Q:Hello, I’ve been vegan for over 2 years now – I’m over 50 and right now, my hair is falling out. It’s scary, and I’m wondering if it’s a side effect from a vegan diet? I’d like to know what I can do about it. Thanks!

Excessive hair loss can indeed be scary. Unfortunately, it isn’t a side effect of one single condition – there are several issues that can lead to hair loss, and they aren’t always related to nutrition. With any change in your health status, I would encourage you to seek additional counsel from your health care professional. That being said, here are a few potential causes for the hair loss:

Hormones – You mentioned that you are 50 years old, so if you haven’t already entered into menopause, you may be getting close. Women definitely can experience significant hair loss during this time – as well as after childbirth. (You finally get rid of those dreaded monthly periods to only see your hair being swallowed down the shower drain. So much for trade-offs.) In addition, as we age, our hair tends to naturally become thinner.

Weight loss – Depending on what you ate prior to becoming vegan, your caloric intake could have dramatically decreased – resulting in a significant weight loss in a short amount of time. This weight fluctuation has been associated with hair loss, and often resolves itself once weight stabilizes.

Thyroid issues – Both hyper- and hypothyroidism can shows itself in symptoms like hair loss. Obviously, this is not the only medical condition which has this side-effect, which is again why it is important for you to seek medical advice if your hair loss is significant. Additionally, medications used to treat certain illnesses can also cause you to lose hair.

Vitamins, Minerals & Amino Acids – Research shows that excessive supplementation of vitamin E and folic acid could result in hair loss, while having low levels of iron can also have the same effect. Iron-rich plant sources include legumes, whole grains, seeds, dried fruit, and blackstrap molasses. Remember to eat a vitamin C-rich fruit or vegetable at the same time to maximize iron absorption. The amino acid L-lysine, found abundantly in legumes, helps the body absorb iron and has improved hair loss when taken in doses of 1.5 – 2 grams/d. Again, iron levels are something that can easily be checked by your healthcare professional.

Stress – Lastly, we cannot underestimate the power that stress has on our bodies. It can manifest itself in many ways -and if you have ruled out everything else as being the cause of your thinning hair, I would encourage you to take stock of the stressors in your life and deal with them appropriately. Maybe you need more sleep, exercise, and/or puppy cuddles? Whatever it may be, take time for yourself.

Ask Anya is a weekly column written by dietitian Anya Todd on vegan health to help educate others on how to live healthier and more fulfilling lives. Anya covers hot topics and commonly asked questions about vegan nutrition. Do you have questions or concerns you would like to see addressed? Simply send Anya an email to [email protected].

Disclaimer: Anya cannot answer any specific questions related to medical conditions or recommend medications and/or supplement brands, questions must be about diseases, nutrition, or healthy vegan diets only.

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