Nora Gedgaudas

Hair loss?

Hair loss?

The vast majority of those adopting this healthy lifestyle discover a renewed sense of vitality, mental clarity, and relief from undesirable symptoms. In addition to this, most adherents commonly report healthy weight normalisation, improved skin, hair, nails and emotional outlook.

The vast majority of those adopting this healthy lifestyle discover a renewed sense of vitality, mental clarity, and relief from undesirable symptoms. In addition to this, most adherents commonly report […]

Though far from typical, however, there are a few that come to complain about increased/unexpected hair loss– prompting the concern that a fat-based ketogenic Paleo approach to eating somehow leads to thyroid impairment.  Nothing could be further from the truth— but there is a potential mechanism for hair loss in certain individuals… And the fault lies not with this otherwise exceptionally healthy dietary approach, but instead with pre-existing and/or previously unidentified digestive problems.  Allow me to explain:

The Paleo Way version of the Paleo lifestyle is largely based upon those foods that humans are the most genetically adapted over the longest period of our evolutionary history. There is also a very strong emphasis upon food quality and the quality of food production supplying the foods we eat.

Over the millennia our ancestors have eaten an extremely wide variety of foods in a wide variety of climates and ecosystems, leading many a paleophile to conclude that foods are healthy as long as they are somehow “natural”—but it is not necessarily optimal to think that way.  Just because our ancestors were able to put something in their mouths and seemingly do okay once upon a time doesn’t necessarily mean that food is optimal for us now…or that it was even optimal for them. Although our ancestors did have distinct preferences that were highly consistent (and I do think there is some key value to those demonstrably consistent preferences), prehistoric humans were not necessarily eating with the objective of optimal health or longevity in mind as much as day to day survival.

Years ago, I additionally recognized the value in pairing our food choices with the best information in human longevity research, which ultimately separates “the wheat from the chaff” and better optimizes our food choices and the way in which we eat those foods for the best possible long-term outcome. Two key factors have emerged from longevity research as key when it comes to optimizing food intake for the best possible health and a longer life. It turns out that those having the lowest insulin demand over the course of their lives tend to be those that live the longest and the most free from disease. Insulin, of course is most readily triggered by high carbohydrate foods (sugars and starches— yes, even natural sugars and starches).  But one other key metabolic pathway has also been discovered to play an important role in how long we live and how healthy we are likely to be. This metabolic pathway was identified by researchers not much more than a decade ago and was given the name of mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin).  I write about this a lot more in my book, Primal Body, Primal Mind.  It turns out that this particular metabolic pathway, somewhat related to the insulin pathway, is instead a default protein sensor.  Much like insulin, it is also closely tied to reproductive mechanisms.

When we consume protein in excess of what we need for our normal healthy daily maintenance and repair mTOR becomes triggered and initiates an active state of cellular proliferation.  If you are trying to become pregnant or are pregnant, happen to be a growing infant, child or teen then the need for reproduction or the production of new cells is apparent. However, if reproduction is not your goal and you are already a fully grown adult (with a lifetime of exposure to toxins and mutagenic agents) then this pathway may instead lead to undesirable forms of cellular proliferation, including cancer.  Sugars, starches and excess protein are all implicated in the initiation and progression of all forms of cancer.  Interestingly, natural, healthy fats are exempt from this equation and are more of a “free (from adverse consequence) fuel”.  Cellular proliferation—an energy-intensive process– also takes a lot of energy away from your existing healthy cells in favor of creating something new (sort of an “out with the old and in with the new” impetus).  However, if we manage to restrict our protein intake to just what we need in order to meet our rebuilding and maintenance needs, then something magical happens: Instead of expending all that energy and endogenous resources making a bunch of new cells that you didn’t need in the first place your body sets about focusing on repairing and regenerating the ones you already have— and this effect can literally be anti-aging!  This is why I have always recommended keeping your daily protein intake to no more than about 0.8 grams per kg of estimated ideal body weight.  By-in-large this yields multiple benefits with respect to health and well-being— but it also yields its economic benefits, also.  Protein tends to be the most expensive commodity to purchase at the grocery store, so moderating its intake also makes excellent economic sense and makes healthy eating and buying the best possible fully pastured quality meats, poultry, eggs and wild-caught seafood far more affordable.  Despite the popular media misconception that this way of eating somehow constitutes a “high-protein diet”, nothing could be further from the truth.

BUT imagine what happens if you have a digestive process that is less than optimal— and in particular you are unable to make enough hydrochloric acid in order to digest that now smaller—more moderate amount of protein?  Obviously, there can be unintended consequences.  Not only this, but hydrochloric acid is also essential for the healthy absorption and utilization of dietary minerals such as iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc and many others.  The result can lead to protein calorie deficits (even though you really are technically eating enough) and deficiencies of minerals like iron that can additionally lead to subclinical and even clinical states of anemia.  Either of these conditions can ultimately lead to increased hair loss. Additional consequences here can include increased fatigue and weak and/or ridged fingernails.   It is a sign that your digestion is in need of significant support.  The place to start is usually hydrochloric acid (HCl) supplementation— something that can be purchased in capsules in most health food stores.  I offer a systematic protocol for optimizing HCl supplementation in my book, Primal Body, Primal Mind.  But it may also pay to get evaluated by a qualified (preferably naturally oriented) healthcare provider for the presence of H. pylori overgrowth (best identified through the use of what is called a “urea breath test”), underlying thyroid -related issues (which invariably lead to inherently poor HCl production and digestive impairment—see my important article on thyroid issues on the member web site) or even a form of autoimmunity affecting the cells in your stomach that naturally produce hydrochloric acid (identifiable through the presence of increased parietal cell antibodies).  It is also frankly common for individuals to gradually lose their ability to produce healthy hydrochloric acid levels as they age (typically over the age of 40).  In the presence of age-related hydrochloric acid decline or thyroid/parietal cell autoimmunity a need for longer-term HCl supplementation may ultimately be required.  In others, only a limited period of HCl supplementation may be required in order to jump-start or restore its healthy production.  If you suffer any form of indigestion or GERD/reflux this is a major clue that your biggest problem may not be “too much” stomach acid, but instead not enough! 

Although based on this information it might seem tempting to go back to eating more protein, this is a less than optimal solution.  All you are doing is adding more poorly digested protein to your system with all of the consequences that implies— not just with respect to undesirable insulin and mTOR activation, but also with respect to the putrefactive production of toxic ptomaines (due to the ongoing presence of poorly digested proteins), excess ammonia and other unnecessary body burdens.  The only rational answer to this uncovered problem is addressing your digestion.  Please see the article I have written for the member website and/or my book on the subject of digestion for more detailed information. One additional step that may prove helpful– at least with respect to protein insufficiency is the use of added collagen peptides from a supplement like Vital Proteins brand Collagen Peptides (a predigested source of this particular form of protein).  Hair and connective tissue are naturally rich in these peptides and tend to respond extremely well to their supplementation– often (as commonly reported) even within days!  (NOTE: Be sure to include this form of protein in your daily protein calculations!)

But the need for ionic minerals is also there with low HCl and will not be remedied by the increased intake of collagen peptides.  Although it is possible to get trace amounts of pre ionized (i.e., “ionic”) minerals in various popularly sold products such as Fulvic acid preparations, etc. (which are generally perfectly good to use/supplement with) in order to get the amounts you would need from the naturally occurring food you eat (particularly heme iron—the form of iron your body most needs) the only long-term solution is to address digestive woes and eat those foods naturally supplying these essential minerals (i.e., especially foods such as red meat and liver).

In terms of generating a hair loss issue that was not there prior to your healthy dietary change, pre-existing digestive problems are far and away the most likely culprit.  But there are other potential common causes of hair loss that this way of eating can be helpful in reversing or better managing.  Among these include:

  • Metabolic syndrome/PCOS
  • Menopause (i.e., depressed female hormone production)
  • Thyroid disease
  • Autoimmune conditions
  • Diabetes
  • Chronic inflammation
  • Female hormonal imbalances due to aging
  • Chronic stress and trauma

One more potential cause of abnormal hair loss that may require additional evaluation in order to diagnose and properly address is the presence of SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth).  I also wrote an excellent article on this topic for the member website you will want to read in order to help determine whether this is an avenue for you to pursue.  Over-zealous, chronic daily cod liver oil supplementation (not at all needed if you eat at least one serving of liver per week)—particularly where there is insufficient intake of vitamin D3 (and also K2) can also lead to hair loss symptoms in some.

In short, if you happen to be experiencing hair loss that you are tempted to blame on “going Paleo”— think again.  This way of eating may have just helped you uncover a much bigger issue that you otherwise might have missed, and that could easily have led to far bigger problems down the road.  We sometimes like to call this “the clean windshield effect.” By removing those things that cloud our ability to see our fundamental state of health more clearly sometimes it is easier to identify the critical underlying foundations most in need of repair.

By Nora Gedgaudas

You Might Also Like

Back to Blog Home

Unlock the secrets to a happier, healthier life

Our experts are here to share with you some enlightening thoughts and viewpoints to help you on your own personal journey to become the best version of you. Discover more with our 10 Week Activation Program.

We would love you to join the Tribe!

Join Our 10wk Program