Many people often believe baldness is primarily due to genetics or getting older. And while these are common causes, there’s more to it than that (hint: lifestyle choices that you can control, can reduce your risk of baldness).
In many cases there are other reasons why people get bald, especially if it is happening at a relatively young age.
For the most part, the reasons for this are not genetics or old age, but lifestyle.
There are a lot of misconceptions or one-sided views about baldness.
Let’s give you a short primer on the how and why of baldness.
Why do people, especially men, get bald, and often at a relatively young age?
Often, we see baldness in the following situations:
- People who consume a lot of animal protein such as meat, milk and whey protein.
- Men who are big and muscular.
- Vegetarians and vegans.
- People who eat an unhealthy diet.
There are two important reasons why in these cases the risk of premature baldness is increased:
1. An overactivation of aging & growth pathways, often by consuming too much animal protein, like meat, milk and whey protein, and high levels male hormones like (dihydro)testosterone.
2. A deficiency in important micronutrients to maintain the (stem) cells involved in hair growth, as we often see in people who are vegetarian / vegan (and don’t supplement for deficiencies), or that consume an unhealthy diet.
Put simply, we often see premature baldness because of too much overactivation of aging pathways, mostly by overactivation of growth & aging pathways, or because of a lack of essential nutrients that are required for the proper maintenance of hair stem cells.
Let’s explain this more in detail.
Reason 1: Too much overstimulation of aging & growth pathways
Have you noticed that all too often people who are into building muscle, and consequently look very muscular, are bald already in their ‘30, 40’s or 50’s?
Have you noticed that quite often “diet gurus” who promote a paleo diet or high-protein diet are bald? (or look many years older than their age?)
Often, these people consume a high animal protein diet, containing lots of meat, milk, whey protein (to grow muscle mass). Some gym buddies even resort to growth hormone or testosterone-boosters, things which also can accelerate baldness.
Thousands of studies, both in animals and humans (especially long-term studies) show that overactivation of these growth & aging pathways accelerates aging and increases the risk of aging-related diseases.
Inhibiting these pathways extends lifespan and reduces the risk of many aging-related diseases, like heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and so on.
Consuming lots of animal protein, like eating a lot of meat, or taking whey protein, drinking animal milk, or even injecting growth hormone and testosterone, stimulates muscle growth (and growth pathways in general, like mTOR), but they also accelerate aging.
Sometimes, men that look big and muscular and “very manly” go bald much sooner, because they, due to their lifestyle or genetics, have been exposed to lots of growth hormone and testosterone. The drawback is that they often age faster or “look older for their age”.
Red meat, whey protein, and milk are accelerators of aging (R,R,R,R,R). Of course, everywhere on the internet and in many popular diet books high-protein or paleo diets are recommended. But they focus mainly on the short-term effects (e.g. building muscle and achieving weight loss) and not on the long-term effects, like accelerating aging. Also, most advocates of high-protein diets know very little about aging (biogerontology). So they are not aware of how the interventions they recommend impact aging.
Reason 2: Being an (unsupplemented) vegetarian or vegan
Vegetarians and vegans have an increased risk of getting bald (as is also the case for people who eat a lot of animal products, as we discussed earlier).
We fully support the mission-driven perspective of many vegans and vegetarians, and are fully aligned with the mindset. However, we’d be remiss if we did not highlight nutritional concerns that result from anything but a meticulously planned vegan or vegetarian diet (which can occur after the mid- to long-term).
Vegans and vegetarians have a higher incidence of baldness. The reason is simple: vegetarians and vegans often do not take in enough important nutrients that are needed for hair growth, and for optimal maintenance of the stem cells that grow your hair (R).
These are nutrients like vitamin B12, many other B vitamins, zinc, iron, choline, taurine, carnitine, omega-3 fatty acids (in fish, which vegans do not eat), and so on. Vitamin B12 for example, is only found in animal products. Often, plant-based products contain iron, zinc and other essential vitamins and minerals, but they are much less bioavailable than in animal products.
Often, vegetarians are (mildly) deficient in these important micronutrients which can increase the risk of hair loss, hair thinning or hair greying. Sometimes vegetarians can also look very pale (and have problems with concentration or memory) because these micronutrients are also needed to make red blood cells (e.g. iron, zinc, animal-based vitamin A, or B vitamins) and to enable the brain to function properly (R).
Often, vegetarians and vegans think they are out of the woods when they take a vitamin B12 supplement and do blood tests regularly. However, by taking only vitamin B12, or even a vitamin B complex, they still can miss out on a lot of other important nutrients, like iron, zinc, carnitine, copper, and so on.
One can take a multivitamin and mineral supplement, but the problem is that many of these supplements do not contain enough vitamins and minerals, or they contain the wrong forms and combinations (like zinc and copper, which inhibits each other’s absorption).
Also, blood tests are very inaccurate. You can be deficient in various vitamins and minerals and still have a normal blood test.
Many studies show that a vegetarian diet is healthy. But it can be even more healthy (and fun) if you make sure you avoid deficiencies. Which is more difficult than you would think!
Reason 3: Eating an unhealthy diet
People who eat unhealthy food increase their risk of becoming bald prematurely.
The classical picture is a man in his 40’s, with a beer belly, being overweight, and who already starts to go bald. He consumes a lot of junk food, starchy foods (bread, potatoes, pasta, rice) and sugary foods like cookies, cake and soda. He does not shy away from alcohol, and consumes few vegetables, fruits, legumes, mushrooms, fatty fish and so on.
Eating an unhealthy diet causes baldness in 3 main ways:
- A high intake of animal protein (e.g. hamburgers, sausages, bacon, etc.) and starchy and sugary foods, causes high spikes in insulin and an overactivation of aging pathways like mTOR, leading to accelerated aging (and baldness). Which of course also increases the risk of being overweight.
- An unhealthy diet lacks essential micronutrients like vitamins, minerals, omega-3 fatty acids, etc., which the hair stem cells need to maintain themselves properly.
- An unhealthy diet often causes a lot of oxidative stress and inflammation in the body, leading to damage to the hair stem cells and the supportive surrounding cells.
Do I get bald due to genetics?
Sometimes the reason for baldness is hereditary. But, most cases of early baldness are caused by reasons described above.
Some people think their baldness is genetic because their father also got bald at a relatively young age. However, often the father and his children consume(d) the same (unhealthy) diet for a long time, or have taken over this way of eating, which leads both the father and his children to have premature baldness.
And even if early baldness is genetic, if you eat unhealthy, are deficient in many important nutrients or consume lots of animal protein, this will accelerate the hair loss even more.
Baldness in men
We see baldness much more in men because male hormones like testosterone and dihydrotestosterone also promote baldness. Also, men more often engage in behavior that accelerates aging and baldness, like eating unhealthily, or following a high-meat, dairy or whey-infused diet to build muscle. Baldness occurs mainly in men, and when a man gets old enough he often becomes bald, but consuming an unhealthy diet or high-animal-protein diet will substantially accelerate this process.
Baldness in women
Women go bald much more rarely than men. An important reason is that they have much less (dihydro)testosterone than man – that hormone that bodybuilders like to upregulate as much as possible, that also accelerates aging.
Often, if women become bald or suffer from significant hair loss, it’s because of serious deficiencies in micronutrients that are needed for hair growth, like B vitamins, zinc, iron, iodine, magnesium and so on.
Baldness in women can also often be caused by being overweight and adhering to an unhealthy diet. This not only leads to deficiencies in important micronutrients, but also overactivates growth and aging pathways, like insulin, IGF and mTOR, further promoting baldness.
Baldness in women can also be caused by auto-immune diseases or because of a thyroid gland that works too slowly (hypothyroidism) (R).
Baldness in women can also be caused by treatments that damage hair, like using too hot straightening irons, bleaching the hair too much, pulling hair (eg like when making a pigtail or cornrow), hot-oil hair treatments, and so on.
Baldness in men and women
Sometimes hair loss can be caused by specific drugs, stress (which can also cause hair graying as we explain here), hormonal changes, endocrine diseases or radiation therapy to the head.
Is there a cure to baldness?
People often want a quick cure for baldness. But, the first thing that they should do is pay close attention to their diet and lifestyle. If someone eats a lot of meat and starchy and sugary foods, regularly consumes dairy and is overweight, adding some minoxidil (a hair growth drug) is not going to have a big impact.
Nonetheless, there are various treatments, and even a cure, for baldness.
This is an oral drug that inhibits the production of dihydrotestosterone. It can slow down hair loss. If the hair loss is not too severe, it can bring back some hair growth.
Is a drug that you apply to the scalp. You have to apply it for many months to start to see a difference, and often the effect is very small. As soon as you stop applying minoxidil, the hair loss returns. Minoxidil works by increasing blood flow to the scalp, which probably leads to more nutrients reaching the hair follicle cells.
This drug inhibits production of male hormones (“androgens”, like testosterone). Spironolactone has a lot of side effects, mainly because the drug is normally used as a diuretic to remove excess fluid from to body – which means you will have to urinate a lot, which can lead to various problems, like electrolyte imbalances, fatigue, reduced sex drive, and so on.
4. LASER helmets and LASER combs
Some of these devices are FDA-approved. They shine light with a specific frequency that activates hair growth cells in the scalp.
5. Platelet-rich plasma injections (PRP)
Platelet-rich plasma is made by taking some of your blood, centrifuging it and then reinjecting only the fraction with a lot of platelets (and other beneficial substances). Some studies seem to suggest that injections of PRP in the scalp can improve hair regrowth.
Various lifestyle changes can reduce the risk of premature balding:
- Stop smoking and adhere to a healthy diet.
- Reduce stress.
- Make sure you sleep properly and sufficiently. Learn here how.
- Avoid too much direct sunlight on your head.
7. Camouflage it
Nowadays, very realistic hair pieces (wigs) can be made), that look and feel like the real thing. There are specialists who can make a personal hair wig, adjusted to the taste, preferences and the anatomy of your head and face.
8. Hair transplant
A hair transplant is the one and only real cure for baldness. In fact, a hair transplant is one of the very few approved stem-cell therapies that exist. Surgeons transplant stem cells and other cells from the side of your head or other regions (where there is still hair growth) onto the bald scalp, enabling hair growth. A hair transplant can be expensive, so many people resort to going abroad to get hair transplants done – it’s one of the biggest reasons for medical tourism in the world.
In short, there is in fact a cure for baldness (a hair transplant). There are also great ways to prevent baldness and other maladies, like following a healthy lifestyle, not taking in an excessive amount of animal proteins, and making sure you take in all necessary nutrients (which is often not achieved when “eating healthy”, as we explain here!).