The effect of diet on hair and scalp health is unclear. However, some studies suggest that certain foods might increase the risk of hair loss. These include simple carbohydrates like refined sugars and grains.

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It is normal to lose up to 100 hairs per day. Males, and to a lesser extent, females, will typically lose more hair with age. However, there are many possible causes of atypical hair loss, ranging from certain diseases to birth control pills.

A nutritious diet can affect many aspects of how the body functions. Some diets could also influence hair and scalp health, which may lead to hair loss.

Keep reading to learn more about foods that could cause hair loss or promote hair growth.

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Eating high quantities of unhealthy foods or insufficient amounts of nutritious foods could worsen hair loss.

A 2020 review of 24 studies suggested that anti-inflammatory diets, such as the Mediterranean diet, can promote hair health and prevent hair loss. The Mediterranean diet comprises many nutrient-rich foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and olive oil.

However, while nutritious anti-inflammatory foods could promote hair growth, limited evidence suggests less nutritious inflammatory foods may cause hair loss.

For example, some evidence indicates excess consumption of simple carbohydrates could indirectly lead to inflammation that might worsen excess hair loss in women. Simple carbohydrates include foods such as refined sugars and grains.

A 2019 case study looking at two females transitioning to menopause suggested that the hair loss they experienced had possible links to eating tuna, a fish high in mercury. The authors concluded that further research into this was necessary.

Currently, existing research points more towards certain foods and nutrients being able to boost hair health than causing hair loss directly.

Foods with a potentially negative effect on hair health and growth include:

Simple carbohydrates

A 2016 study suggested that diets rich in simple carbohydrates may contribute to hair loss.

The authors suggest eating simple carbohydrates increases sebum production, an oily substance that the glands attached to hair follicles release. While sebum is beneficial for hair health, excess amounts can lead to inflammation that is harmful to hair health.

Sugary foods also cause the pancreas to increase the production of the hormone insulin, which negatively affects blood vessels in the scalp.

People should avoid eating too many simple carbohydrates, such as candy, cakes, and cookies. These foods also include refined grains, such as white rice, pasta, or bread. Complex carbohydrates are a more nutritious alternative that includes whole grains, beans, and vegetables.

Fish with high mercury content

A 2019 case report on two women experiencing hair loss found they had high mercury levels in their blood from eating fish. The hair loss improved after they reduced their intake of mercury-rich fish.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) still recommends eating 2–3 servings of fish per week due to its high nutritional value. Therefore, sticking to fish low in mercury, such as tuna, salmon, and cod, could be beneficial for people experiencing hair loss.

Fried foods and red meat

An older study from 2010 suggested avoiding fried foods and red meat for hair health. The authors stated these foods could negatively affect hair health because they cause the overactivity of sebum and oil glands.

Studies exploring the effect of diet on hair loss are still in the early stages. However, a 2020 review suggested a form of hair loss called telogen effluvium may sometimes stem from a diet severely lacking in calories, protein, or certain micronutrients.

A 2016 study suggests eating a balanced diet, including sufficient amounts of protein, vitamins, and minerals, is necessary for hair health and growth.

The following are some of the dietary recommendations:

  • Protein: Proteins contain amino acids necessary for hair growth. Examples of protein sources include:
    • cottage cheese
    • yogurt
    • beans
    • poultry
    • seeds and nuts
    • eggs
    • fish
  • Healthy fats:Unsaturated fats hydrate the hair and may prevent hair loss. Some sources include:
    • fatty fish, such as salmon
    • flax seeds
    • walnuts
    • olive oil
  • Vitamin C: A vitamin C deficiency may negatively affect the creation of hair shafts. Sources include:
    • green, leafy vegetables
    • strawberries
    • citrus fruits
  • Folate: This form of vitamin B stimulates the rebuilding of hair. Examples of folate sources include:
    • peas
    • beets
    • asparagus
  • Biotin: Biotin can promote hair growth. Sources include:
    • egg yolk
    • sweet potatoes
    • salmon
    • sunflower seeds
    • almonds
  • Niacin: This B vitamin is necessary for hair health. Some sources include:
    • salmon
    • tuna
    • marinara sauce
    • whole grains
    • peanuts
    • seeds
  • Iron: Insufficient iron can cause hair loss. Sources include:
    • beef
    • poultry
    • spinach
    • white beans
    • lentils
    • dried apricots

Diet is one factor in preventing hair loss, but other practices that also might help include the below.

Quitting smoking

Research from 2020 involving 1,000 healthy men found hair loss was more common in smokers than nonsmokers. The results suggest that nicotine may speed up the progression of hair loss.

Avoiding hair-damaging products

The American Academy of Dermatology Association (AADA) suggests products for coloring, relaxing, or perming the hair can have damaging effects and may cause hair loss.

Avoiding pulling hair

The AADA also states that hairstyles that pull the hair back tightly against the scalp can cause permanent hair loss. Pulling on the hair to relieve stress is also harmful.

Certain diets and specific foods may affect hair loss. For example, eating too many simple carbohydrates or fish high in mercury could increase this risk. Nutritious foods, especially those high in micronutrients, such as vitamins B and C, could prevent hair loss and improve hair health. These foods include leafy green vegetables, fruits, and nuts.

However, research in this area is still in its infancy. Following basic haircare tips, such as avoiding hair-damaging products, will also help reduce the risk of hair loss.