Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 3/27/2021
When you sign on for a weight loss diet, you sign on for all of the discomfort that comes with restricting yourself. And the keto diet is restrictive. However, what you don’t sign on for are unpleasant side effects, including hair loss.
The keto diet is a popular one, but certainly not a painless one. It’s tough to nearly eliminate an entire macronutrient (carbohydrates), and if that toughness is accompanied by unpleasant side effects, it’s even harder.
The short answer here is: maybe. It’s unlikely you’re losing your hair because of keto if you’re taking care to get all of the necessary vitamins and minerals from your restricted diet. However, if you’re just sort of winging it and not being conscientious of what goes in your body (and what you’re missing), a nutritional deficiency could lead to hair loss.
Despite its newfound popularity, what we know today as the keto diet is not new. In fact, it was first used back in the early 1920s to treat epilepsy. With the introduction of epilepsy medications, it faded from view, but has since surged as a weight loss mechanism.
The keto diet involves cutting most carbohydrates from your diet, limiting yourself to less than 50 grams per day, in many cases. Without carbohydrates for energy, your body ultimately turns to ketones for its nutrition.
When ketones are used as the primary source of energy, the body stores less fat and also breaks down fatty acids to create “ketone bodies.” When the body functions like this, it’s said to be operating in “ketosis.”
The keto diet isn’t without controversy. Some suggest the only weight loss that occurs while doing keto is a result of reduced calorie intake, not the restriction of carbohydrates and resulting ketosis.
And side effects of the diet aren’t always pleasant: muscle cramps, loss of energy, changes in digestion and bad breath.
However, keto diets have been shown to help with controlling blood sugar in addition to weight loss.
Any time you restrict your diet, you run the risk of not getting all of the necessary vitamins and minerals that help you operate at full health.
And that’s no different with keto. Low-carbohydrate diets, in general, have a lower intake of vegetables, fruits, and grains, all of which are loaded with necessary compounds for our health.
So, how does this relate to hair loss?
Some nutritional deficiencies can cause hair loss. So if you’re experiencing hair loss while on the ketogenic diet, and there is no other known cause, you may want to research what your diet is missing and how that may affect the mop on your head.
Here are some of the more common nutritional deficiencies that can lead to hair loss:
Two of the first signs of a biotin (vitamin B7) deficiency are hair loss and dermatitis. You should get 30mcg of biotin each day, and deficiency may be caused by the consumption of raw eggs. Biotin is found in meat, eggs, some nuts and some vegetables.
You should get 400 mcg of folate each day, and while most people get plenty, some conditions could make you more susceptible to deficiency. Those include alcoholism and a poor diet.
Deficiency can cause changes to the hair, skin, and nails. Folate is found in many green vegetables and fortified breakfast cereals.
Vitamin E deficiency may result in hair loss, but it’s quite rare and typically caused by a malabsorptive disorder. Still, dietary sources for vitamin E are foods you may have given up on the keto diet — things like plant-based oils, seeds and nuts, and fruits and vegetables.
Protein, iron, zinc and fatty acid deficiencies can also lead to hair loss, but those are much less common in a high protein, low carbohydrate diet. Niacin and selenium deficiencies may also be connected to hair loss, though less solid evidence exists to say for certain.
Having too much vitamin A can also lead to hair loss. Vitamin A is found in the highest concentration in beef liver, so if you’ve been rounding out your keto diet with plates full of liver and onions or taking a vitamin A supplement, it’s a possible culprit.
If you’re eating a ketogenic diet and have noticed hair loss, the two may not be connected at all. It could be a coincidence that they’ve occurred at similar times.
One thing we know about the keto diet: it’s difficult to stick with.
Restrictive diets aren’t super sustainable, so there’s a chance you’ve only recently begun eating keto, whereas your hair loss has been going on unnoticed for some time.
Many men experience androgenetic alopecia as they age, and many before they get to what they’d consider “old!” It’s entirely possible the hair loss you’re experiencing is male pattern hair loss and unrelated to your diet.
In any case, chatting with a doctor or dermatologist will help you sort out the cause and the best course of action for finding treatment. Because treatment does exist.
The keto diet is a restrictive low carbohydrate diet. When you restrict entire food groups, you may not get all of the vitamins and minerals your body needs, and we know some nutritional deficiencies can lead to hair loss.
However, just because your hair loss and your keto diet are happening at the same time does not mean they’re related. A physician can help you sort out the cause of your thinning hair and what can be done to potentially slow or reverse the problem.
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