Protein Deficiency and Hair Loss

A Brief Explanation
Hair growth is produced by rapidly multiplying cells near the base of the follicle, that reproduce by mitosis, (a form of cell division). This mitotic activity produces cells, that form the hair shaft and cause our hair to lengthen. Hair growth, therefore, requires an extraordinary amount of nutrients to sustain the rapid production of new cells. Any disruption of these requirements can have a detrimental effect on the delicate physiologic conditions needed to support healthy hair growth. Notably, hair strands are composed primarily of keratin protein, from dead keratinized cells (keratinocytes).

Amino acids (the building blocks of protein) are vital for the replication of these protein packed cells. Adequate protein intake is therefore critical for providing the amino acids that are needed for normal hair growth. Correspondingly, protein deficiency can cause hair loss, make all types of hair loss worse, and adversely affect any hair loss treatment.

In our practice we routinely encounter individuals with poor protein intake and accelerated pattern hair loss. These individuals can respond well to various treatments only when adequate dietary protein intake is restored.

Daily Protein Requirements
Our normal daily protein requirement is about .8 grams per kilogram of body weight, per day. So a 70Kg adult (i.e. ~150 pound, “average size” adult) needs to eat 56 grams of protein every day.

Depending on body weight, most adults therefore require between 40 to 60 grams of protein a per day. So a reasonable target, for our daily protein intake, is around 50 grams.

Animal Protein Sources
The richest source of protein comes from animal products. For example, poultry, seafood, pork and beef are roughly 25% protein, by weight. Approximately 200 grams (~7ounces) of meat, fish or poultry (i.e. a large size chicken breast) would provide over 50 grams of protein, easily satisfying our daily protein intake requirement.

Egg whites are another excellent protein source. One extra large egg has 7 grams of protein. So, a 4 egg white omelette has 28 grams of protein, providing over half of our 50 gram target for daily protein intake.

Dairy products are also a fairly rich and convenient source of protein; cottage cheese and authentic greek/strained yogurt both have over 20 grams of protein per cup.

Chicken soup, made from real chicken, not processed chicken stock, and “bone broth” are also low fat and low carbohydrate sources of amino acids.

Plant protein sources
The richest plant source of protein is legumes (beans). Legumes with the highest protein content are soy beans (~30 grams per cup) and lentils (~17 grams per cup). Most legumes contain around 15 grams of protein per cup. So, a cup of beans will usually provide close to 1/3 of our daily protein requirements.

Legumes also contain carbohydrate and fat and can vary widely in calorie content. Most legumes when cooked have between 200 to 300 calories per cup.

Nuts and seeds are a rich source of plant protein similar in content to legumes, but are also high in healthy fats, giving them a very high calorie content.

Many vegetables are a rich source of nutrients and have a modest but high quality protein content, e.g. peas (8 grams per cup), asparagus (3 grams per cup), kale (3 grams per cup), alfalfa sprouts (3 grams per cup), broccoli (2.5 grams per cup).

Healthy protein intake
Unhealthy eating habits, fad diets, low protein forms of vegetarian or vegan diets, as well as severe malnutrition, such as Kwashiorkor, have varying adverse effects on hair growth. The first step in preventing or treating protein deficiency is to become aware of our average daily protein intake; this is best accomplished by counting the grams of protein that we eat daily. Counting grams of protein intake is especially important for skimpy eaters (i.e. individuals on severe weight loss regimes, tea and toast grandmas, children with poor dietary intake etc.), and vegetarian or vegan patients with marginal protein intake.

For our vegetarian patients who eat dairy, we recommend eating egg white omelets, cottage cheese and Greek yogurt along with high protein legumes, nuts and seeds as an easy way to boost protein intake.

For strict vegan patients we recommend a plant based diet that includes a variety of high protein legumes, seeds, nuts and vegetables; minimizing starchy vegetables, breads and pasta. Maintaining healthy protein intake without animal products is possible, but requires fastidious attention to dietary intake, It is critically important to understand that an absence of animal products does not automatically equate with a “healthy diet,” especially in regard to protein intake.

Commercially Available Protein Supplements
In our experience we have found that protein powders and supplements to be very disappointing for treating protein deficient patients. In contrast, we have seen superb results in our patients who maintain adequate protein intake from fresh whole food sources.

Please consult with your physician before considering any of the drugs or treatments discussed on this website