Can Food Allergies Cause Hair Loss?

Young woman with hair loss.

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Although food allergies are among the least common causes of hair loss, these conditions can lead to nutritional deficiencies that are associated with thinning hair. This can occur whether you are allergic to one or more types of food. 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 are linked with hair loss for a number of reasons, although the association is not especially strong or well understood.

Nutritional Deficiency

If you are avoiding certain foods due to a food allergy, you may experience thinning hair due to nutritional deficiencies.

Milk is often fortified with vitamin D, so you can become deficient in it if you have a dairy allergy. And when you aren't sure what you are allergic to, you might cut down on several foods as a way to prevent your allergy flares—which can result in a number of nutritional deficiencies.

A lack of vitamin D, selenium, iron, niacin, zinc, fat, or protein can cause hair loss.

If you have food allergies, be sure to talk to your doctor about your recommended vitamin supplementation. But don't overcompensate by taking excessive vitamins— vitamin overdose 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.

Immune Response

Autoimmune diseases are conditions in which the body's immune system attacks its own tissue. Food allergies are not autoimmune diseases, but they are connected. 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 diseases alopecia areata may be triggered by food allergies as well. In alopecia areata, the immune system attacks hair follicles, causing inflammation that results in round patches of hair loss on the scalp and body. A 2018 Israeli study published in Allergy and Asthma Proceedings found people with alopecia areata are nearly three times more likely to also have a food allergy.

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

Considering Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is often 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. And frequent stomach upsets 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.

To complicate matters further, you may have celiac disease and food allergies, a combination that further increases the risk of hair loss. If you suspect you may have celiac disease, talk to your doctor about getting tested.

It is normal for a person 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 best to be evaluated by your 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, it's best to mention it to your doctor. There are other possible causes, which should also be considered.

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