieters want the drastic weight loss they see during the first couple of weeks to continue throughout the weight loss phase, and that just isn’t healthy.

When you lose weight too fast, your hair can begin to fall out.

The body doesn’t understand dieting. It sees the deprivation of calories as a famine and begins to adapt to that lack of calories right away.

The body’s goal during deprivation is to bring the calories you eat back into balance with the calories needed to function every day. That’s its top priority.

One adaptation the body might make in order to do that is to shut down the growth cycle of your hair. You don’t need hair to survive, so fast weight loss can upset the body to the point where it starts to put on the brakes.

If the cause of your hair loss is eating too little fat, and therefore, too few calories, you’ll need to bring your deficit back up into something that is more realistic.

Correcting the problem is simply upping your fat intake to make your calorie deficit no larger than 25 percent of your current calorie needs.

And yes, that’s a maximum.

3. Eat more carbs

Most people on keto today are eating 20-net carbs or less.

This is generally fine for those who have just started keto, because you want to get into ketosis fast, but for some individuals, eating up to 20-net carbs for an extended length of time can be too stressful on the body.

Especially, if you’re eating closer to zero, which a lot of dieters are.

This extremely low level of carbohydrate intake raises your cortisol level, in order to provide alternative glucose sources, so the fewer carbohydrates you eat, the more protein you have to eat to compensate for the lack of glucose.

Protein is where the body gets the amino acids it needs to make glucose, when other alternative sources of glucose are not available.

So, if you’re eating lower protein and very low carbs, this can result in hair loss because you’re double-stressing the body.

Try raising your carbs up to a healthier 35- to 45-net and see if the hair loss stops.

Most people need more than 20-net carbs per day to keep the body content.

Final Thoughts

Hair loss on keto is quite common, due to the stress that it places on the body.

The trick to making a ketogenic diet work for you is to find the appropriate level of protein, fats, and carbohydrate intake that will enable you to feel your best.

While beginning at 20-net carbs per day can help give you a moral boost when you first start dieting, and get you into ketosis quickly, staying too low in carbs can actually backfire on you.

Also, pay attention to the potential for being gluten sensitive. Many low-carb dieters who decide to eat off plan will have violent reactions to wheat-based foods.

In addition, not all low-carb foods are gluten free.

If you’re sensitive to wheat or gluten, this can also cause your hair to fall out.

This is why if you’re experiencing drastic hair loss, you need to seek out the advice of a medical professional.

Don’t just assume that your condition is caused by telogen effluvium just because it’s spoken of within low-carb circles more than the other causes of hair loss.

Investigate all possibilities before deciding on the best course of action for you.

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