Temporary hair loss
Temporary hair loss can occur for many different reasons, including any big dietary change. This is especially common when severely restricting calories (e.g., starvation diets or meal replacements). But it can also occasionally happen on low-carb diets.
If so, it usually begins 3 to 6 months after starting the new diet, at which point you’ll notice more hairs falling out when brushing.
The good news is that even if you should be so unfortunate, this is usually a temporary phenomenon. And it’s likely that only a very small portion of your hair will fall out. Most find that the thinning will rarely be noticeable to others.
After a few months, all the hair follicles will start to grow new hair and get back to normal. Of course, if you have long hair this could take a year or even more.
To understand exactly what is happening it’s necessary to know the basics of how hair grows.
Each hair on your head usually grows for about 3 to 5 years at a time. After that it stops growing for up to 2 months. Then a new hair strand starts growing in the same hair follicle, pushing the old hair out.
So although you’re losing hair every day, because the hair strands are unsynchronized, this is not so noticeable. You lose one hair and another starts growing, so you always have about the same number of hair strands on your scalp.
Stress and synchronized hair loss
If your body experiences significant stress, more hair strands than usual can enter the resting phase at the same time. This can happen for many reasons, including:
- Starvation, including calorie-restricted diets and meal replacements
- Unusually demanding exercise
- Breast feeding
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Psychological stress
- Any big diet change
As the new hair strands start growing a few months later, all these formerly resting hair strands will drop at almost the same time. This is called “telogen effluvium” (read more about it) and is relatively common.
What to do
If there was an obvious triggering factor 3 to 6 months before the problem started – such as giving birth or transitioning to a strict low-carb diet – you don’t have to do anything. The problem should be temporary.
As long as you eat a varied and nutritious low-carb diet, it’s unlikely that stopping low carb will speed up hair regrowth. And unfortunately, you can’t stop the hair loss from happening once it has started, as the resting hairs will still fall out.
It’s possible to order blood tests for nutrient deficiencies, but unless you are on a vegetarian or vegan diet (with no supplements of iron or vitamin B12) it’s unlikely that these tests will show anything remarkable. However, if you have prolonged hair loss despite consuming adequate calories, especially protein, and there is no other obvious reason, then you may want to check with your doctor to make sure there aren’t any rare medical conditions that may be causing the issue.
How to minimize the risk of hair loss when starting low carb
First, temporary hair loss is relatively rare after starting a low-carb diet.
There are no studies about how to minimize this small risk, but it’s likely helpful to avoid drastic calorie restriction (i.e. such a low calorie intake as to be unsustainable long-term). In addition, focus on getting adequate protein and allow yourself to include the amount of fat that makes your food palatable.
It may also be helpful to reduce other sources of stress during your first few weeks on low carb. Sleep well, be kind to yourself, and don’t start an intense exercise program at the same time (wait at least a couple of weeks).