According to the Vegetarian Times, approximately 3.2% of Americans, more than 7 million in total, practice a vegetarian diet. Of these, about 1 million are self-described Vegans.
Although following a Vegan lifestyle in and of itself does not risk specific deficiencies in the diet (some of which could be responsible for hair loss), ensuring an adequate supply of zinc, B-12, iron and protein is substantially more challenging for Vegans than for those who follow a more traditional diet.
What Is the Vegan Diet?
While vegetarians avoid meat, they do generally eat eggs and dairy products like milk, eggs and cheese. Vegans, on the other hand, do not eat any of these food products. Their diet relies exclusively on plant-based foods, such as vegetables, grains, beans, nuts and seeds.
Plant foods, if eaten in the right variety and quantities, can provide all the nutrients that occur in meat and dairy products. However, ensuring that one is getting all these nutrients can be especially challenging for vegetarians, and even more so for Vegans.
How Vegans Can Avoid Hair Loss
Normal growing hair requires an abundance of key nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals and proteins. The prolonged or excessive absence of these nutrients can lead to hair loss. To maintain healthy, growing hair, Vegans should ensure they are consuming a sufficient amount of the following 4 key nutrients:
Many Vegans do not consume a sufficient quantity of zinc, a mineral which has been associated with both hair growth and hair which is healthy. The recommended daily allowance of zinc is 11 milligrams for adult men and 8 milligrams for adult women.
High concentrations of zinc occur in foods like beef, pork, chicken and seafood, especially oysters. Since Vegans do not eat these foods, they should consume large quantities of beans, wheat bran, fortified cereal, grains, seeds and nuts, especially those with high zinc contents, to remain healthy and avoid hair loss.
2. Vitamin B-12
Getting enough vitamin B-12 is particularly challenging for Vegans. Most people get B-12 through meats, fish and poultry. Vegans must rely on grains and fortified cereals to consume enough B-12 to stay healthy. A B-12 deficiency can lead to both hair loss and a scaly scalp.
Vegans can supplement their diets by consuming foods like tempeh and nutritional yeast, but even large amounts of these foods can leave Vegans without enough B-12 to ensure healthy hair. To be safe, people on a Vegan diet should consult with their doctors, who in some cases will recommend taking B-12 supplements.
Iron is another nutrient essential to maintain strong, growing hair. This can be especially challenging for Vegans because even though many plant foods, such as lentils and some green vegetables, are rich in iron, the iron in plant foods is less available to the body than that which is derived from animal sources. In other words, Vegans can inadvertently make the mistake of assuming they are maintaining an iron-rich diet, when in fact they could be suffering from a deficiency.
Adult men on average need 8 milligrams of iron per day, and women need 18 milligrams. Those on a Vegan diet, however, need substantially more, almost twice these amounts, because of the lower bioavailability of plant-based iron. Vegans can increase bioavailability by consuming vitamin C simultaneously with the ingestion of plant-based iron; however, they should consult their doctors to ensure they have enough iron in their diets.
Many Vegans, especially when they initially adopt a Vegan diet, do not eat enough protein. This can cause both sudden weight loss and the loss of hair. It's important to monitor protein intake for this reason.
Vegans should strive to include nuts, seeds, legumes, beans and soy in their diets to supply the essential amino acids necessary to stay healthy and have healthy, growing hair. Legumes are especially important, as they are one of the few plant sources of the amino acid, L-lysine, essential for hair growth.
One caveat: soy can exacerbate hypothyroidism, a common symptom of which is hair loss. Vegans should consult with their family doctors before adopting a Vegan diet to see if they have hypothyroidism.
Adopting a Vegan or vegetarian lifestyle is an intensely personal issue. It's important to point out that, with careful planning, both vegetarians and Vegans can be perfectly healthy, and avoid the risk of hair loss. To be sure you are consuming the right nutrients in the right amounts, you should consult with a physician or nutritionist before you radically change your diet.
If you have concerns about hair loss (either because you think you're experiencing it now, or because you want to prevent it in the future) and would like professional advice you can trust, contact us at New Look today.
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