Bill Harris, M.D. | Vegan Hair Loss?

Hair Loss on Vegan Diet?
Q&A with Bill Harris, M.D.

Q. I began the Hallelujah Diet on April 7, 2001, and have experienced excellent results to date both in weight loss (50 lbs) and lowered blood pressure, increased energy, and more. I have supplemented this vegan diet with a twice weekly 50 mg. B12 capsule and daily 2 Tbsp. Udo's Perfected Oil Blend in addition to the two 8 oz. servings of carrot juice and 3 servings of Barleygreen.

Approximately two months ago, I noticed I was losing more hair than usual each day upon showering and routine grooming. Throughout the day if I look behind me when I get up out of a chair, there will be hair left behind! It seems to be coming out evenly all over and not in clumps, so there are not noticeable bald spots, but it is becoming noticeably thinner and thinner every day! I recently began taking a supplement called Ultra Hair by Nature's Plus which contains a lot of Biotin and Vitamin A. The recommended dosage is two per day but I seem to be having an allergic reaction (heavy underarm rash) and believe it is from the PABA that is also in the Ultra Hair, so I have cut back to only taking one per day. On a friend's advice, I began drinking Green Tea Kombucha each day as well. Of course, it is a popular opinion among my "diet critics" that this hair loss is due to a protein deficiency, but I don't want to believe this as I have no intention of returning to meat & dairy.

Can you advise me on possible causes and other remedies for this condition? I am 48 years young today and as yet am not menopausal. Any help you can give will be greatly appreciated!

A. This is not the first time I have heard this story from new vegans. I suspect you are experiencing telogen effluvium:

McPhee SJ, Papadakis, Gonzales, Tierney. Current Medical Diagnosis & Treatment (CMDT) on CD-ROM 1998 Appleton Lange 1998 Norwalk, 1990 ISBN 0-8385-1480-4

"Telogen effluvium is transitory increase in the number of hairs in the telogen (resting) phase of the hair growth cycle. This may occur spontaneously, may appear at the termination of pregnancy, may be precipitated by "crash dieting," high fever, stress from surgery or shock, or malnutrition, or may be provoked by hormonal contraceptives. Whatever the cause, telogen effluvium usually has a latent period of 2-4 months. The prognosis is generally good. The condition is diagnosed by the presence of large numbers of hairs with white bulbs coming out upon gentle tugging of the hair. Counts of hairs lost by the patient on combing or shampooing often exceed 150 per day, compared to an average of 70-100. In one study, a major cause of telogen effluvium was found to be iron deficiency, and the hair counts bore a clear relationship to serum iron levels.

......Drug-induced alopecia is becoming increasingly important. Incriminated drugs include thallium, excessive and prolonged use of vitamin A, retinoids, antimitotic agents, anticoagulants, clofibrate (rarely), antithyroid drugs, oral contraceptives, trimethadione, allopurinol, propranolol, indomethacin, amphetamines, salicylates, gentamicin, and levodopa. While chemotherapy-induced alopecia is very distressing, it must be emphasized to the patient before treatment that it is invariably reversible.


Apparently the body regards the vegan diet as a form of "crash dieting," and with your history of a 50 pound weight loss, not without good reason. I don't think protein deficiency is a likely cause here, but your Calorie intake has probably dropped, producing not only the desired weight loss but the undesired reduction in hair cell metabolism.

You also mention that you are taking a vitamin A supplement and that may not be a good idea in view of the above. The problem is that the establishment has mislabelled retinol as "vitamin A." Retinol is an essential metabolite but you don't need it in your diet if you're eating enough leafy greens and carrots because those foods contain a lot of beta-carotene, the true vitamin A. Beta-carotene can be split in the body into two molecules of retinol.

Telogen effluvium is usually transitory and corrects itself. In addition to iron deficiency, zinc deficiency has also been associated with it and since zinc is a limiting nutrient on a vegan diet anyway, a 15 mg zinc tablet daily might be of use.

I went to:

and read up on the Hallelujah diet. It sounds fine, however if you're consuming the recommended amount of carrot juice, your palms should be turning yellow by now. That's carotenemia, the only symptom that you're getting more beta carotene than you really need. By contrast, excess retinol intake causes industrial strength toxicity.

Also checked out Udo's Choice Perfected Oil Blend:

"Ingredients: Flax oil*, sunflower oil*, oil from germ of rice and oats, medium chain triglycerides (MCT), evening primrose oil, lecithin, d-alpha tocopherol (*from certified organically grown seeds)."

This is probably also fine although the source of the triglycerides is not stated and I would want to know for sure that it's not from animals.

There are only two essential fatty acids, linoleic (LA) and alpha-linolenic (ALA-the first of the omega-3 FA). Most everyone gets more than enough LA and the best source of ALA is flaxseed and leafy greens. I expect Udo Erasmus has taken all this into account however you should keep in mind that all oils are 100% fat.

Good luck,

-William Harris, M.D.

William Harris MD received a degree in physics from the University of California Berkeley, where he earned Phi Beta Kappa honors. He received his degree in medicine from the University of California at San Francisco, and received his postgraduate training at San Diego County Hospital. He holds a Medical License in the State of Hawaii. He has been an Emergency Department physican since 1963, and the Director of the Kaiser Permanente Vegan Lifestyle Clinic on Oahu until his retirement in 1998. Dr. Harris is the author of The Scientific Basis of Vegetarianism.

In addition, he was the 1950 Big Ten Trampoline Champion, is an accomplished hangglider and commercial pilot, and at age 70 became a skydiver with 108 jumps to date. Dr. Harris has been vegetarian since 1950, and vegan since 1963.

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