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For anyone that has been reading this blog for a while, you’ll have noticed that I’ve been letting my hair grow long for quite some time now while being on a vegan diet.
In 2012 my hair was just around my neck, but now when straightened out, it’s past waist length. That is a lot of hair growth in just a short period of time. My hair grows very fast, probably because of genetics and the quality of my diet.
Check out the photo below!
Growing long hair can be easy when you give the body what it needs. And then there are supplements that can give things a bit of a boost if you need them.
Sometimes it’s just difficult to get all of the essential nutrients on the diet. For example, zinc is pretty hard to get for a vegan, unless you eat a lot of beans. Even then, you’re likely going to be short.
I’ll go into more detail about the potential causes of poor hair growth later on in this article so you can avoid the common mistakes!
Hair Growth Since Going On A Vegan Diet
Since going vegan, I had expected my hair growth to slow down a lot, but this doesn’t seem to be the case.
Even when I became vegetarian back in 2007, my hair was pretty good and it wasn’t affected in a negative way by my diet.
I’ve always paid close attention to making sure that I all the vitamins and minerals I need in my diet, and if I’m a little short on something, I’ll supplement.
One of the supplements I’ve felt has helped me a lot is called Hair Anew. I recently included it in a review article looking at which are the best supplements for hair growth if you’re a vegan.
Since going vegan, my hair has never been healthier. Perhaps it’s because I’m just caring a lot more about my hair now? Or maybe it’s because my diet contains a large number of fruits, vegetables, and omega 3 fats which helps make it soft and shiny.
The only thing I think I should do a bit more of is keeping cutting off the split ends before they go wild! It’s super difficult when you have hair this long to maintain it in perfect shape.
When you brush your hair, you move the oils down the hair shaft, but they don’t always reach the ends. I have straight hair though, so I guess I’m lucky in that regard. For people who have curls, they can have more trouble with dry ends.
So now if you hear someone say that vegans always have thin hair, you can see it’s just not true. Sure, maybe genetics help a bit, no doubt. But the quality of the diet matters a lot more than people some people think.
But say you’re the unlucky vegan and experience some hair loss after going on the diet. Let’s look at some of the most plausible reasons for it.
7 Reasons for hair loss on a vegan diet
1. Zinc deficiency can cause hair loss
As I’ve already mentioned above, zinc is an important mineral in the human body and can be severely lacking in some vegan diets.
We don’t need a lot of it to be healthy, but unfortunately, it’s more abundant in animal foods than plant foods.
Zinc deficiency can take a while to develop, so it might not be something you notice right away. But after months or years on the diet, if you’ve started to notice that you have diffuse hair loss, low zinc levels could be the problem.
Zinc is important for many chemical reactions in the body, but it also inhibits the conversion of testosterone into DHT and helps regulate the immune system and fight off infections.
In one study, zinc concentrations in all patients with hair loss were much lower than people who didn’t suffer from hair loss .
Another study showed a benefit for 9 out of 15 patients who suffered from alopecia areata when they took zinc supplements. And patients who benefited the most were those who saw a bigger increase in serum zinc levels. In the study, they used 50 mg of zinc gluconate per day.
Tip: Consuming garlic with legumes can increase zinc and iron absorption.
2. Low vitamin B12 may cause hair loss
Vitamin B12 can be reasons for hair loss for some vegans. It should be supplemented by every vegan, but unfortunately, many vegans are not aware of this fact.
One of the consequences of a deficiency in B12 is the production of abnormal red blood cells. These cells are then not able to properly transport oxygen to the hair follicles and this leads to reduced oxygen levels, cellular stress, and hair fall.
Hair follicle cells undergo a high level of cell division and B12 is crucial in the process of cell replication.
Fortunately, in most cases, hair loss will stop once B12 deficiency is corrected
However, you should wait at least 6 months to see improvements. Hair has to go through cycles and it can take a few cycles before it grows back strong and healthy.
3. Iron deficiency can lead to poor hair growth
Iron deficiency can affect anyone, but vegans might be more likely to develop a deficiency due to not eating meat, which contains the most absorbable form of iron.
Iron deficiency can take quite a while to develop because the body stores it, but a simple blood test can determine if you have it or at risk of developing it.
Blood cells contain iron and deliver oxygen to the cell in our body. So making sure you get plenty of iron-rich foods is super important.
Females may need to supplement more often than males, but both sexes should get a blood test before and after starting a vegan diet and occasionally keep track of their ferritin levels.
If you have an iron deficiency, correcting it will reverse any hair loss that you’ve experienced.
Tip: Taking vitamin C along with foods or supplements which are high in iron may help increase iron absorption.
4. Low intake of lysine could lead to increased hair shedding
L-lysine is responsible for our hair shape and volume. It’s an amino acid that is not often talked about as a cause for persistent hair shedding, but it’s a very important one.
Some studies have shown that supplementing lysine can stop hair loss and improve iron status because of its ability to help iron absorption .
Data suggests that increasing both iron and lysine in women over 50 who experience hair loss can reduce hair shedding .
Lysine can be an amino acid which is more difficult to get on a vegan diet. And combined with low iron intake, this can lead to poor hair quality and growth.
5. Vitamin D deficiency increases hair shedding
In the winter months, many of us don’t get anywhere near enough vitamin D. We normally get vitamin D from exposure to sunlight, and only a little from our diet.
Depending on where you live and your skin color, it can be more difficult to get enough sun to raise vitamin D levels enough to last you throughout the winter if you live in the northern hemisphere.
It’s been well established that vitamin D is important in stem cell renewal and development of keratinocytes and anagen initiation. One study showed that low levels of vitamin D may lead to significant hair loss in females .
Most vitamin D supplements are from sheep’s wool, but there are vegan alternatives that are sourced from lichen.
6. Low-calorie intake and significant weight loss
It’s natural for vegans to spontaneously lower their energy intake when they start the diet and that’s why many end up quite lean. But sudden and significant weight loss can cause a lot of changes in the body and may lead to temporary hair loss in some people.
The good news is that once you’ve stabilized your hair should grow back healthier and stronger than before.
That being said, if you’re on severe calorie restriction, this can have an effect on your thyroid hormones, testosterone, and estrogen, and lead to persistent hair thinning.
If you’re approaching a BMI of less than 18, you should consider increasing your calorie intake.
And once again, hair can take several months to regrow, so patience is important here.
7. Androgenetic alopecia (affects mostly men)
Unfortunately, even if you’re eating a vegan diet, sometimes it’s a losing battle when your genetics aren’t on your side. If you are male and have the typical signs of male pattern baldness, it can be difficult to combat hair loss naturally.
It’s best that you speak with your doctor to confirm this is what you have and then take it from there.
There are also natural supplements that are believed to help by lowering the conversion of testosterone to DHT and blocking DHT from attacking the hair follicles. I’ll talk more about this below!
Should vegans take supplements for their hair?
Some nutrients on a vegan diet can be quite low and therefore it might be wise to supplement where needed.
Check using an application like CRON-O-METER to see if you’re meeting all the required vitamins and minerals.
Consider taking a supplement designed for hair growth. These contain all of the essential micronutrients required for great hair!
A vegan multivitamin supplement would also be perfectly fine as it usually contains everything you need to stay healthy.
Caution about taking supplements high in biotin
Many people who take biotin supplements have reported that they have better hair growth, but taking high doses of biotin (5000 mcg or more) can cause acne breakouts.
If you suffer from breakouts when you’re taking a hair supplement, biotin is likely the culprit. One way to reduce this risk is to take a zinc supplement. In fact, zinc has been shown to be highly effective at reducing acne.
If you want a supplement with only a small amount of biotin or none at all, check out these vitamin supplements.
4 Natural food supplements for androgenetic alopecia
1. Pumpkin Seed Oil
Pumpkin seed oil has been studied in men who were suffering from Androgenetic alopecia. One study showed that men who were given a supplement had a 30% increase in hair growth at 12 weeks and 40% increase in hair growth at 24 weeks.
Men who were taking the placebo did not experience any significant hair growth during the period of the study .
2. Saw Palmetto
Saw palmetto is one of the most popular natural hair loss treatments for men. In one study published in 2016, saw palmetto was effective in increasing the terminal hair length in men suffering from hair loss . However, other studies have shown little to no benefit.
Spearmint is a natural anti-androgen and has the ability to reduce total and free testosterone in females and males. Therefore it may be effective in reducing the amount of testosterone that is converted to DHT.
Currently, there are no studies available to support the use of spearmint as a treatment for androgenetic alopecia but it could have some potential for females with high testosterone levels.
4. Soy isoflavones
When you consume soy for a long period of time, your gut bacteria will change and you start being able to convert soy isoflavones to an estrogenic metabolite called equol which is able to bind to DHT and prevent it from attacking hair follicles.
6 Vegan foods for amazing and gorgeous looking hair
Below is a list of vegan foods that you should consume liberally to improve hair growth and make it look super shiny and pretty!
1. Leafy greens
Leafy greens like spinach and kale are packed with minerals that help support hair growth. They provide minerals like copper, potassium, magnesium, and iron. They are also loaded with vitamin A and vitamin C. It’s easy to consume lots of leafy greens every day by using them in a green smoothie!
Beans are a great source of protein for a vegan. There are many different varieties to choose from and they go well with lots of dishes. Hair is made up of protein and beans are a great way to provide those important amino acids.
Around 100 grams of oatmeal will provide you with up to 500 mg of silica. This mineral will help improve the quality and strength of your hair.
4. Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are very high in beta carotene. Some of the beta carotenes you consume gets converted to Vitamin A by the body and this can help improve skin and follicle health. Vitamin A is essential for every cell in the body and for proper growth and differentiation.
Eating an Avocado every day or even just a few times a week will make your hair appear shinier because it contains fatty acids such as ALA. When you consume ALA, some of it gets converted to EPA and DHA and this can help keep your hair super silky and shiny!
6. Green Tea
Green tea helps reduce inflammation and can block a DHT which destroys hair follicles by reducing an enzyme known as 5-alpha reductase. If you have oily hair, green tea could help with this problem too.
8 Bonus tips to help you keep your hair healthy while you grow it out
1. Train yourself to wash your hair less frequently
At first this might be difficult because of the oil build-up, but eventually, the scalp adapts and starts producing less oil.
Frequent washing can cause your hair to break and become brittle unless it’s very well-nourished with conditioner.
2. Try not to tie or pull your hair back into a ponytail
Pulling on the hair can cause the hair to break and cause some stress at the roots. This is a common cause of hair loss and one that’s easily prevented by wearing looser hairstyles.
3. Never brush your hair when it’s wet
Yikes! I see people do this all the time and it’s one of the worst things you can do to your hair.
Wait until your hair has dried a bit first before you brush it. You can also buy a ‘wet brush’ that is very soft and won’t damage the hair so much if you really have to brush it…
4. Start brushing from the bottom and work your way up to the scalp
Hold the hair above the point where you’re brushing and start brushing at the tips of the hair and work your way up to the roots. Take your time and don’t be too aggressive.
5. Try to let your hair dry naturally without heat
If you have to use a hairdryer, use a low heat setting. And if you use any sort of heat styling, use heat protection sprays.
6. Take a vegan hair supplement
It’s very important that you get all the essential nutrients in your diet but sometimes it’s not possible. This is where taking a supplement can make a big difference. Here are some supplements for hair growth (This link goes to my hair website).
7. Use a clarifying shampoo every now and then
Every week or two I recommend that you use a mild anti-residue shampoo as it will take away all the product build-up that is causing hair to become dull and limp.
If you’ve ever noticed that your shampoo doesn’t seem to work as well anymore, this is one of the main reasons why. Once you wash out all that stuff, your old shampoo works like magic again!
8. Don’t bleach your hair
This is one of the worst things you can do to your hair. Bleaching causes the hair to become very prone to drying out and weakens the hair significantly so it becomes prone to breaking.
If you love having long hair and want to grow it out, there is no reason why can’t do that if you’re also a vegan.
But you do have to pay close attention to your diet and make sure that you get all the required nutrients from your food and then supplement where necessary.
A vegan diet can be quite restrictive, so pay close attention to iron, zinc, iodine, vitamin B12, and vitamin D. Many good vegan supplements will have these and so they should cover you if you fall short in your diet.
Sometimes hair loss can occur with weight loss, but this is usually temporary and it grows back.
Reviewed and updated: February 2020.