Author: Raj Chandler • Fact checked by: Tara D. Thies • Nov. 17, 2020
If you’ve done shopping for any kind of protein supplements, you know that whey protein is one of the most widely available. Protein shakes made with whey protein isolate are a staple of diets often recommended for those who want to add muscle mass. Whey protein powder can even be helpful for weight loss, if used as a way to control appetite.
Like other supplements, there is a potential for some negative side effects for those who use whey protein. One of the most common of these conditions is hair loss. Many avid gym goers and others who use whey protein shakes – especially men – may wonder if whey protein could cause them to lose hair.
While there is some scientific evidence to indicate that whey protein isolate may accelerate hair loss in certain cases, protein is also an important element of having healthy hair. This article will discuss protein’s connection with hair, why some people may experience accelerated hair loss, and some other options for people who may be concerned that whey will accelerate male pattern baldness.
To recap its nutritional importance: Whey protein is a form of protein, a macronutrient formed from amino acids. Whey protein naturally occurs in many dairy products, but you can also find isolate forms available in supplements. Whey protein isolate is a highly filtered form of whey protein. In general, whey contains a very small amount of lactose (less than 1%). However, the fine filtration of whey protein isolate leaves it with virtually no lactose content.
The consumption of whey protein is associated with several positive health benefits, including:
Increased muscle growth. Studies indicate that protein supplementation combined with resistance training leads to an increase in muscle protein synthesis, the process by which the body turns protein into muscle.
Maintenance of muscle among elderly. 2011 research in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that whey protein helped stimulate muscle protein increase in older men more than a comparative amount of casein.
Weight loss because of hunger management. Protein is one of the most satiating macronutrients. Increased consumption of high protein foods and supplements can help increase the feeling of fullness for longer and reduce calorie intake..
Whey is also valuable as a “fast-digesting protein,” meaning it is available for muscle building and repair soon after the workout.
Protein in general is important for healthy hair, skin and bones. In fact, hair follicles are mostly composed of proteins. A sufficient protein intake is vital for maintaining hair health as well as sufficient bone density and muscle mass. This is especially true for people who engage in intense activity most days, whether through a physically demanding job or a rigorous training schedule.
However, there is some evidence that suggests certain forms of whey protein may accelerate hair thinning and male pattern baldness. A 2017 study found whey protein isolate as a supplement was associated with a larger degree of acceleration in hair loss.
Other studies have found that nutritional deficits – like a lack of protein – could actually be a contributing factor to the loss of hair through male pattern baldness and other factors, like natural aging.
Traditionally, elevated testosterone levels are also correlated with hair loss. However, there is still research to be done in this area, as some science suggests that therapy to adjust testosterone levels in women can actually lead to more hair growth.
Another form of baldness called alopecia is mostly associated with immune system issues. With alopecia, hair falls out in patches throughout the head, as opposed to the typical thinning or receding hairline that is common in other forms of baldness.
The bottom line is that there’s still a lot of unknowns when it comes to understanding any potential links between nutrition and hair loss. It’s also important to keep in mind that hereditary-pattern baldness – another term for being born with the genetic predisposition for baldness – is the most common cause of hair loss. Your genes are much more likely to have an impact on the amount of hair you lose when compared to your diet, hair washing habits and nutrient intake.
There is no evidence that consuming whey protein will cause you to start losing your hair. This is especially true for people who weren’t experiencing any kind of hair thinning or receding hairline prior to beginning to use protein regularly.
As mentioned in the previous section, there is a chance that consuming whey protein isolate supplements specifically may cause an acceleration of hair loss that a male is already experiencing. If you are someone who experiences hereditary-pattern baldness, there are several things you can do to avoid potentially exacerbating the problem by consuming whey protein isolate:
Try a whey protein concentrate. Not all whey protein powder products are made with the same ingredients. Isolate is a very finely distilled form of whey protein concentrate. There is also evidence that the use of whey in a multi-ingredient blend will lead to greater gains in lean body mass, compared to whey isolate.
Use a different type of protein. Whey might be the most popular type of protein supplements, but it’s far from the only one. These days you can find many other sources of proteins, from casein and pea protein to rice and soy protein. Each type has its own unique nutritional profile.
Consider hair loss treatments. While there isn't any one clear way to stimulate hair growth on the scalp, there are several approved treatments for baldness that can at least slow the rate at which hair falls out.
There are also certain transplant procedures that can move hair from areas of your body with plentiful hair growth to your scalp. Consult with a hair transplant surgeon or dermatologist to get more specific advice on hair thinning treatments that might work for you.
Keep in mind that any changes to your dietary supplements made to account for hair loss or thinning may affect you in other ways. It’s important to take a look at your nutrition as a comprehensive whole, evaluating your intake of macronutrients like protein as well as micronutrients like vitamin C and vitamin D.
Most people won't have any issues with consuming protein supplements, whether they come in the form of whey protein powder, BCAAs or any other kinds of products designed to help improve protein intake. Whether your goal is fat loss, increasing muscle mass, or simply improving your overall health, protein dietary supplements can help.
However, if you are already dealing with male pattern baldness, alopecia, or hair loss from any other conditions, you may want to choose your supplements more carefully. Consider picking an alternative kind of protein like casein or pea, or think about trying other forms of supplements like creatine. Make sure you consult with a healthcare professional such as a registered dietitian, dermatologist or other doctor to get final approval on any new supplement you may be taking.
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