Medically reviewed by Vicky Davis, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 5/17/2023
Does whey protein cause hair loss? Here’s what you should know.
Protein shakes are a diet staple of gym goers everywhere — whether they’re trying to gain muscle mass, build lean muscle or lose fat. But one of the most common questions regarding protein shake intake is if it causes hair loss.
The answer can depend on what’s in your protein shake. Whole foods like eggs and lean meat are some of the best protein sources but take time to digest — which means the protein also takes time to be absorbed. This is where whey protein comes in.
Whey protein powder is quickly digested and absorbed by the body so that it’s readily available for the muscles to use as needed, such as during or immediately after a workout.
But does whey protein cause hair loss? And what about whey protein isolate, another form of whey protein that’s gone through more processing? On that note, does whey protein isolate cause hair loss?
Keep reading to learn whether hair loss can be caused by whey protein supplementation.
A popular dietary supplement for those looking to support muscle repair after a workout, whey protein is a protein isolated from whey — the liquid part of milk that separates during cheese production. Whey and casein are the two main types of protein found in milk.
When cheese is produced, the fatty parts of the milk coagulate, and the whey is separated from it as a byproduct. The liquid you might see floating on top of yogurt is whey.
But does whey protein cause hair loss? Like other supplements, there’s potential for some adverse effects for those who use a whey protein supplement.
While there is some scientific evidence supporting a link between this popular supplement and hair loss in certain cases, protein is also important for healthy hair growth.
We’ll answer the question, “Does whey protein cause hair loss?” and explore the effects of whey protein supplements. We’ll also discuss various solutions for hair loss below.
As we mentioned above, whey protein is the liquid separated during the process of making cheese. Then it goes through various processing steps to become what people generally recognize as whey protein — a powder added to shakes and protein bars.
The three forms of whey protein include:
Whey protein concentrate. As the name suggests, whey protein concentrate is a concentrated form of whey protein containing low levels of fat and carbohydrates, while the rest is 60 to 80 percent protein content.
Whey protein isolate. Whey protein isolates are further processed to remove all the fat and lactose and are usually at least 90 percent protein.
Whey protein hydrolysate. Whey protein hydrolysate goes through even more processing to allow it to be absorbed more quickly into your bloodstream and requires less digestion.
In addition to its fast digestion, whey protein powders are popular because they contain a high percentage of essential amino acids. Amino acids — known as the building blocks of protein — are essential for nearly all tissues in your body. They even support healthy, sustainable hair growth.
Whey protein powder, whether in a concentrated form or as whey protein isolate, can be an easy way to up your protein intake. However, those who have lactose intolerance (the inability to fully digest the lactose or sugar in dairy products) may want to limit whey protein concentrate consumption and use whey isolates. They might also consider focusing on protein intake from other sources due to whey concentrate containing trace amounts of lactose.
If you’re dealing with hair loss, you may also wonder if whey protein is the cause.
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Consuming whey protein post-workout can certainly help with muscle repair. But can a regular intake of whey protein lead to hair loss? Does the type of whey protein matter? Does whey protein isolate cause hair loss?
There’s some evidence to suggest that certain forms of whey protein may accelerate hair thinning and male pattern baldness.
A small 2010 study of 100 men and women found that whey protein isolate caused more damage to hair and aggravated hair loss, while whey protein concentrate aided hair health and regrowth.
Research has also found that a protein deficiency and other nutritional deficiencies could be another contributing factor to hair loss.
But hair loss can be caused by numerous factors, and whether or not whey protein causes hair loss needs to be studied more to fully understand this topic.
Does whey protein cause hair loss? Maybe.
One small study found that a particular type of whey protein — whey protein isolate — caused more damage to hair, while whey protein concentrate actually improved hair health.
It’s also understood that this form of protein is an essential nutrient for not only muscle growth but hair growth as well.
That said, more research is needed to understand whether whey protein does cause hair loss and if the effects of whey protein on hair loss are acute effects or more adverse effects.
If you’re dealing with hair loss, getting a hair loss diagnosis will help you and a healthcare provider determine the best treatment.
In some cases, your healthcare provider might prescribe other medications to treat scalp health issues that can cause or contribute to hair loss.
Currently, the most effective treatments for hair loss are the medications finasteride and minoxidil. You can also try these tips to prevent hair loss or browse through our hair loss treatments online.