Put away the wigs, the hair plugs, and the overpriced growth creams. Science may have a more natural solution to this cranial conundrum—without bidding a not-so-fond farewell to your follicles. According to a growing body of research, vegan or vegetarian diets might be speeding up the process of your hair loss.
A 2006 review of 40 years of research revealed a close link between iron deficiencies and hair loss. Although this research doesn’t mean iron deficiency definitively causes hair loss, the close connection between the two is something vegans, vegetarians, and people with thinning hair who don’t eat meat should recognize. Kris Sollid, RD, the Senior Director of Nutrition Communications at the International Food Information Council, says the exact way iron affects hair growth is also unknown. However, hair falling out is one of the 13 signs of an iron deficiency you might be ignoring.
What science does know is that if you don’t have enough iron for your red blood cells to form hemoglobin, you also won’t have enough oxygen to grow and repair your hair, explains Caroline Apovian, MD, the Director of the Nutrition and Weight Management Center at the Boston Medical Center, and professor at the Boston University School of Medicine. Vegans and vegetarians especially tend to have low but normal iron stores. So they need to make sure they eat iron-rich foods and meet the daily recommended iron intake for non-meat eaters which is 1.8 times more than that of carnivores, Dr. Apovian says. If you need meal inspiration, check out these sources of iron you’re probably missing in your diet.
There are also two types of iron: heme iron found in animal foods and non-heme iron found in both plant and animal foods. People absorb heme iron better than non-heme iron, which is why vegetarians need almost double the amount of iron, according to Sollid. Broccoli, beans, dark leafy vegetables, oatmeal, and quinoa are some higher-iron foods Dr. Apovian recommends for vegans and vegetarians. Talk to your doctor before popping iron supplements, as an iron overload could be just as dangerous as a deficiency, experts say.
Still, iron may not be to blame for hair loss as there are lots of other factors including stress, aging, genetics, medications, hormonal changes, and other health issues at play, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Even styling mistakes are one of the 16 surprising reasons your hair is falling out.
Even if your baldness or thinning hair isn’t because of diet, making healthy eating changes won’t hurt. Sollid recommends pairing iron-rich foods with sources of vitamin C since doing so helps you absorb more of the iron you eat. Eating foods rich in vitamins B and E such as avocado, beans, spinach, and olive oil can also help, Healthline reports. If all else fails, look on the bright side—some research says that being bald can actually boost your attractiveness. So don’t count the bald guys out just yet!