Reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Plant-based? You’re not alone. According to data from research firm Ipsos Retail Performance, more than nine million Americans now eat a primarily plant-based diet, making vegetarian and vegan dieting more popular than ever before.
Eating a primarily plant-based diet offers numerous health benefits, including a reduced risk of developing serious medical issues such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and several types of cancer.
However, following a vegetarian or vegan diet that’s low in certain nutrients may increase your risk of developing nutritional deficiencies that can cause hair shedding.
Below, we’ve talked about how several different forms of hair loss can develop, as well as how some vegetarian and vegan diets may increase your risk of developing hair shedding due to a lack of nutrients such as protein, iron or other minerals.
We’ve also talked about what you can do if you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet to strengthen your hair, promote healthy hair growth and treat diet-related hair loss.
Diets that are nutritionally restrictive, including certain vegetarian and vegan diets, may affect your ability to grow hair and cause you to experience hair shedding.
Unlike hair loss caused by male pattern baldness, hair loss caused by a restrictive diet usually isn’t permanent, meaning your hair should grow back once the underlying issue is treated.
It’s often possible to prevent hair loss by changing your eating habits and using dietary supplements to make up for any nutritional deficiencies caused by your diet.
If you already have noticeable thinning, you may be able to use medication to speed up regrowth and restore your hair’s previous fullness and volume.
It’s easy to mistake male pattern baldness for nutrition-related hair shedding, especially if you’re recently started a new diet. If you’re starting to lose your hair, you can talk to a healthcare provider online to learn more about causes and treatment options.
If you’ve ever let people know that you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, you may have received comments about potential issues such as hair loss.
Although some vegetarians and vegans may develop hair loss, it’s important to understand that hair loss isn’t directly caused by a vegetarian or vegan diet.
When people talk about plant-based diets and hair loss, they generally aren’t talking about male pattern baldness -- the common form of male hair loss that can cause you to develop a receding hairline or bald spot as you get older.
Instead, they’re referring to a form of temporary hair loss that may develop when your diet lacks essential vitamins, minerals and/or other nutrients.
Although not all vegetarians or vegans develop nutritional deficiencies, you may be more at risk of developing some nutritional deficiencies if you follow a plant-based diet, such as a vegetarian or vegan diet.
Several nutritional deficiencies may cause hair loss. These include:
Iron deficiency. Hair loss is a well-known symptom of iron-deficiency anemia, a medical condition that may develop when your body lacks iron. This condition affects your ability to produce healthy red blood cells and can cause a range of symptoms.
Research shows that vegetarians typically have lower iron levels and a higher likelihood of developing iron deficiency anemia than non-vegetarians. This may be because iron in plant-based foods is harder for your body to absorb than iron in animal-based foods.
Vitamin deficiencies. Several vitamins play important roles in your hair growth process, including vitamins A, B12, C, D and E. Biotin, a type of B-vitamin, is also closely linked to the process of growing and maintaining healthy hair when a severe biotin deficiency is present.
If your diet lacks these vitamins, or only contains them in small amounts, you may start to develop hair shedding and temporary hair loss.
Mineral deficiencies. Certain mineral deficiencies may cause shedding and temporary hair loss. For example, research shows that diets deficient in zinc may contribute to hair loss.
Lack of dietary protein. Your hair, skin and all active tissues of your body are made up of proteins. When you fail to get sufficient protein from your diet, your body may attempt to conserve protein by forcing your hair follicles into a resting state.
Protein malnutrition usually doesn’t cause immediate hair loss. Instead, you may notice your hair shedding approximately two to three months after changing to a diet that’s low in protein.
In addition to the nutritional deficiencies listed above, hair shedding can also develop as a result of crash dieting. You might notice increased shedding and hair loss if you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet to lose weight and reduce your calorie intake by a significant amount in the process.
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If you’ve recently started a vegetarian or vegan diet and have noticed that your hair is falling out at a faster-than-normal pace, you may be able to prevent further hair loss and improve your hair growth by making changes to your eating habits. Try to:
Increase your consumption of iron-rich foods. To reduce your risk of developing iron deficiency anemia, try to focus on including iron-rich foods in your diet.
Good sources of iron include fortified breakfast cereals, beans, lentils, spinach, potatoes (with the skin on), nuts, seeds, dark chocolate and enriched rice or bread. If you follow a pescatarian diet, consider also eating tuna, oysters, mussels and clams.
To improve your body’s non-heme iron absorption, try to consume foods that contain iron and vitamin C at the same time.
Use an iron supplement. If you find it difficult to get sufficient iron from your diet, taking an iron supplement can make the process easier. Iron supplements are inexpensive and widely available online and from most health food stores.
Prioritize zinc. Research suggests that people who follow vegetarian and vegan tend to consume less zinc than non-vegetarians. You can avoid zinc deficiency by focusing on including foods that contain zinc in your diet.
Good vegetarian and vegan sources of zinc include pumpkin seeds, cashews, almonds, chickpeas and kidney beans.
Hit your protein targets. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of bodyweight, or roughly 65 grams of protein per day for a man with a weight of 180lbs (81.6kg).
Protein-rich vegan foods include nuts, beans, seeds, soy products, lentils and quinoa, as well as cheese substitutes such as nutritional yeast. If you struggle to get enough protein from your diet, you can also use plant-based protein powders and other supplements.
If you’re a vegetarian, you can add eggs, milk, cheese, yoghurt and other dairy products to the above list. Many of these foods are rich in protein and important nutrients such as calcium.
Take a multivitamin. If your diet is lacking in vitamins related to hair growth, try taking a daily multivitamin. Our Biotin Gummy Vitamins contain several essential vitamins for hair growth and maintenance.
If you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet and have noticeable hair loss that you think is related to your eating habits, it’s important to talk to a healthcare provider.
The most effective way to treat and reverse diet-related hair loss is to fix deficiencies in your diet using the steps listed above. However, you may also be able to use medication to stimulate hair growth and speed up the process of restoring your normal hair thickness and density.
Since diet-related hair loss isn’t caused by hormones, medications like finasteride have no effect on this form of hair loss and won’t speed up regrowth.
However, the topical hair loss medication minoxidil, which works by improving blood flow to your scalp and stimulating your hair follicles, may help to speed up the regrowth process and restore your hair faster.
You can learn more about minoxidil and how it works in our detailed guide to applying minoxidil for hair growth.
Finally, if you’re starting to lose your hair, it’s important to keep in mind that it may not be caused by a vegetarian or vegan diet.
The most common form of hair loss in men is referred to as hereditary hair loss, or male pattern baldness. This type of hair loss usually begins to develop in your 20s and 30s and isn’t related to your diet in any way.
Male pattern baldness is caused by a combination of genetic and hormonal factors, particularly the effects of a hormone called dihydrotestosterone, or DHT.
If you’re prone to male pattern baldness, making changes to your diet won’t slow down or stop your hair loss. However, this type of hair loss is treatable using medication.
Our complete guide to male pattern baldness provides more information on how male pattern baldness develops, common symptoms and the most effective, science-based treatments for stopping hair loss and restoring hair in affected areas of your scalp.
In addition to male pattern baldness, other factors that may cause hair loss include:
Stress. Severe or chronic stress can cause a form of hair loss called telogen effluvium, which often causes hair shedding and temporary hair loss.
Medications. Some medications may cause you to shed hair, including medications for cardiovascular health issues, epilepsy and certain skin conditions.
Illness. Many illnesses, including those that cause fever, may cause you to develop hair shedding.
Our guide to the causes of hair loss goes into more detail about the numerous types of hair loss that may affect your scalp and the factors that can contribute to them.
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While following a vegetarian or vegan diet won’t directly cause hair loss, you may have a higher risk of developing hair shedding if your diet lacks nutrients such as protein, iron or zinc.
You can reduce your risk of shedding hair by following a balanced vegetarian or vegan diet that includes these nutrients. This may require making some small changes to your eating habits or adding dietary supplements to your health routine.
If you already have hair loss and want to treat it, it’s best to talk to a healthcare provider to learn more about your options, including FDA-approved hair loss medications.