A well-planned vegan diet based mainly on whole and minimally processed plant foods is associated with numerous health benefits, including lower risks of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and some cancers, to name a few.
So why do some people start losing their hair when following a vegan diet? Is there a link between hair loss and vegan diets?
While vegan diets themselves are not a direct cause of hair loss, a vegan diet that is not planned well may lead to hair loss.
Will being vegan make me lose my hair?
Vegan diets are not a direct cause of hair loss. Hair loss is a common problem that also affects individuals who do not follow vegan, vegetarian, or plant-based eating patterns.
As we’ll discuss below, nutrition-related hair loss after going vegan would most likely be due to a poorly-planned vegan diet that does not provide an optimal amount of certain nutrients. A healthy, well-planned vegan eating pattern is not expected to cause hair loss.
Why might a vegan diet cause hair loss?
While there are many potential causes of hair loss (such as stress, thyroid dysregulation, or genetics), vegan diets that are deficient or too high in certain nutrients may lead to hair loss.
The role of vitamins and minerals in hair loss is currently not very clear. This is because there aren’t many high-quality, randomized controlled trials conducted on this topic. I have summarized what is known below.
Vitamin or mineral deficiency
Evidence suggests vitamin D1 supplementation may help people with hair loss who have a diagnosed vitamin D deficiency2, but doesn’t suggest supplementation for people who are not deficient3.
Vegan foods high in vitamin D are limited to irradiated mushrooms and some non-dairy milks and vegan cereals which have had vitamin D added to them, so it can be challenging to get enough vitamin D from food alone. Sunlight is another important source of vitamin D.
If you’re worried that you have a vitamin D deficiency, it’s best to consult your physician and have your vitamin D levels tested.
The link between iron deficiency and hair loss4 is still being debated by experts. Hair loss is commonly reported by individuals with iron deficiency, but the effectiveness of iron supplements in improving hair loss is not consistent. This isn’t to say that an iron supplement won’t help if you’re iron deficient – just that it may or may not help reduce hair loss.
Fortunately, vegan diets can provide enough iron. The best vegan sources of iron include blackstrap molasses, tempeh, tofu, beans, and legumes. While not as well-absorbed as iron from animal foods, pairing plant-based foods high in iron with foods high in vitamin C (like fruit, bell peppers, broccoli, or potatoes) helps increase how much iron we can absorb.
Zinc intake can be lower in vegan diets, but deficiencies are actually quite rare – it’s possible that the body can actually adapt to accommodate lower zinc intakes5. The relationship between low zinc levels in the blood and hair loss is not clear, as not all people with a zinc deficiency experience hair loss.
It is also unclear how helpful zinc supplements are for reversing hair loss, although they are likely most helpful for people who have an actual zinc deficiency.
This idea is supported by two different studies. One study6 found that zinc supplements in people with hair loss and who were zinc deficient helped improve hair growth, but a double-blind study7 in people with hair loss who were not zinc deficient found that zinc supplementation did not help improve hair growth.
Be cautious of taking a zinc supplement if you do not have a diagnosed deficiency, since excess zinc builds up in the body and can cause symptoms of toxicity, such as nausea, vomiting, and fatigue. Too much zinc8 can also interfere with the body’s ability to absorb iron and copper.
Make sure to eat plenty of foods high in zinc, some of which include vegan baked beans, pumpkin seeds, chickpeas, oats, cashews, hemp hearts, almonds, 100% whole grain bread, and fortified cereals.
While vegan diets typically provide enough folate, pregnant vegans who don’t get enough folate through their diet or who don’t take a folic acid supplement may become deficient. Individuals suffering from alcoholism or who struggle to eat enough calories may also become deficient.
An iodine deficiency can lead to hair loss since iodine plays an important role in supporting the thyroid gland. Iodine deficiency can lead to hypothyroidism, a condition that has been linked to hair loss9.
Iodine is not often discussed in relation to vegan diets, but vegan diets can be quite low in iodine. This is because foods with the most iodine tend to be animal-based, such as milk and some seafood.
Some plant-based foods such as seaweed and kelp naturally contain iodine, but the amounts of iodine they contain can vary drastically. Because of this, they aren’t considered to be reliable sources of iodine.
Fortunately, vegans can get enough iodine in their diets by cooking with a half teaspoon of iodized salt per day. Although sea salt and Himalayan pink salt are popular choices, they do not contain iodine unless otherwise labeled as being iodized. If you choose not to use iodized salt or don’t cook enough to use a half teaspoon per day, an iodine supplement is recommended.
You may have noticed a theme here – supplements may be helpful in improving hair growth for people who have a deficiency in these specific nutrients, but taking a supplement when you do not have an actual deficiency is not likely to be of much help and is not supported by the scientific evidence available at this time.
Another vitamin that may be lacking in a poorly planned vegan diet is vitamin B12, but so far having a vitamin B12 deficiency has not been associated10 with hair loss.
Over-supplementing certain vitamins or minerals
Interestingly, supplementing too much of some vitamins and minerals can also lead to hair loss. It’s a common belief that “more is more” when it comes to these nutrients, leading many people to take supplements when they aren’t really necessary.
When taken in excess, vitamin A, vitamin E, and selenium have all been linked11 to hair loss.4 Fortunately, vegans typically get enough vitamin A (as beta-carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A) and vitamin E, so supplementation is not necessary.
On the other hand, selenium12 can be low in vegan diets13. Vegans can get enough selenium in their diets and avoid having to supplement by eating plant-based foods high in selenium. The best vegan sources of selenium are Brazil nuts, brown rice, whole wheat bread, baked beans, and oatmeal.
Not getting enough essential fatty acids
It’s also possible that a deficiency in essential fatty acids14 can contribute to hair loss. There are two types of essential fatty acids: omega-6 and omega-3. Omega-6 fats are found in many plants and vegetable oils, and a deficiency in these fats is extremely rare since they are so abundant in the food supply.
Vegans typically don’t need to worry about not eating enough omega-6 fats, unless they are following a very low-fat diet such as a fruitarian diet.
Adequate amounts of omega-3 fats, however, are a little harder to get in the diet. There are three types of omega-3s: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which comes from plants, and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), which come from animal sources. All three have important health benefits.
The body can convert ALA to DHA and EPA, but the amount is quite small. Therefore, it’s recommended that vegans get even more ALA than omnivores (3.1 grams for women and 3.6 grams for men per day) to make up for the small conversion rate. If you can’t get enough from food alone, it’s recommended to take an algae-based DHA and EPA supplement.
For vegans, the best food sources of ALA include flax seeds and flax seed oil, walnuts and walnut oil, perilla oil, chia seeds, hemp hearts, canola oil, and soybean oil.
Not eating enough protein
Severe protein deficiency from a low protein diet is another nutritional factor that can cause hair loss since protein is the major building block for hair.4
While vegan diets are capable of providing more than enough protein, vegan diets that are not balanced and that don’t include enough higher-protein foods like beans, legumes, soy foods, whole grains, and nuts can lead to low protein intake and poor hair health.
Subsets of veganism that are more restrictive, like raw veganism or fruitarians, are most at risk for protein deficiency.
Proteins are made up of smaller molecules called amino acids. Supplementation with a specific amino acid called lysine, when combined with iron, has been associated with improvement in hair loss, which may be due to its helpful role in increasing the body’s absorption of iron and zinc.14
However, it’s not clear whether taking a lysine supplement would be helpful for hair loss when getting enough protein in the diet.
Too few calories overall
If you’re losing hair on a vegan diet, you may not be eating enough calories or food overall. This can lead to deficiencies in the specific nutrients we have discussed in this post. If this is the case, you may need to eat a larger amount of food or include higher-calorie foods in your diet.
Check out my Ultimate List of Vegan High Calorie Foods for ways to get more calories on a vegan diet!
Other considerations for hair loss
Diet is not the only potential reason for losing hair. There are numerous medical conditions15 and medications which can contribute to hair loss, as can significant physical4 and emotional stress16.
What to do if you’re losing hair on a vegan diet
If you’re experiencing hair loss and following a vegan diet, speak with your physician and/or dermatologist to see whether it may be due to a medical condition. A registered dietitian can assess your diet for nutritional deficiencies and help you plan balanced vegan meals.
Hair loss has many potential causes, from medical conditions to nutrition to stress.
To prevent hair loss on a vegan diet, proper nutrition is key. While a well-planned, balanced vegan diet shouldn’t cause hair loss, a vegan diet that is lacking in certain vitamins, minerals, omega-3 fats, protein, or calories might.
If you’re experiencing hair loss, be sure to speak with your physician and other healthcare professionals. If nutrition is suspected to be a cause, a registered dietitian can assess your diet for potential deficiencies.
- Lee S, Kim BJ, Lee CH, Lee WS. Increased prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in patients with alopecia areata: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. 2018 Jul;32(7):1214-1221. doi: 10.1111/jdv.14987. Epub 2018 May 18. PMID: 29633370.
- Gade VKV, Mony A, Munisamy M, Chandrashekar L, Rajappa M. An investigation of vitamin D status in alopecia areata. Clin Exp Med. 2018 Nov;18(4):577-584. doi: 10.1007/s10238-018-0511-8. Epub 2018 Jun 4. PMID: 29869122.
- Thompson JM, Li T, Park MK, Qureshi AA, Cho E. Estimated serum vitamin D status, vitamin D intake, and risk of incident alopecia areata among US women. Arch Dermatol Res. 2016 Nov;308(9):671-676. doi: 10.1007/s00403-016-1687-y. Epub 2016 Sep 23. PMID: 27664090.
- Lin RL, Garibyan L, Kimball AB, Drake LA. Systemic causes of hair loss. Ann Med. 2016 Sep;48(6):393-402. doi: 10.1080/07853890.2016.1180426. Epub 2016 May 5. PMID: 27145919.
- Melina V, Craig W, Levin S. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2016 Dec;116(12):1970-1980. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2016.09.025. PMID: 27886704.
- Park H, Kim CW, Kim SS, Park CW. The therapeutic effect and the changed serum zinc level after zinc supplementation in alopecia areata patients who had a low serum zinc level. Ann Dermatol. 2009 May;21(2):142-6. doi: 10.5021/ad.2009.21.2.142. Epub 2009 May 31. PMID: 20523772; PMCID: PMC2861201.
- Ead RD. Oral zinc sulphate in alopacia areata-a double blind trial. Br J Dermatol. 1981 Apr;104(4):483-4. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2133.1981.tb15323.x. PMID: 7016162.
- Fosmire GJ. Zinc toxicity. Am J Clin Nutr. 1990 Feb;51(2):225-7. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/51.2.225. PMID: 2407097.
- Rajendrasingh Rajput (2018) A Scientific Hypothesis on the Role of Nutritional Supplements for Effective Management of Hair Loss and Promoting Hair Regrowth. J Nutrition Health Food Sci 6(3):1-11 DOI: 10.15226/jnhfs.2018.001132
- Almohanna HM, Ahmed AA, Tsatalis JP, Tosti A. The Role of Vitamins and Minerals in Hair Loss: A Review. Dermatol Ther (Heidelb). 2019 Mar;9(1):51-70. doi: 10.1007/s13555-018-0278-6. Epub 2018 Dec 13. PMID: 30547302; PMCID: PMC6380979.
- Guo EL, Katta R. Diet and hair loss: effects of nutrient deficiency and supplement use. Dermatol Pract Concept. 2017 Jan 31;7(1):1-10. doi: 10.5826/dpc.0701a01. PMID: 28243487; PMCID: PMC5315033.
- Fallon N, Dillon SA. Low Intakes of Iodine and Selenium Amongst Vegan and Vegetarian Women Highlight a Potential Nutritional Vulnerability. Front Nutr. 2020 May 20;7:72. doi: 10.3389/fnut.2020.00072. PMID: 32509798; PMCID: PMC7251157.
- Bakaloudi DR, Halloran A, Rippin HL, Oikonomidou AC, Dardavesis TI, Williams J, Wickramasinghe K, Breda J, Chourdakis M. Intake and adequacy of the vegan diet. A systematic review of the evidence. Clin Nutr. 2021 May;40(5):3503-3521. doi: 10.1016/j.clnu.2020.11.035. Epub 2020 Dec 7. PMID: 33341313.
- Rushton DH. Nutritional factors and hair loss. Clin Exp Dermatol. 2002 Jul;27(5):396-404. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2230.2002.01076.x. PMID: 12190640.
- Matilainen V, Laakso M, Hirsso P, Koskela P, Rajala U, Keinänen-Kiukaanniemi S. Hair loss, insulin resistance, and heredity in middle-aged women. A population-based study. J Cardiovasc Risk. 2003 Jun;10(3):227-31. doi: 10.1097/01.hjr.0000070200.72977.c6. PMID: 12775957.
- Phillips TG, Slomiany WP, Allison R. Hair Loss: Common Causes and Treatment. Am Fam Physician. 2017 Sep 15;96(6):371-378. PMID: 28925637.