Everyone knows that hair loss, especially the so-called “Male Pattern Baldness” (MPB) is just a fact of life. Female Androgenic Alopecia is just a normal part of menopause. If your mother’s father has a full head of hair in later life, you will too. Balding men have more testosterone, and are therefore more “virile”. All of these common beliefs are not unlike almost all other examples of conventional wisdom, in that they are not necessarily true. Luckily.
Sure, each of those statements may very well be true for typical people, who typically follow the Standard American Diet (S.A.D), but they don’t have to be a normal or expected part of adult life. In reality, hair loss could be yet another sign of the cascade of detrimental effects that are part of the metabolic derangement known as “Syndrome X”. Is it possible that the Paleo diet could prevent hair loss since it provides proper nutrition?
There is the old school of thought that offered the theory that high levels of insulin in the blood is the root cause of hair loss. The hormone Dihydrotestosterone (DHT) is believed to be responsible for the hair follicle damage that results in hair loss. High levels of Sex Hormone Binding Globulin (SBGH) limit the negative effects of DHT, by binding to free testosterone, which blocks the conversion of testosterone to DHT. On the inverse, high levels of insulin lowers the levels of SBGH, which allows more testosterone to be converted to DHT and damage hair follicles. Put simply, lots of insulin allows lots of DHT to be made, which causes hair loss.
The insulin theory actually fits quite neatly, because studies show that people who are insulin resistant, or diabetic have a significantly higher incidence of hair loss. Coincidently, people who are balding have a significantly higher risk of heart disease. Because of this theory, it’s obvious that hair loss is yet another condition that is caused by poor eating habits, since insulin resistance is typically established after years of over-consumption of sugars and processed carbohydrates.
Well, Danny Roddy doesn’t seem to think that this is the case. Danny Roddy, who is probably best known as Chris Kresser’s co-host on his “Healthy Skeptic” podcast, maintains a blog that is primarily concerned with hair loss, called “Animal Based Nutrition for Hair and Health”.
In a recent blog post, Danny makes the claim that a hormone called Prolactin is a major cause of hair loss. Roddy is a big fan of Dr. Ray Peat, who is the writer of a large number of interesting nutrition based articles that you can find here. In a July 19, 2011 blog article entitled “Prolactin: The Most Likely Cause of Male Pattern Baldness”, Roddy briefly outlines Prolactin’s involvement.
“Meredith Harbour Yetter is an amazing woman. Not only is she a fan of my silly weblog, but she tipped me off to an excellent interview where my squeeze Dr. Ray Peat did a whole podcast on the topic of hair loss. To say that it was one of the most exciting hours of my life is an understatement.
To summarize, Peat believes that prolactin, serotonin, estrogen, and cortisol are the main culprits in hair loss. Peat spends most of the interview talking about prolactin’s relation to MPB.” – Danny Roddy, 2011
What is Prolactin, you may ask? Read the Wikipedia entry on Prolactin here.
“What to do about it?
▪ Zinc seems to decrease prolactin (here and here).
▪ Dietary tryptophan can increase prolactin levels. However, tryptophan is unavoidable if one is consuming animal products, so assuring that tryptophan converts into niacin, and not serotonin, is desirable. Obtaining an adequate intake of B6, B2, iron, and Vitamin A can increase the conversion of tryptophan to niacin. Peat suggests that the calcium to phosphate ratio is also important.
▪ An increase in parathyroid hormone (possible deficiencies of vitamin D, vitamin K, vitamin A, zinc, magnesium or calcium) can cause an increase in prolactin. Obtaining adequate calcium, as well as the cofactors needed to absorb calcium is probably a smart idea. Sodium and adequate protein may also increase calcium absorption.
▪ Estrogen increases prolactin secreation. This is a topic for another post, but you can maintain a healthy estrogen level by providing the liver with enough sugar and avoiding dietary polyunsaturated fats.
▪ Alcohol consumption can increase prolactin.
Salt restriction increases serotonin, which can increase prolactin.” – Danny Roddy, 2011
So, what does this mean for the connection between the Paleo diet and hair loss?
Consuming a diet that is high in all of the nutrients named by Roddy, should conceivably enable a person to avoid an over-abundance of Prolactin and therefore avoid MPB. So, in summary, an anti-hair-loss diet should include adequate amounts of zinc, vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin B2, vitamin D3, vitamin K, iron, magnesium, calcium, sodium, protein, and sugar, while avoiding polyunsaturated fats and alcohol.
I believe sugar is mentioned in Danny’s list, because keeping adequate levels of glycogen (sugar) in the liver will stop the production of estrogen and cortisol that results when the liver is depleted of glycogen.
In my opinion, there is no better way to successfully obtain all of these necessary nutrients than with a standard Paleo Diet. Lots of real, whole foods, meat, fruits, vegetables, berries, and nuts are the characteristics of Paleo. With such a diet, there should be no need for supplementation of any kind because all of the required nutrients are already in the food that you eat.
There is such a thing as “rapid hair loss”, but rapid loss of hair is usually attributed to chronic malnutrition, i.e lack of available food, as in times of prolonged starvation. Male Pattern Baldness is not due to a lack of food on the whole, because it usually afflicts otherwise well fed people.
In my opinion, the over-consumption of insulinogenic, processed carbohydrates and other sugars, creates an environment in the body where nutrients are not being properly absorbed even if they are being consumed. Anti-nutrients, lectins, and other factors (like Celiac Disease) can severely limit the absorption of nutrients through the gut lining, creating an ever-decreasing circle of over-all poor health.
To keep your hair, whether you’re male or female, the moral of the story is to avoid Grains, Legumes, and Dairy, as well as sustained, significant, spikes in Insulin. Eat whole, real, Organic, un-processed foods. Eat like a caveman; they all had long lovely locks, didn’t they?
Barry Cripps is a Paleo-based Nutrition and Wellness Consultant, who operates out of Bowling Green, Kentucky.
For more information please visit: www.undergroundnutritionist.com