If you’re experiencing unexplained hair loss it’s important to understand the potential root causes, one of which may be that your diet is lacking key nutrients.
Key nutrients for hair growth for vegetarians are the same as everyone else, but the source of these nutrients may be harder to find.
The role of the gut in hair loss
Whilst there are many other health conditions that affect our hair and scalp, our digestion is key. It’s important we are putting the right ingredients in our body, to grow a healthy head of hair.
Gut health can play a big part in the health of all aspects of our body, including the scalp. Hair loss can be affected by inflammation in the gut. This could be related to an imbalance of gut bacteria, or ‘leaky gut’ (sometimes called intestinal permeability), or irritation in the lining of the intestines.
Our digestive health can also affect hair growth through low stomach acid preventing you absorbing enough dietary nutrients like B12 and iron properly.
Your gut microbes also have a role in regulating the hormones which influence the hair growth phases, so it’s important we ensure your digestion is functioning optimally.
It’s very possible to have a healthy vegetarian diet. Here are some key nutrients for vegetarians to consider for hair growth as part of a healthy lifestyle.
Vegetarian Protein – a hair growth essential
Protein is important for a healthy scalp and hair growth. When we eat protein our digestive system breaks it down into amino acids. We then use the amino acids as building blocks for our skin, hair, hormones and many other functions.
You could be eating sufficient protein, but struggling to digest it due a lack of stomach acid, digestive enzymes or other issues.
Eat as much variety as possible to hit all the essential amino acids we need for healthy hair. Include
- Swap white rice, bread and pasta for brown rice, and wholegrain bread / pasta
- Natural yoghurt, especially high protein versions like Skyr
- Vegetarian alternative meat products (although these can be higher in salt and other additives)
Vegetarian iron rich foods
When you’re avoiding meat and fish you need to eat a wider range of iron rich plant foods, as well as including eggs as these also contain iron. Plant based foods containing iron are:
- Leafy greens (spinach, kale)
- Dried fruits (e.g. apricots, raisins)
- Nuts & seeds
To increase the absorption of plant-based iron include vitamin C rich foods with your meal. This could be adding tomato, red pepper, orange, kiwi, or strawberries to your meal.
If you’re low in iron, avoid drinking tea for around 30 mins before and after to avoid the tannins in the tea affecting iron absorption.
It’s not recommended to supplement with iron unless you have had a test showing your levels are low. This is especially for men, and non-menstruating women who don’t lose iron each month.
Vitamin B12 can help address hair loss
B12 is an important nutrient for hair loss for vegetarians because it supports the nervous system, and cell turnover, as well as healthy blood.
There are no plant based foods with sufficient vitamin B12 so if you’re following a vegan diet you will need to supplement.
There is some vitamin B12 in eggs, cheese, and yoghurt. You will need to work out whether you’re eating enough of these foods to cover your B12 requirements.
Many foods like plant based milks, cereals or nutritional yeast are fortified with B12.
Vitamin D can’t really be sourced from food in sufficient quantities to maintain our health. Unfortunately for those in the UK we need exposure to the sun!
Vitamin D deficiency may lead to issues with your immune system, and low levels can be linked to auto-immune conditions.
In the UK it’s recommended we all take vitamin D during the winter months from September to April because we can’t make vitamin D when the sun is lower on the horizon.
You may wish to get a simple test to run at home to check your levels of vitamin D before supplementing large amounts.
Omega 3 fats are important for healthy hair growth for vegetarians
Fats are essential for the health of all our cell membranes, and this is also true for our skin and hair. Omega 3 fats keep the scalp hydrated, and nourish hair follicles.
If you’re pescatarian you can eat oily fish 2-3 times a week such as mackerel, salmon, herring, or anchovies.
People who don’t eat fish should consider a vegan Omega 3 capsule to supplement. Check with a nutritionist if this would be suitable for you as omega 3 can interact with some medication and health conditions.
There is a very minimal amount of Omega 3 fats that may be accessible from plant based sources such as hemp, walnuts and flaxseeds, but there is a conversion process needed which means this isn’t a reliable source of omega 3.
Overall diet pattern is important for hair growth
Before worrying about individual nutrients for hair loss for vegetarians it’s important to view your diet as a whole, and consider the health of your digestion.
Is your gut healthy, are you absorbing enough of key nutrients you are eating?
Aim for as broad and balanced a diet as possible to ensure you’re eating as many different nutrients as you can.
If you’re taking supplements remember that more isn’t always better, some nutrients can lead to hair loss when taken in excess, so check how much you’re taking.
Work with a qualified nutritionist if you want a personalised diet to support healthy hair and scalp alongside dietary requirements like being vegan or vegetarian.
Hi I'm Anna Mapson, registered Nutritionist (mBANT, CNHC). I help people with IBS, SIBO, reflux and other gut health issues.
I can help you to:
- understand your digestion better, so you recognise your triggers
- eat a well balanced diet, with tasty meals that are simple to prepare
- develop healthy, sustainable habits for life
“Anna is amazing! I feel totally transformed"
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