This January many of you may take up the annual challenge of following a vegan diet for at least a month. Thousands of people participate each year and there are lots of useful tips and recipes you can find on the Veganuary website. Many adopt a plant-based diet for ethical, health, and environmental reasons but if you are new to this, don’t forget to plan your meals so you can keep your diet balanced, varied, and avoid nutritional deficiencies. A vegan diet is usually rich in dietary fibres, carbohydrates, omega-6 fatty acids, folic acid, vitamin C, vitamin E, and magnesium. It also comes with many health benefits such as a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome. However, without careful planning, you may find yourself low on iron, vitamin B12, vitamin D, iodine, and zinc. All of these are important for healthy hair growth and if left deficient, you may notice more hair shedding. This is why we prepared a list of five foods that you can try to include in your diet this Veganuary.
You may not think of pumpkin seeds often but they are an excellent source of iron. Try roasting them and have them as a snack, or add them to green salad, pumpkin soup, or seeded bread. Iron is a very common deficiency and since animal products are usually richer in iron, it may be difficult to consume enough iron on a plant-based diet. Don’t forget to include foods that will give you this extra iron boost this month and be creative in your kitchen so you can keep your diet varied.
Iron is important for the normal formation of red blood cells, haemoglobin, and the transportation of oxygen in your body which is vital for cell division. Your hair follicles have many cells that divide and make your hair fibre – this is how your hair grows. When you’re lacking iron, not only you’ll feel tired most of the time, but you will also notice more hair loss. Low ferritin, a protein involved in iron storage, has been associated with telogen effluvium and female pattern hair loss.
Telogen effluvium is a disturbance in your normal hair growth cycle where many actively growing hair follicles move to the end of their cycle prematurely, losing their hair. As a result, you may notice increased hair shedding from all over your scalp and you may quickly lose hair volume and density. A blood test will help you find out if you have low ferritin and if this is the only reason for your telogen effluvium, correcting the ferritin levels should be enough to help you regrow the hair that was lost. Telogen effluvium is a condition that can recover on its own within 3-6 months after the trigger factor has been eliminated. If it lasts for more than 6 months, the telogen effluvium is then considered chronic and additional treatments may be recommended.
Female pattern hair loss is a genetic condition that can gradually make your hair look thinner on top of your scalp, whilst the hair at the back remains thicker. It is caused by a hormone called dihydrotestosterone (DHT) that makes the affected hair follicles smaller and weaker over time. Although this type of hair loss is not caused by low iron, low ferritin and iron deficiency anaemia have been known to aggravate the condition further, slow down hair growth, and contribute to further hair loss.
If you are following a plant-based diet, pumpkin seeds can be a good source of iron. Additionally, pumpkin seed oil has been known to have phytosterols that can reduce the production of the DHT hormone. For this reason, pumpkin seeds have gained popularity in the hair loss world, especially when it comes to treatments for male pattern hair loss and female pattern hair loss.
Marmite is made from yeast extract and you can use it as a spread on your toast, add to your pasta, or savoury biscuit recipe. It is an excellent source of several B vitamins, including vitamin B12. In fact, 8g serving of Marmite contains 76% of your average daily reference intake of vitamin B12. There are not many vegan-friendly B12 sources and if you feel like you’re not consuming enough vitamin B12, you may consider taking a supplement.
Vitamin B12 is needed for your DNA synthesis, neurological functioning, and the formation of your red blood cells that carry oxygen to your cells, such as those in the hair follicles. If your vitamin B12 level is low, you may not feel any significant symptoms, but after a while, you may start feeling tired, you may feel numbness or tingling sensation, mouth ulcers, and you may even notice that your mood is lower, that you develop depression and decline in your cognitive functioning.
The link between vitamin B12 and hair loss hasn’t been studied extensively and there is not enough evidence that low vitamin B12 can be the sole reason for hair loss. Some cases of alopecia areata have been reported to have vitamin B12 deficiency but this is usually due to pernicious anaemia, an autoimmune condition that affects your absorption of vitamin B12. Alopecia areata often co-exists with other autoimmune conditions and this may be the reason why there have been reports of such cases. Despite the lack of published evidence, ongoing vitamin B12 deficiency may still contribute to increased hair shedding as a secondary effect to the other symptoms that it causes which can have a significant impact on your quality of life.
Mushrooms that have grown exposed to sunlight or ultraviolet light are a good vegan-friendly source of vitamin D. Vitamin D levels may decrease in mushrooms as a result of storage and subsequent cooking, and it is always best to consume mushrooms immediately after harvesting, if possible, while the vitamin D levels are still high. Why not try a mushroom risotto, mushroom curry, or mushroom and spinach rotolo?
Vitamin D helps you keep your bones, teeth and muscles healthy. It also supports the health of your immune system, has a vital role in the process of cell growth and division in your skin and hair follicles, and it influences the expression of many genes.
Vitamin D is unfortunately difficult to obtain solely from your diet and occasionally, you may need to use a supplement to boost your vitamin D levels. You could of course book a beach holiday this January to collect some vitamin D under the sun however, you should always prioritise protecting your skin. If you follow a plant-based diet we recommend that you monitor your vitamin D because vitamin D deficiency is very common. Additionally, if you have low vitamin D, you may be absorbing less calcium, too.
If your vitamin D is low, you may find yourself having frequent infections, tiredness, fatigue, lower back pain, low mood and bone loss. Additionally, vitamin D is so important for the health of your hair, that it has been associated with several hair loss conditions including telogen effluvium, male pattern hair loss, female pattern hair loss, alopecia areata, trichotillomania, and scarring alopecia.
Vitamin D receptors are present in the skin and hair follicles, and they increase during the anagen phase of the hair growth cycle – this is the phase when the follicle actively grows and makes hair fibre. For this reason, the growing phase of the hair cycle may be directly associated with vitamin D receptors. Ongoing vitamin D deficiency can therefore contribute to chronic telogen effluvium and androgenic alopecia. This is why at The Belgravia Centre we always advise that you have a thorough blood test that can check your vitamin and mineral levels.
Alopecia areata is an autoimmune type of hair loss that can cause patchy hair loss or rarely, total hair loss. Fortunately, this condition has the potential to regrow the hair fully and often this happens spontaneously, however, this is also very unpredictable and in many cases treatment can be beneficial. Alopecia areata often affects people who have other autoimmune conditions or who have family members with autoimmune conditions. Additionally, various environmental and dietary factors could contribute to it, including vitamin D deficiency.
Vitamin D is important for the initiation of the growing phase of the hair cycle and also for the health of your immune system. When you are lacking vitamin D, your hair may not grow healthily and also, if you are prone to autoimmune conditions, such as alopecia areata or some types of scarring alopecia, they may flare up.
Vitamin D is also important for your mental health and mood. If you have low vitamin D over a long period of time, this may worsen conditions such as depression, and anxiety, as well as anxiety-driven hair loss conditions such as trichotillomania. If you have trichotillomania you may find yourself pulling your own hair or twisting it around your finger until it breaks. The habit can be difficult to break and it is always best that you seek help from a mental health professional.
Seaweed absorbs iodine from the seawater and is therefore an excellent addition to your January diet, although in moderation. You can experiment with seaweed in your kitchen and try meals such as squash and seaweed pancakes, seaweed and sesame seed crackers, or kelp noodles with pistachio pesto.
Iodine is vital for the health of your thyroid gland and the synthesis of your thyroid hormones. This influences your energy and metabolism. If you follow a plant-based diet, you should ensure that you also include foods that are a source of iodine. This is because most foods rich in iodine are animal-based such as fish, shellfish, dairy, eggs, and some meats. The occasional consumption of seaweed should provide you with plenty of iodine and if you find that you are lacking iodine, you can always use a supplement.
A deficiency in iodine can make your thyroid underactive. As a result, you may feel tired, cold, with low mood, you may gain weight, your hair may become dry and brittle, it may grow much slower, and you may experience diffuse hair loss across your scalp, sometimes your eyebrows may become thinner and your nails may become coarse.
It is important to mention that, you should never use too much iodine as this will also change the way your thyroid gland functions and lead to further problems. If you are unsure whether you consume enough iodine or not, you can always speak with your GP for further advice. Additionally, it is very difficult to know exactly how much iodine there is in each portion of seaweed as this is variable and some types of seaweed can in fact provide you with too high levels of iodine. Therefore, you shouldn’t consume this too often and if you already have a thyroid problem, you should consult with your doctor first.
Pistachios will provide you with zinc. Pistachios are delicious in both sweet and savoury recipes and you can try making pistachio and dark chocolate cookies, roasted potatoes with pistachio pesto, or raspberry and pistachio parfait.
Zinc is vital for efficient wound healing, processing carbohydrates, fat and proteins, making new cells and enzymes, and the function of your immune system. Zinc is also an anti-oxidant and protects cells from oxidative stress. It contributes to normal hair, skin, and nail growth and will help protect you against some hair loss conditions, brittle hair, and dermatitis.
Zinc deficiency is not so common however, many foods that are a source of zinc are animal-based. You only require a small amount of zinc daily however, if you follow a plant-based diet, it is good to ensure that you include zinc-rich foods. If you are lacking zinc, you may notice excessive hair shedding and poor wound healing.
Zinc has been found to be an inhibitor of hair follicle regression, it accelerates hair follicle recovery, and plays an important role in the hair growth cycle. In 2013 The Annals of Dermatology journal published a study exploring the effects of serum zinc and copper concentrations in hair loss conditions. They found that patients with alopecia areata and telogen effluvium had lower zinc concentrations compared to the control group, whilst patients with androgenic alopecia also had lower zinc levels compared to controls but they were still within the normal range.
Zinc is essential for many processes in the body, including the health of the skin. After all, it is important for wound healing and has an anti-inflammatory effect. In 2019 the Turkish Journal of Medical Sciences published a paper demonstrating that patients with seborrhoeic dermatitis tend to have lower zinc levels than healthy subjects.
If you have noticed any signs of hair thinning or hair loss, it is important that you talk to an expert as soon as possible. They will examine your hair, discuss your medical history, lifestyle, and hair care routine, and give you treatment recommendations tailored to your specific case. The Belgravia Centre advises that you bring a recent blood test to your consultation. This will help you determine whether there are any nutritional factors that could be contributing to your hair loss.
You should keep in mind that your hair cycle is influenced by many factors simultaneously – genetic predisposition, your health, your diet, your nutrient intake, your stress, and your hair care routine. If your blood test shows that you have any nutritional deficiency, you should certainly address this. However, this may not be the sole reason for your hair loss and this is where a hair loss specialist can be of huge help. Not only they will discuss a treatment plan for you, but they will also monitor you regularly and be ready to answer any questions that you may have 7 days a week.
To help you get a head start, follow these steps:
If you just want to ask a question:
If you would like to book a free consultation at our Central London clinic:
If you would like to have an online consultation:
The Belgravia Centre’s pharmacy is dedicated to preparing bespoke treatment formulations tailored to our patients. Medications are prepared in oral or topical forms of various strengths and with various additives to maximise their effectiveness. This helps us choose a treatment plan that suits your type and severity of hair loss, your medical history, and your lifestyle.
Take a look through our hair regrowth photo gallery – which is the largest gallery of its kind in the world and contains over 1,000 sets of hair growth photos and verified reviews from patients of The Belgravia Centre. You can filter the photos by pattern and severity of hair loss so you can find similar cases to your own.
The Belgravia Centre is a world-renowned group of a hair loss clinic in Central London, UK. If you are worried about hair loss you can arrange a free consultation with a hair loss expert or complete our Online Consultation from anywhere in the world for home-use treatment.
View our Hair Loss Success Stories, which includes the world's largest gallery of hair growth photos and demonstrates the level of success that so many of Belgravia's patients achieve.