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Alopecia and Hair Loss: Can the Ketogenic Diet Help?

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  Published on March 29th, 2022
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  Last modified March 29th, 2022
Jada Pinkett-Smith suffers from alopecia

From colorful mohawks to long flowing locks, hair is identifiable and stylistic – and when changes like hair loss occur, it can be distressing and overwhelming. Even beautiful celebrities like actress Jada Pinkett-Smith and TV presenter Gail Porter speak openly about the daily struggles of dealing with alopecia.

People reach for all different remedies and treatments like creams and vitamins in the hope of boosting hair growth. Recent research shines a spotlight on how a ketogenic diet could be helpful for hair loss associated with alopecia. Let’s discuss alopecia, this promising research, and the possibilities of a ketogenic diet as a primary or adjunct treatment for alopecia.

What Is Alopecia?

Alopecia is an autoimmune condition involving unpredictable hair loss when the body attacks its own hair follicles – which is where hair grows from. Alopecia hair loss may or may not grow back over time. Researchers and doctors aren’t entirely sure what causes alopecia and believe genetic and environmental factors might play a role.

People with alopecia often develop an oval or round bald patch on their scalp and sparse patches. Many are otherwise healthy. Hair loss can happen anywhere on the body, including the scalp, beard, eyelashes, armpits, and inside the ears or nose. Alopecia can also affect the nails causing ridges, dents, brittle or red nails.

The condition usually begins during childhood or adolescence. A family history of alopecia increases the risk of developing it.

Woman with alopecia

In the conventional medicine paradigm, alopecia is typically treated with anti-inflammatory corticosteroids and other pharmaceuticals with additional guidance on lowering stress. People dealing with alopecia are searching for other answers and therapies yet there is limited research on what can be done to fully prevent the hair loss. [1] [2] [3] [4]

Alopecia and Keto

So, what about alopecia and keto? Promising recent research shows a keto diet can improve hair loss even over just four months.

The 2020 report in the Journal of Inherited Metabolic Disease (JIMD) examined a 7-year-old child with alopecia and mitochondrial disease (Björnstad syndrome). Since birth, the child had sparse and brittle hair, but after four months on a mild ketogenic diet with 30-40 grams of carbohydrates daily, hair growth improved, impressing the family and researchers! [5]

On this mild keto diet, 10% of energy was provided from carbohydrates, 25% from protein, and around 65% from fat. The ketogenic diet was well-tolerated by the child, and blood ketone levels of 2-4 mmol/L were measured.

The family switched the child back to a regular diet after just four months due to her craving for carbohydrates, and a 6-month follow-up revealed hair loss had returned. The researchers speculated that continuing the diet would have potentially continued the improvements and boosted hair growth even more.

Keto and the Mitochondria

Mounting studies have already highlighted how a ketogenic diet can be useful as a therapeutic intervention strategy for mitochondrial disease. The mitochondria are the engines or powerhouses that generate chemical energy for your cells. Researchers believe most diseases involve a lack of mitochondria and poor mitochondrial function. [6] [7]

 More studies are needed to reach a clear conclusion, but this impressive recent report reveals a keto diet can improve hair loss even just over four months! Ketogenic diets stimulate mitochondrial biogenesis (the process where cells increase mitochondrial numbers), reduce oxidative stress (an imbalance between antioxidants and harmful free radicals in your body), and result in better mitochondrial function. 

Research underscores how sugar impairs mitochondrial health, and going keto kicks sugar to the curb, leaving room for necessary and beneficial nutrients, fat, and protein instead.

Concluding Thoughts

This report is promising and shows a keto diet could possibly be a useful treatment for alopecia with quick results over a matter of months! Consuming a low-carb, high-fat ketogenic diet has repeatedly been shown to improve mitochondrial disease, which is associated with alopecia and hair loss. Additionally a keto diet has shown tremendous promise in other autoimmune conditions such as Crohn’s disease and Multiple Sclerosis. [8] [9]

More research is needed specifically on a ketogenic diet and alopecia specifically, but overall there seems to be promise for ketosis in improving overall outcomes associated with most autoimmune diseases.   

References

1.

Han, G. (2017). The changing landscape of alopecia areata: An introduction. Adv Therap, 34(7), 1584-1585. DOI: 10.1007/s12325-017-0544-5

2.

Korta, D. Z., Christiano, A. M., Bergfeld, W., Duvic, M., Ellison, A., Fu, J…Mesinkovska, N. A. (2018). Alopecia areata is a medical disease. J Am Acad Dermatol, 78(4), 832-834. DOI: 10.1016/j.jaad.2017.09.011

3.

Strazzulla, L. C., Wang, E. H. C., Avila, L., Sicco, K. L., Brinster, N., Christiano, A. M., & Shapiro, J. (2018). Alopecia areata: Disease characteristics, clinical evaluation, and new perspectives on pathogenesis. J Am Acad Dermatol, 78(1), 1-12. DOI: 10.1016/j.jaad.2017.04.1141

4.

American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD). Hair Loss Types: Alopecia Areata Overview. Hair loss types: Alopecia areata overview (aad.org)

5.

Marina, A. D., Leiendecker, B., Roesch, S., & Wortmann, S. B. (2020). Ketogenic diet for treating alopecia in BCS1l-related mitochondrial disease. (Bjornstad syndrome). JIMD Rep, 53(1), 10-11. DOI: 10.1002/jmd2.12109

6.

Qu, C., Keijer, J., Adobo-Hermans, J. W., De Wal, M., Schirris, T., Karnebeek, C., Pan, Y., & Koopman, J. H. (2021). The ketogenic diet as a therapeutic intervention strategy in mitochondrial disease. The International Journal of Biochemistry & Cell Biology, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocel.2021.106050

7.

Kang, H-C., Lee, Y-M., Kim, H. D., Lee, J. S., & Slama, A. (2007). Safe and effective use of the ketogenic diet in children with epilepsy and mitochondrial respiratory chain complex defects. Epilepsia, DOI: 10.1111/j.1528-1167.2006.00906.x

8.

Tóth C, Dabóczi A, Howard M, Miller NJ, Clemens Z. Crohn’s disease successfully treated with the paleolithic ketogenic diet. Int J Case Rep Images, 2016;7(10):570–578.

9.

Crosby, L., Davis, B., Joshi, S., Jardine, M., Paul, J., Neola, M., & Barnard, N.D. (2021). Ketogenic Diets and Chronic Disease: Weighing the Benefits Against the Risks. Front. Nutr. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2021.702802

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