A Hairy Situation

On the Balanced Bites podcast episode 108 presented by Diane Sanfilippo and Liz Wolfe, a reader submitted a question regarding the potential link between Paleo and thinning hair:

“I’ve been doing Paleo for about 10 months now [….] I’ve noticed that since I’ve started Paleo, my hair has gotten significantly thinner. Do you know if this is a normal occurrence for people doing Paleo? I used to eat a significant amount of dairy and grains, etc. Any advice would be helpful.”

Liz started by addressing that the relationship between Paleo and thinning hair was “not normal, but it is something that [they have] heard people say with interesting frequency.” That piqued my interest as I had been struggling with thinning hair over the last year and it was an issue that popped up frequently on various Paleo/Primal forums. I made the switch to Paleo three months ago and found that the diet alleviated some scalp issues but appeared to accelerate my hair shedding.

Liz made some suggestions on digestion but Diane brought up an interesting point about how some people fall into a low-carb trap:

“If you accidentally go low-carb because you switched to a Paleo diet, and you forget that you were getting, not only a whole spectrum of nutrients from food that had more carbohydrates […] I mean starches in general, whether its carbohydrates or just getting some more B vitamins, vitamin C, remembering to up your intake of those foods when you make the switch, because a lot of people do move to sort of chicken, broccoli, and coconut oil, or they do a lot of protein and fat and forget about carbs, and you know, it doesn’t mean that your body can’t do fine without a lot of carbohydrates.”

What she means is that Paleo followers can often fall into a low-carb trap where they make solid choices for animal protein, vegetables and good fats (“chicken, broccoli, and coconut oil”) but accidentally cut out all carbohydrates, both good and bad. They forget to add back nutrient-dense carbohydrate sources (“a whole spectrum of nutrients… more B vitamins, vitamin C”), leaving the body lacking in nutrition in many ways. A low-carbohydrate diet can sometimes lead to a variety of issues, of which includes thinning hair.

I recalled that I had similar issues several years ago when my now-ex pressed me to convert the Atkins diet on & off for a period between two to three years. The carbohydrate restrictions on the Atkins diet were excessive — some periods would limit the intake to 20g or less per day. Eventually, I wised up, ditched the guy and regained my health & sanity, but my previously thick head of hair never really fully recovered after that disastrous run. Could adding back nutrient-dense carbohydrate sources be my key to regaining my former crowning glory?

Fresh vegetables by Lars P @ Flickr

Fresh vegetables – CC licensed by Lars P @ Flickr

Maybe, or maybe not. After all, thinning hair can be brought on by multiple underlying issues (diet, physical damage, stress, hormonal imbalance, thyroid disorders et cetera), which makes it hard to zero in a cureall. However, I (like many Paleo newcomers) was already guilty of being too restrictive with my carbohydrates and needed to up my daily consumption from <50g to 75-100g. I started adding in more carrots, sweet potatoes and Japanese yams, berries, apples, and even bananas (previously a banana-hater). With autumn in full swing, I am now including some red-skinned new potatoes and starchy carb-dense seasonal squashes like butternut, acorn, spaghetti and kabocha. Diane at Balanced Bites posted a helpful nutrient-dense carbohydrate guide from her book Practical Paleo that makes meal-planning somewhat easier for the carb-challenged. The added variety of vegetables and fruits definitely helped me to get out of the greens-only ruts and added much welcome color to all my meals. I am also trying to correct potential nutrient deficiencies through better food choices and my favorite reference is World’s Healthiest Foods: Essential Nutrients Guide. I much prefer getting my nutrients through whole foods rather than solely relying on isolated supplements.

This is a complex situation that will take months, maybe even years, to remedy but getting past the ghost of my carb-restrictive past is a step in the right direction for my overall health (and not just the hair on my head)!


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