You’ve probably heard of the keto diet by now. The high-fat, moderate protein, low-carb diet is currently one of the biggest food trends, with celebs like Kourtney Kardashian and your co-worker among its fans.
However, just like any other health fad, the keto diet has its downsides. While the diet may be an effective way to lose weight, whether or not ketosis is good for your body is debatable. Along with the keto flu and blood vessel damage, there’s a growing list of physical side effects, too.
One example that’s been a hot topic among women on the diet is “Keto crotch,” where the vagina emits a strong smell after the diet. Yep, it’s about as pleasant as it sounds.
On top of unwanted odor, the keto diet can potentially cause hair loss, too. According to dermatologist Dr. Francesca Fusco of Wexler Dermatology in New York City, your diet plays an important role in maintaining healthy hair.
“Hair is composed of keratin, which is made up of protein, so adequate protein intake is necessary [to keep it healthy]” she explains. “The scalp is where the hair follicles reside, and they need to be nourished by the oil glands and rich circulation to support healthy hair.
While the keto diet is rich in protein, it is very restrictive and cuts out a lot of other foods, which doesn’t just contribute to stress and anxiety, which can manifest in hair loss, but also means your body isn’t getting the right nutrients that help strengthen and grow hair.
“The keto diet cuts out a lot of foods and food groups, which means you run the risk of not eating enough nutrients,” says Alissa Rumsey, MS, RD, nutrition coach, and owner of Alissa Rumsey Nutrition and Wellness. “Micronutrients found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other carbohydrates (which are cut out or limited to very small amounts in the keto diet) are essential for healthy hair. If you’re falling short, it could affect hair health and hair growth.”
Dr. Fusco says that while the keto diet is protein-heavy, which is good for hair, if there’s a drastic calorie restriction and the elimination of other vitamins, minerals, and oils, it’s possible to experience excessive shedding.
So, what can you do if you shed? You can take a multi-vitamin or hair supplement like Nutrafol, but going off keto could be a better, long-term option.
“If your hair has been affected by a restrictive diet, adding back in carbohydrates and protein, including foods that contain vitamins and minerals essential for hair health, should eventually cause your hair growth to go back to normal,” says Rumsey.
She suggests zinc (found in red meat and chickpeas), because it helps in keratin formation, vitamin A (found in sweet potatoes and carrots) to help with oil production so hair doesn’t get dried out, and vitamin C (found in oranges and papaya) to prevent hair breakage and iron (found in red meat and beans) to strength hair.
Typically, the shedding may only last a few weeks, but this depends on how long you’ve been keto, and what diet you transition to afterwards. However, Dr. Fusco says to see a doctor if the shedding continues or if you experience bald spots.
The bottom line: Although the keto diet has been praised for its weight-loss results, the time and cost required to follow it doesn’t exactly make it sustainable for everyone. But, most importantly, it can have long-term effects on your body and change your approach to food.
“I don’t recommend going on any type of diet, as they are not sustainable in the long term, and, in the short term, can cause disordered eating behaviors and increased thoughts about food and eating,” says Rumsey.