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Vegetarian Whose Hair Is Falling Out

Published: January 10, 2010
Dear TeenHealthFX,
I was a Vegetarian for about 4 months last year, and I had to give it up due to my hair falling out. I felt much healthier when I was a vegetarian, and I don't eat that much meat anyway. I tried tofu and all sorts of protein drinks, but it still fell out. After all this time,(about 5 months), of eating meat as I did before becoming a vegetarian, my hair still falls out like crazy when I'm in the shower or when I brush my hair. I'm worried beacause I'm only a 15yr old girl and don't want to go bald! I want to know what I should do, since my hair didn't fall out before I was a vegetarian and I've picked back up the diet I had before. Is there something I should eat allot of, or maybe a shampoo to keep it from falling out so bad?
Signed: Vegetarian Whose Hair Is Falling Out

Dear Vegetarian Whose Hair Is Falling Out,

 

One cause of hair loss is poor nutrition. Having an inadequate amount of protein or iron in the diet can certainly result in a person losing a larger amount of hair than the average individual “sheds” each day. Vegetarians and vegans who are not educated about the kinds of foods they need to eat in order to get all the essential vitamins and nutrients into their diet do run the risk of not getting enough protein and iron. So it is very possible that the hair loss you are experiencing is the result of your recent diet change.

Vegetarians do have options in terms of getting an adequate amount of protein and iron into their diets. Consider the following:

  • Protein: Eggs and dairy, soy products and meat substitutes, legumes, lentils, nuts and nut butters, seeds, and whole grains.
  • Iron: Dried beans, peas, lentils, enriched cereals, whole-grain products, dark leafy green vegetables, and dried fruit. Because iron isn’t as easily absorbed from plant sources, the recommended intake for iron is almost double for vegetarians than nonvegetarians. Foods rich in vitamin C, such as strawberries, citrus fruits, tomatoes, broccoli and cabbage, can help the body to better absorb iron.   

While it is possible that your hair loss is due to your diet changes and an insufficient amount of certain vitamins and nutrients, FX can’t know this for sure over the web. It is also possible that there is some underlying medical problem present or that some other issue has triggered your hair loss. That said, FX does think it is important for you to meet with your primary care physician or an adolescent medicine specialist who can determine the exact reason you have been losing your hair, as well as whether any treatment is needed.

So what can cause hair loss? There are lots of possibilities, some of which include:

  • Poor nutrition, particularly an inadequate amount of protein or iron.
  • Certain medications can result in hair loss
  • Diseases such as diabetes and lupus
  • Hormonal changes and imbalances due to pregnancy, childbirth, discontinuation of birth control pills, overactive or underactive thyroid
  • Scalp infections
  • Excessive hairstyling or hairstyles that pull your hair too tightly can cause a condition called traction alopecia.
  • Telogen effluvium is a type of hair loss usually due to a change in your normal hair cycle – basically there is an emotional or physical shock to the system that results in the roots being pushed prematurely into the resting state. With this type of hair loss a person might find a sudden loss of large amounts of hair while doing normal things such as brushing or combing their hair. Triggers can include crash diets, sudden weight loss, having a cold with a fever, a major injury, inadequate amount of protein or iron in the diet, and even stress.  Telogen effluvium usually will go away on its own and people do not have continued hair loss – although it can take about 6 months for full recover. There is no medication or special shampoo that will correct the hair loss as telogen effluvium usually just resolves on its own.

There are several other causes of hair loss that probably don’t apply to you, such as pattern baldness or hair loss as the result of medical treatments like chemotherapy. We can’t know what the exact cause is, but we do know that there are several possibilities. So schedule an appointment with your doctor so that you can be properly diagnosed and so that you can receive any necessary treatment.  

When you meet with your doctor, let him/her know about your recent diet changes and desire to be vegetarian. In addition to assessing whether or not your diet has caused the hair loss, your doctor can also work with you to ensure that your body is getting all of the vitamins and nutrients that it needs as poor nutrition can negatively affect more than just your hair. Your doctor can guide you on how to maintain a healthy vegetarian diet, and you can also read our Hot Topic on Becoming A Vegetarian for more information.

If you don't have a doctor and live in northern New Jersey, you can call the Adolescent/Young Adult Center for Health at 973-971-6475 for an appointment with an adolescent medicine specialist or contact your local teen health center. You can also contact your insurance company for a list of in-network providers.

Signed: TeenHealthFX

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