We all need protein. It helps to maintain body tissues, support muscle recovery, encourage a strong immune defense, and promote fluid balance in the body. But what role does it play in mitigating (or perhaps even exacerbating) hair loss? If your hairline is thinning or you’re considering the pros and cons of adding more protein to your diet, it’s important to understand the relationship between protein and hair loss.
The Benefits of Protein for Hair Loss Prevention
Protein is essential for hair growth. Hair is primarily made up of protein, and protein is one of many essential nutrients associated with healthy hair growth. Other essential nutrients include biotin and vitamins A, B3, and B6.
Protein can be so effective for promoting healthy hair that it provides the basis of many hair-fortifying treatments. Protein hair products have long been used to improve the appearance, strength, and texture of hair. Adequate protein consumption may even help to promote faster growth.
The primary protein associated with hair, skin, and nail growth is keratin. And while keratin isn’t the same protein found in the foods we consume, it may help to explain why protein consumption is beneficial for hair growth. Since hair follicles are composed primarily of these proteins, the consumption of dietary proteins may similarly help to stimulate healthy hair growth.
So if you’re looking to maintain healthy, vibrant hair, the first step may be to consume more protein-rich foods—especially if your current protein consumption is low. Protein-rich foods include meats, fish, nuts, nut butters, milk, and soy.
Hair Loss From Protein Deficiency
Just as adequate protein consumption can promote healthy hair, insufficient protein consumption may lead to hair loss. Studies have shown that insufficient protein intake can contribute to acute telogen effluvium (TE), a form of alopecia characterized by rapid hair shedding. While this condition often results from a sudden drop in protein intake and/or sudden weight loss, it sheds a light on the critical relationship between protein consumption and hair growth.
This raises an important question: What is considered a “protein deficiency?” Unfortunately, there is still a lot of debate in health circles about what constitutes adequate protein intake. Currently, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein consumption is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. To calculate your basic recommended protein intake based on this figure, you can multiply your weight in pounds by 0.36. So if you weigh 160 pounds, that translates to approximately 57.6 grams of protein per day.
To complicate matters further, your protein needs will vary based on your age, sex, activity level, and other factors. An elite athlete would need much more protein than a sedentary person with the same weight. To get a more customized idea of your protein needs, you can use this DRI calculator provided by the USDA.
In addition, it’s important to recognize the signs and symptoms of protein deficiency, which may include:
- Edema (puffy, swollen skin)
- Issues with hair, skin, and nails
- Sudden loss of muscle mass
- Bone fractures
- Unexplained increase in appetite
If you notice the signs of protein deficiency, visit your doctor right away.
Can Too Much Protein Cause Hair Loss?
If hair loss from protein deficiency is a possibility, what about hair loss from too much protein? Excess protein consumption does have its downside. Protein overconsumption has been associated with cardiovascular disease, liver and kidney injuries, and blood vessel disorders. So it’s definitely a concern you should be aware of.
In terms of whether excess protein can cause hair loss, the research is limited. There isn’t a lot of data linking excess dietary protein consumption to hair loss, but remember that the body’s systems have a synergistic relationship. So if you experience one of the aforementioned conditions due to too much protein consumption, hair loss may follow. Watch out for the symptoms of protein overconsumption, which may include dehydration, irritability, exhaustion, diarrhea, indigestion, and headaches.
Excess protein may be a concern when you’re applying protein treatments (specifically keratin treatments) directly to the hair. These treatments are designed to coat the hair strands with keratin, reinforcing the bonds between hair molecules. However, if too much of the treatment is applied over time, protein buildup may occur. This can make the hair heavier and wear out the strands, possibly resulting in lost hair. That’s why keratin-based treatments should be used in moderation and only as directed. More doesn’t necessarily mean better.
The Limitations of Protein for Hair Loss Prevention
If you want to maintain healthy hair, it’s important to maintain adequate protein consumption without overdoing it. However, of course, not all hair loss comes from protein deficiency, and not all hair-related issues can be treated with protein intake.
If you struggle with genetic hair loss specifically, protein treatments and high-protein foods will not likely be sufficient to restore your hair. You might have some success with a targeted hair regrowth kit that’s scientifically formulated to stimulate hair follicles, but if you’re seeking a reliable, permanent solution, the best course of action for many people is a hair transplant. With a complete hair restoration, you can enjoy noticeable results that last.
So, by all means, make sure you’re getting enough protein in your diet. But remember that the potential of protein for hair loss prevention is limited for most people.