Can Food Allergies Cause Hair Loss?

A man assessing his hair loss

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Food allergies are one of the least common causes of hair loss, but in some cases can lead to nutritional deficiencies associated with thinning hair, whether the allergy is to one type of food or several. People who have food allergies also have an increased predisposition to alopecia areata, an autoimmune condition characterized by patchy bald spots.

How Food Allergies and Hair Loss Are Connected

Food allergies may be linked with hair loss for a number of reasons, although the association is not especially strong or well understood.

Nutritional Deficiency

If you avoid certain foods because you're allergic to them, you may develop nutritional deficiencies that cause your hair to thin. A lack of vitamin D, selenium, iron, niacin, zinc, fat, or protein can cause hair loss. For example, milk is often fortified with vitamin D, so you can become D deficient if you have a dairy allergy.

If you have food allergies, don't overcompensate by taking excessive supplements: An overdose of certain nutrients can cause health problems and may even lead to hair loss. For example, an excess of vitamin A or selenium may be associated with hair loss. Talk to your doctor about how to safely and effectively use nutritional supplements to prevent potential deficiencies.

Immune Response

Autoimmune diseases are conditions in which the body's immune system attacks its own tissue. Food allergies are not autoimmune diseases, but both are characterized by a hyperactive immune response and have overlapping genetic markers.

In fact, emerging research suggests food allergens may actually trigger autoimmune diseases in people who are genetically predisposed to both. A 2019 study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found a link between walnut allergies and the autoimmune disease pemphigus vulgaris, a painful blistering skin condition.

The autoimmune disease alopecia areata may be triggered by food allergies as well. In this condition, the immune system attacks hair follicles, causing inflammation that results in round patches of hair loss on the scalp and body. A 2018 study published in Allergy and Asthma Proceedings found people with alopecia areata are at a three-fold higher-than-normal risk of having a food allergy.

However, it is still unclear whether food allergies cause the autoimmune disease itself or if the two conditions are simply correlated.

Celiac Disease

Celiac disease often is mistaken for a food allergy because the two share similar symptoms, including stomach upset and skin rashes that are triggered by eating gluten. Unlike a food allergy, celiac disease is an autoimmune condition. But it, too, has been linked with hair loss.

Sometimes, people who have celiac disease experience nutritional deficiencies due to malabsorption. What's more, frequent gastrointestinal problems can lead people with celiac disease to avoid eating foods that trigger an upset stomach or to reduce food intake in general.

Additionally, people who have an autoimmune disease like celiac are at an increased risk of having more than one autoimmune disease, including alopecia areata. Others may have both celiac disease and food allergies, a combination that further increases the risk of hair loss.

It is normal to lose 60 to 100 strands of hair a day, and most people may not even notice this amount of hair loss. However, when hair loss is unexpected or occurs rapidly, it's advisable to be evaluated by a doctor.

A Word From Verywell

Male pattern baldness and a receding hairline are both fairly common, especially for men. Women can develop thinning hair, particularly in the premenopausal years. Whether you chalk your thinning hair or bald spots up to normal aging, a food allergy, or something else, talk to your doctor about it. There are other possible causes, which should also be considered.

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