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Plant-Based Diets Help Prevent Hair Loss

To maintain healthy skin and hair, it is advised to Eat a whole-food, plant-based diet and avoid animal products.

Age-related hair loss is heavily influenced by genes. However, hair loss is completely dependent on hormones, as was demonstrated by Yale University’s James Hamilton in 1942. Hamilton showed that men who, for whatever reason, had been castrated before puberty never lost their hair. This held true even if every male in their family line had gone bald. We learned that without testosterone, the genes for hair loss did not express themselves.

Hamilton also found that when men who were losing their hair were castrated (for medical reasons having nothing to do with hair loss), their hair loss suddenly stopped. If castrated men were then given supplemental testosterone, hair loss kicked in. If the testosterone treatments were stopped, hair loss stopped, too.

Here is what is going on: In the hair follicles, testosterone is converted to dihydrotestosterone (DHT). DHT is the baldness trigger. In genetically susceptible individuals, it causes hair follicles to gradually shrink the size (length and diameter) of the hairs they produce until finally they stop producing hair altogether.

Some parts of the scalp—especially the front and crown—are particularly sensitive to DHT, while others—the sides and back of the head—resist it. And on the face and chest, DHT has the opposite effect. It stimulates follicles to produce thick, curly hair.

The conversion of testosterone to DHT can be blocked by finasteride (a drug marketed under the name Propecia). Minoxidil, (a drug marketed under the name Rogaine) works differently and is used topically to keep follicles functioning normally.

Plant-based diet and Hair Retention

How do foods fit into the hair loss equation? For starters, researchers noticed that baldness was less common among Asian people than in European white people. But as Asian countries began to Westernize their diets, baldness was one of the conditions that appeared to be increasingly common. Japan is a case study. As its diet became Westernized in the late 1900’s, many aspects of health changed. Although most of the attention went to the massive rise in breast cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, dermatologists also noted that baldness became more common. The same phenomenon was observed in Korea. Doctors in a dermatology clinic found that baldness seemed to be striking earlier and more often.

A traditional Asian diet is based mainly on plant-based foods, rather than meats and dairy products, and tends to be very modest in fat. A low-fat, plant-based diet encourages your body to build more SHBG—sex hormone–binding globulin. SHBG reins in testosterone and keeps it inactive until it is needed. That’s good, as we have more than enough testosterone for our daily needs, without the excesses that could affect our scalp.

One more thing: In 2009, researchers compared 80 young men with progressive hair loss to 80 men without hair loss. The balding men were more likely to have insulin resistance. Other studies found the same thing: Insulin resistance is linked to hair loss in both men and women. This means that the cells of the body (especially the muscles and liver) have become unresponsive to insulin, as a result of the buildup of fat inside the cells. In turn, insulin resistance causes metabolic changes that affect your whole body. It can impair blood circulation to the follicles and contribute to the loss of the follicles’ ability to produce hair.

This can happen to women, too. Women with polycystic ovary syndrome, in particular, have higher levels of testosterone than usual and often have insulin resistance. Many have thinning hair.

There are other causes of hair loss, too. Thyroid disease and various medications can cause hair loss.

Keeping Healthy Hair and Skin

To maintain healthy skin and hair, it is encouraged to:

  • Eat a whole-food, plant-based diet. Avoid animal products.

  • Avoid adding oils in cooking, and order more oil-free foods at restaurants.

  • Avoid oily foods (e.g., peanut butter, avocados) until you know how they affect you.

  • Avoid added sugars. In anecdotal reports, for whatever reason, sugary foods seem to make hair lifeless.

  • Have adequate protein from plant sources. Beans and bean products, such as tofu, tempeh, and soymilk, give you plenty of protein without the negatives of dairy products or meat. Anecdotally, some people have found that having extra plant protein helps keep their hair fuller.

  • Have plenty of vegetables and fruits. Their antioxidants will help protect your skin.

  • Protect your skin and head from excess sun exposure.

  • Although hormone shifts can have profound effects on your skin and hair, a healthy diet can be powerful, too.

See what healthy plant-based foods can do for how you look, in addition to how you feel.


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