Diet and Baldness

Diet and Baldness | The Paleo Diet

Dear Dr. Cordain,

I’ve been researching diet and its role in male pattern baldness for about a year and a half now. There is a website that lists studies showing positive hair loss benefits from various phytochemicals in different foods. Essentially, a Mediterranean diet with some aspects drawn from other diets seems to be the most optimal bet. I put to you that it’s no coincidence the Japanese population traditionally has no male pattern baldness. Anyhow, one such study involves the legume soy. There is an isoflavone, a specific term for the more general term phytoestrogen in soy that is known to metabolize in the gut to a compound called equol which is a potent male pattern baldness fighter. Studies show only 30-50% of humans produce equol, and other components of the diet play the part in determining who is a strong equol producer. Seaweed or sea vegetables, for example, has a strong correlation with equol producers, and consumption of dairy has a strong negative correlation to being a strong equol producer.

The reason I came across your website is simple: I’ve been on a diet for the last year and a half that is aimed at fighting male pattern baldness. When I switched from dairy milk to soy milk, 99% of the acne on my back went away. However, I still get some acne, and I’ve had a dandruff problem for a few months now. Now some Google searches have indicated that dandruff is potentially caused by not shampooing enough — especially with relatively long hair like myself, not getting enough sunlight or Vitamin D, or showering with too hot water. However, I feel like my problem may be inflammation, since dandruff’s real name is seborrheic dermatitis. A video by a guy who in my opinion is very knowledgeable about health on YouTube named lorax2013 brought the Paleo Diet to my attention. He gives studies where subjects were put on the Paleo Diet and their respective ailment–whether multiple sclerosis, lupus, or acne–were remedied almost all the time, if not all the time. However, I don’t see any mention of the Paleo Diet’s role in male pattern baldness. Were any hunter gatherers of the past or present bald? I’ve read that chronic inflammation plays a negative role in male pattern baldness, and studies from that site indicate that inflammation is the reason that the hair follicle eventually shrinks and dies.

My question: I don’t want to start the Paleo Diet and give up soy only to realize a year or three later that my hair is starting to thin. What are your thoughts on this?

Thanks so much for your time!

Dr. Cordain’s Response:

Hi Tony,

Thanks for your question. A scientific paper our group has written (Hyperinsulinemic Diseases of Civilization: More than Syndrome X) in part addresses male pattern baldness and how a number of studies indicate that high glycemic load diets may set off a hormonal cascade that is characteristic of men with male pattern baldness. To date, no randomized controlled interventions of low glycemic load diets (basically Paleo Diets) have yet been conducted, so we have no human on whether or not a Paleo Diet may be effective in combating male pattern baldness. However, having said this, numerous historical photographs of hunter gatherers rarely if ever depict young or middle age men with male pattern baldness. I have read anecdotal accounts of hunter gatherers who were described in 19th century writings suggesting that premature graying also rarely occurred. I had not heard about the equol story — thanks for bringing it to my attention.

Best wishes,
Loren Cordain, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus

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The Paleo Diet TeamThe Paleo Diet, the world’s healthiest diet, is based upon the fundamental concept that the optimal diet is the one to which we are genetically adapted. The therapeutic effect of The Paleo Diet is supported by both randomized controlled human trials and real-life success stories.

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“3” Comments

  1. There is a ton of evidence supporting your assertion that high GL diets can lead to a ‘hormonal cascade’ which can exacerbate hair loss in those who are genetically predisposed.

    High GL foods raise blood sugar, which of course causes insulin to be released. High insulin levels cause lower levels of sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG). SHBG binds to DHT (the hormone that causes hair loss), preventing it from binding to receptors in the hair follicle and causing hair loss.

    So basically, high GL foods = more insulin = less SHBG = more (available) DHT = increased hair loss.

    You can read more about this hormonal cascade and how it can accelerate male pattern baldness in my article

    Avoiding high GL foods may even stop hair loss altogether if you catch it early.

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