Key Ingredients of an Alopecia Diet
Hair loss is a tricksy beast. One of those things where you don’t know what’s causing it, or what could be a possible cure. But you can prevent it from getting worse; starting with looking after yourself as much as possible. This includes following an ‘alopecia diet’.
You see, by taking active steps to improve your physical and mental health, you might notice that your hair grows back in no time. Imagine! These steps include getting a decent sleep, squeezing in some exercise, and watching what you eat. (Not literally. That’d be weird).
When it comes to the kind of diet that alopecians should follow, there are some dos and don’ts to bear in mind; things to include and things to avoid.
Emma’s ‘not a doctor’ disclaimer
Hi there, I’m an alopecian, I’m not a doctor! Any advice I give is based on my own research and personal experiences. This site is however reader-supported. When you buy through external links, I may earn a tiny affiliate commission. Learn more here.
The world is kale-mad right now, and with good reason. It’s because dark leafy greens (like kale, broccoli and spinach) come with all kinds of immune-boosting functions.
Kale, in particular, is great if you have any digestive issues. This is down to its high-fibre content, and the fact that it actually has more iron per calorie than beef! Kale mightn’t be as widely regarded as say, turmeric, for its anti-inflammatory properties – but it should be. Because just one cup of the curly green stuff contains 10% of your RDA of Omega-3 fatty acids; the guys that are great for those with autoimmune disorders.
Dark leafies are rich in calcium too, which is brilliant news for your teeth, your nails and – you got it – your hair.
If you’ve got alopecia, chances are your scalp feels drier than an AA Christmas party. Flaky and parched, it ain’t the best environment for hair follicles to burst forth new fruit. (Or hair, for that matter.)
So give your scalp ‘n’ skin some oily goodness with some healthy fats. Eat plenty of Omega-soaked fish like mackerel and salmon or, if you can’t stand the stuff, take some fish oil supplements instead. (I’ve been taking these supplements for a long time now; if I go off them for even a week I notice how quickly my skin dries out!)
You should also cook with extra virgin olive oil or organic cold-pressed coconut oil whenever possible. Tasty, nutritious, and great for your hair.
While caffeine is actually a great hair growth stimulant when applied topically, it isn’t so good for those of us with hormone problems; specifically, those of us with low or heightened levels of cortisol.
Why, you might ask? Well, caffeine interferes with the body’s natural cortisol levels, meaning this ‘stress hormone’ can cause you to feel overly anxious, upset and stressed out. Now, I’ll admit it – I do enjoy my morning cup of coffee (unfortunately I can’t resist!) – but any more would give me a severe case of the jitters. So cut down the caffeine to a single cup a day, if you can.
If you’ve got an autoimmune condition like alopecia, sugar is probably one of the worst things you could feed it. Why? Well, for one it can cause inflammation in the digestive tract, which can lead to what’s known as a ‘leaky gut’.
When this takes place, your gut wall becomes more permeable, allowing harmful toxins to pass through. And because sugar prevents our white blood cells from destroying these toxins quickly, they’re allowed to linger until they trigger an autoimmune response. This isn’t the best news for your hair because the immune system will then target all ‘foreign invaders’ that it doesn’t recognise, even the healthy cells.
Sugar also brings a heap of problems to our thyroids, our cortisol levels and comes with plenty more issues. So take my advice: cut out what you can.
Great question. I’ll tell you – what’s more, I’ll even tell you why…
Because the seeds contain nurturing fatty acids like linoleic and oleic acid, plus plenty of Vitamins E and K. Sesame oil also promotes circulation, soothes an itchy scalp and gives added moisture to dry or brittle locks. Use the oil in cooking for general health benefits, or warm some up and rub it on your noggin before bedtime. You might smell like a takeaway, but it’s worth it.
Ginger is an anti-inflammatory substance, which is what those of us with autoimmune issues badly need. It also contains magnesium (which helps us relax) and Vitamin B6 (which promotes healthy hair and nails). Eat it as often as you can, and rub some on your patches, too. Tip: Fresh garlic and fresh onion juice are also great natural ingredients to rub on your scalp and to boost circulation! 🙂
Loaded with all kinds of health benefits, turmeric also comes with some anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting functions that are great when we’re feeling feeble. There’s actually a lot of research to show turmeric’s anti-inflammatory capacities, so I drink it with ginger every day. Note: If you don’t want to get yellow-stained fingers by chopping too much turmeric, you could always buy turmeric capsules instead. This brand of supplements contain BioPerine, a black pepper extract that helps you absorb nutrients faster.
Psst: Read my full review about the joys of turmeric for hair growth – and more on these supplements – in this post.
The green champions that between them are fortified with lovely vitamins A, C, E, K and B6… plus a tonne of calcium, iron, magnesium and fibre, too. I enjoy them either as a salad or in a stir-fry (tip: for the kale, massage it for a few minutes in olive oil first!) Most recently, since starting my AIP diet (more on that in a sec), I’ve been adding spinach to avocado, frozen banana and cashew milk and enjoying a green smoothie every morning through my very favourite bamboo straw – which a friend made me for my wedding party! Whatever way you eat yours, you’re getting some green goodness in the bargain.
The above tips involve eating healthily, cutting out harmful foods and ingesting plenty of nurturing ones. But often, for those with autoimmune conditions, that won’t be enough. (Sorry.)
What you might need is a complete overhaul, especially if you’ve got what’s known as “leaky gut syndrome”. And doing something like an Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) diet could REALLY help you out if you’ve got gut issues causing inflammation elsewhere in the body. Gluten is seen as one of the main culprits in triggering the body’s inflammatory response – which leads to it attacking perfectly healthy hair follicles – so this journey usually begins with going gluten-free.
I thought I knew about eating healthily before: eat plenty of fruit and veg, avoid sugar and processed foods etc. But I knew nothing about the idea of a “leaky gut” or “intestinal permeability” – and how they could lead to hair loss. So if you’ve got leaky gut, it doesn’t matter how healthy your diet is, because it can prevent you from absorbing nutrients in the first place. The only way is to “heal your gut” with a cleanse, followed by a supplementation plan and an elimination diet – essentially, to press the ‘reset’ button and give your immune system a fresh start.
The more about gut health I read online, the more interested I became. Until I eventually found this fascinating book, The Autoimmune Solution, which kickstarted my whole nutrition and autoimmunity journey and led me into the wonderful world of Functional Medicine.
What I’ve learned, after a lot more research on the topic, is that we alopecians can suddenly have “trigger foods”, even when we’ve never seemingly had a problem with them before. They could be making our alopecia much worse and the condition could be reversed entirely if we just knew what foods to eliminate. And how do we do this?
Well, we start off by being pretty strict on ourselves; cutting out dairy, gluten, pulses, eggs and unsprouted grains for a few months and replacing them with fish, good fats, plus lots of fruit and veggies. A good probiotic and other gut-healing supplements are also an important part of the plan. And that’s what I decided to do.
Another great question! Like I said, before you can benefit from all the nutrients your new diet can bring you, you’ll need to make sure your gut is in good condition.
When I went to see a Functional Medicine doctor in July 2019, who diagnosed with gut dysbiosis, I realised… Mine wasn’t! So I started taking a powerful probiotic and fish oils regularly (among other things), which reduced my inflammation, gave me a massive energy boost, cleared up my skin and even helped my hair to grow (not all of it, unfortunately, but the condition improved a lot).
The following brands are similar to the ones I tried (which I ordered from a UK site). They are:
Psst… Update May 2020: I actually just tracked down many of the supplements I’m on right now. Check them out here:
Note: these supplements may not be exactly what you need as they were recommended based on my individual microbiome test results. But anyone with gut issues would benefit from taking, at the very least, a good probiotic and fish oils.
This is the first step you’ll need to take in changing up your diet. Because there’s no point in taking a bunch of supplements if you don’t actually need them!
A microbiome test assesses what’s going on in your gut right now – any bad bacteria lurking, whether you’re deficient in good bacteria, and what foods could be triggering intolerances or allergies – leading to inflammation and its symptoms like anxiety, mood swings, digestive problems and hair loss.
I got tested in July 2019, when my FM doctor arranged my microbiome test through a company called Geneva Labs. The second time, in September 2020, it was through Doctor’s Data. Both companies have great reputations but don’t come cheap!
I’ve recently learned of a company called Viome, who offer at-home testing kits and will analyze your results before sending you a nutrition/supplementation plan. They seem like a much more cost-effective option and would be a great way to find a nutrition plan tailored to your needs!
If you do decide to follow a nutrition and supplementation plan, make sure to write down how your symptoms change over the course of the month. You might notice less “brain fog”, a more balanced emotional state and – fingers crossed – an improvement in your alopecia!
It will take time (for me, it took over 3 months before my hair started coming back) as your gut inflammation may have been around for years. But stick with it – and please share your experiences in the comments!
I’ll be honest. I tried the autoimmune diet in November 2019 for about 6 weeks and I felt great afterwards. But because I wasn’t sure what exactly the problem was – gluten, dairy or neither – and because Christmas held too many temptations for me, I fell off the wagon again!
But in April 2020, I started the diet again and, after just two weeks, started feeling great! Writing this update, at the end of November, I’ve really noticed a difference so I’ll try to stick to it. Staying off some of the foods I enjoy can be tough, but my supplements help to keep me feeling strong and healthy!
I also got my second gut microbiome test results back a few weeks ago. In the past year, my inflammation levels (marked by something called sIgA) have gone waaaay down: they’re a third of what they were in July 2020! So these dietary changes have definitely helped me…and thanks to the supplements I’m still taking, I’m able to absorb the nutrients from my food properly.
So, take my advice: Heal your gut first, in whatever way you can. Then load up on those greens, savour the sesame, cut out the caffeine and give sugar a sweet kiss goodbye. Not only will you feel better on the inside, you might just notice some sprouting on the outside, too. Bon appétit!
Get free, semi-regular alopecia-related news things and musings.
Psst… If no welcome email shows up, check your spam.
Alopecian. Yoga Teacher. Copywriter. Here to share information, offer support and show people the adventures that can lie in hair loss. I’m proud to have alopecia and I want to help others embrace their baldness, too!