Reviewed by Vicky Davis, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
When you sign on for a weight loss diet, you sign on for all of the discomfort and inconvenience that comes with restricting yourself. And the keto diet, which involves prioritizing fat and cutting out almost all carbs, is highly restrictive.
However, what you don’t sign on for with a restrictive diet are unpleasant side effects, including hair loss.
The ketogenic diet, or keto diet, is a popular one. However, it’s certainly not painless. It’s tough to get rid of an entire macronutrient (in this case, carbohydrates), and if that toughness is also accompanied by unwanted side effects, it’s often even harder.
The good news is that there doesn’t appear to be a very strong link between the keto diet and hair loss, at least if you make sure to get all of your essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients.
Below, we’ve explained what the ketogenic diet is, as well as how it supposedly works to burn fat and help you reach your target weight.
We’ve also dug into the potential link between the keto diet and hair loss, as well as the steps that you can take to prevent hair loss from your everyday diet and from common causes such as male pattern baldness.
The ketogenic diet, or keto diet, is a diet that involves eating a large amount of fat, a moderate protein intake and severely restricting your intake of carbohydrates.
Although precise ratios vary, most variations of the keto diet involve consuming about 55 to 60 percent of your calories from fat, 30 to 35 percent from protein, and the other five to 10 percent from carbohydrates.
Many ketogenic diets explicitly cap carbohydrates at about 50 grams per day, or approximately 200 calories.
Over the last decade, the keto diet has gone from an unpopular diet into a trendy diet routine that’s permeated pop culture. It’s seemingly everywhere, from health-focused communities to magazines, blogs and just about every social media platform.
The idea behind the keto diet is simple: by restricting carbohydrate intake, the body switches over to ketones as its primary source of energy.
How this produces weight loss is controversial. Many proponents of the keto diet claim that it burns fat simply by limiting carbohydrates, while critics note that the weight loss effects of the keto diet are mostly the result of calorie restriction.
Despite this, many people report finding it easier to control their eating habits and burn fat with the keto diet than with more conventional weight loss dieting -- something that goes a long way toward explaining the popularity of keto as a diet for weight loss.
Like other restrictive diets, the keto diet isn’t without its downsides. It’s associated with a variety of side effects, including nausea, headache, fatigue, dizziness, insomnia, constipation, vomiting and difficulty exercising -- issues that are often dubbed the “keto flu.”
Some keto diet enthusiasts also report developing bad breath due to the diet’s food choices and focus on maintaining ketosis.
There are also some practical concerns, such as the difficulty of complying with the diet over the long term, the need to monitor renal function and the often significant financial cost of prioritizing a high-fat, low-carb diet all day, every day.
However, keto diets have been shown to produce real weight loss for lots of people, particularly people who are obese.
The keto diet generally isn’t associated with hair loss. In fact, most diets -- provided they offer a well-rounded supply of vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients -- aren’t associated with significant positive or negative changes in your hair.
In men, most hair loss occurs as a result of androgenetic alopecia, or male pattern baldness -- a form of hair loss that’s caused by genetic factors and the effects of an androgen hormone called dihydrotestosterone, or DHT.
If you’re genetically predisposed to male pattern baldness, DHT can attach to receptors in your scalp and cause your hair follicles to miniaturize. Over time, this can cause a receding hairline, a bald patch at your crown or other signs of balding.
While the keto diet doesn’t play a role in any of these conditions and isn’t linked to male pattern baldness, certain dietary issues -- some of which can occur while you’re on the keto diet -- may cause you to temporarily shed hair.
Not consuming enough iron
Drastically cutting down on calories
Not eating enough protein-rich foods
Missing out on essential vitamins and minerals
We’ve discussed these issues in more detail below, including how practicing an overly strict keto diet may increase your risk of running into dietary problems that affect your hair.
Iron is an essential mineral that plays a role in everything from helping your muscles store and use oxygen to creating hemoglobin -- a protein that your body uses to transport oxygen through your bloodstream.
Good sources of iron include fortified breakfast cereals, oysters, beef liver, lentils, spinach, tofu, kidney beans, white beans and dark chocolate.
Failing to consume enough iron can cause iron deficiency anemia -- a condition that can lead to hair loss.
Iron deficiency doesn’t appear to be common amongst keto dieters, but it may become an issue if you eat relatively little red meat, oysters or leafy green vegetables and abruptly cut down your intake of fortified foods.
Our full guide to iron deficiency anemia and hair loss goes into detail about what to look out for if you’re worried about developing iron-related hair loss while on any type of restrictive diet.
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Although your diet doesn’t play any significant part in male pattern baldness, other types of hair loss can occur if you make changes to your diet.
For example, a form of temporary hair shedding called telogen effluvium, which involves diffuse thinning across your entire scalp, can develop as a result of crash diets that involve significantly and abruptly reducing your calorie intake.
You may start to notice this form of hair loss if you significantly reduce your calorie intake while you’re on the ketogenic diet.
Maintaining an overly low protein intake can also cause or contribute to telogen effluvium. You can find protein in chicken, turkey, beef, pork and other meats, seafood, beans, nuts, seeds and whole grain breads. Many dairy products also contain significant amounts of protein.
Many of these protein-rich foods, such as meat and seafood, are widely-used ingredients in keto meals. However, it may be possible to eat too little protein on the keto diet -- potentially resulting in thinning hair -- if your calories solely come from fat.
To avoid developing a protein deficiency, make sure to get at least 10 to 35 percent of your daily calories from protein.
Several important vitamins and minerals are involved in healthy hair growth, including vitamin B7 (biotin), vitamin B9 (folate) and vitamin E. If you become deficient in any of these vitamins, you may start to notice hair thinning or other signs of hair loss.
Want to learn more about keto's side effects? Read our blog on the keto diet's effects on erectile dysfunction.
If you’re eating a ketogenic diet and have recently started to notice hair loss, the two may not necessarily be connected. Hair loss is far from uncommon, and it could be a coincidence that they’ve occurred at similar times.
One thing we do know about the keto diet is that it’s tough to stick with. Restrictive diets aren’t particularly sustainable, so there’s a chance that you’ve only recently started eating keto while your hair loss has been going on unnoticed for some time.
Many men start to experience androgenetic alopecia as they age, and often before they get to what they’d consider “old.” It’s entirely possible the hair loss you’re experiencing is simply male pattern hair loss that’s unrelated to your diet.
Hair loss is almost always treatable, whether it’s male pattern baldness or temporary hair loss that occurs as a result of a nutritional issue.
Whether you follow a strict ketogenic diet or just try to limit your carbohydrate intake, taking a few simple steps can help to reduce your risk of experiencing hair loss or, if you already have hair loss, prevent it from becoming worse.
While the keto diet is restrictive in terms of macronutrients, it doesn’t necessarily mean limiting your body to food that’s lacking in nutrients.
While you follow the keto diet, try to prioritize fresh vegetables, protein sources and foods that are rich in iron, biotin, folate and vitamin E, all of which play important roles in maintaining hair growth.
If you’ve started to notice a receding hairline, thin patch near your crown or other common signs of male pattern baldness, one of the most effective steps that you can take to stop it from getting worse is to use medication like finasteride and minoxidil.
Finasteride is a prescription medication that works by preventing your body from producing DHT -- the androgen hormone that miniaturizes your hair follicles and causes hair loss.
Minoxidil is a topical, over-the-counter medication that works by moving your hairs into a growth state and by stimulating blood flow to your scalp.
Research shows that both finasteride and minoxidil are effective at preventing hair loss. In fact, they’re particularly effective when they’re used together, with a study published in Dermatologic Therapy finding improvements in 94.1 percent of balding men who used both medications.
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There’s no direct link between the ketogenic diet and hair loss. However, making any changes to your eating habits, whether it’s restricting carbohydrates or simply avoiding certain foods, could have some impact on hair fall and your general hair health.
When you restrict entire food groups, you may not get all of the vitamins and minerals that your body needs. Certain nutritional deficiencies, including a lack of B vitamins or a biotin deficiency, can potentially result in hair loss after the start of a new diet.
However, just because your hair loss and your keto diet both occur at the same time, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re related. Hair loss is common, and you may simply start to notice the signs of male pattern baldness at the same time as you’re following a high-fat diet.
If you’re starting to experience hair loss, you can get help by talking to a professional. We offer several men’s hair loss treatments that you can purchase online, including FDA-approved hair loss medications such as finasteride and minoxidil.
You can also learn more about optimizing your diet for better growth of new hair in our guide to what you should eat for optimal hair growth.
Finally, you can find out more about your options for dealing with a receding hairline, thinning at your crown and other common signs of hair loss in our detailed guide to the best treatments for thinning hair.
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Dr. Vicky Davis is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over 20 years of experience in clinical practice, leadership and education.
Dr. Davis' expertise include direct patient care and many years working in clinical research to bring evidence-based care to patients and their families.
She is also an active member of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners.