We all know the dangers of a diet that’s high in fat. From hypertension to diabetes, heart disease to even some forms of cancer, the range of ailments that can be laid squarely at the feet of eating poorly and being overweight or obese. But a new study from researchers at the Toyko Medical and Dental University (TMDU) in Japan have now found having a fat-heavy diet can also accelerate hair loss.
In the average healthy adult, the hair follicle stem cells (HFSCs) renew themselves regularly which is why your hair grows back when you cut it and also why it becomes longer. As with most things in the human body, though, the onset of age doesn’t do the HSFCs any favours and, as you get older, the stem cells lose their ability to replenish as efficiently as they once did, leaving the hair to thin and/or fall out.
In the study carried out by TMDU’s department of stem cell biology, mice that had been given a high-fat diet (HFD) were more susceptible to inflammatory responses in the body which, in turn, blocked follicle regeneration, leading to hair loss. What was surprising was that the deterioration in the hair follicles could happen in as little as four days spent on a high-fat diet and that the problem seemed to be worse in older mice.
“High-fat diet feeding accelerates hair thinning by depleting HFSCs, especially in old mice,” explains Hironobu Morinaga, the study’s lead author. “We compared the gene expression in HFSCs between HFD-fed mice and standard diet-fed mice and traced the fate of those HFSCs after their activation.
It’s not just the fat content of your food that can play havoc with your hair as what you consume can really affect how your hair grows and even whether men will keep it, as consultant dermatologist Dr Alia Ahmed explains.
Nutritional deficiencies are often the root cause of many hair problems, adds Dr Ahmed. “Iron, zinc, niacin, folic acid, biotin, vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E – there are so many nutrients implicated in hair disorders,” she says. “It’s not just genetics.”
If you’ve got a sweet tooth, for example, you may need to think about putting down those Percy Pigs. Not only is sugar bad for your hair, but it can cause your blood sugar levels to spike which, in men, can raise the levels of the hormone androgen, leading to follicle damage and potential hair loss.
But don’t make the mistake of swapping sugar for artificial sweeteners. Take diet fizzy drinks that replace processed sugar with artificial sweeteners like Aspartame, for instance. In their analysis of aspartame, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has listed hair thinning and hair loss as one of the main side effects of excessive aspartame consumption.
Drinking alcohol might not lead to hair loss in men (largely because it acts to suppress testosterone) but the condition of your locks will certainly be affected by one too many as it reduces your body’s ability to absorb key nutrients like folic acid and zinc, making your hair prone to damage like split ends and brittleness. Go easy on salt too. It’s been shown to cause hair shedding as well.