Hirsutism: 7 Diet Tips for Treating Excessive Hair Growth in Women
Did you know that diet and hirsutism are closely linked? Certain dietary habits – such as eating plenty of foods that contain B vitamins, chromium and magnesium – may help prevent and treat hirsutism, while other eating habits may worsen or even cause hirsutism in susceptible women. In this section of our online Guide to Treating Hirsutism, we provide seven diet tips for hirsute women:
Important notice: The information below and elsewhere on this website is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical or health advice. Always seek the advice of a qualified health care provider.
#1: Cut Down on Calories, Especially in the Evening
A high energy intake has been associated with an increased risk of hirsutism, mainly because it can contribute to the development of excess body weight and obesity which in turn promotes hyperandrogenism (excessive production of male hormones) in women. To lose weight, you will have to create a calorie deficit, either by reducing calorie intake from foods so that your body must draw on reserves for energy (such as fat stored within your body) or by increasing physical activity. Studies have also shown that a calorie-restricted diet can also help treat PCOS which is often associated with hirsutism.
To lose 1 pound per week, you need to create a deficit of 3,500 calories per week. This can be done by reducing a daily caloric intake by 500 calories per day (500 calories x 7 days = 3,500 calories). Most health professionals recommend creating a caloric deficit of 3,500 to 7,000 per week for healthy and successful weight loss. An extreme deficit (a deficit of more than 7,000-10,500 calories per week) can compromise bodily functions and even result in heart rhythm abnormalities, which can be fatal.
Furthermore, cutting too many calories may also be counterproductive to weight loss efforts, as extremely low calorie diets boost the activity of fat-storing enzymes and decrease the activity of fat-burning enzymes in the body. In addition, cutting too many of calories can accelerate loss of lean muscle mass and decrease the output of the thyroid hormone, which will result in a decrease in the metabolic rate and thus fewer calories will be burned throughout the day.
In addition to restricting the amount of calories consumed, overweight, hirsute women should pay attention to the timing of the daily caloric intake. To keep your metabolism running and to avoid cravings, spread the calories throughout the day by having 5-6 small meals. Breakfast should be the heaviest meal of the day as a robust breakfast will help get your metabolism running you and you are likely to burn more fat throughout the rest of the day.
#2: Follow a Low Glycemic Diet with Sufficient Amounts of Protein
Another good diet tip for hirsute women is to follow a low glycemic diet. Carbs that have a high Glycemic Index (GI) rating are quickly broken down by the body and cause a rapid, large rise in blood glucose levels, which in turn generally triggers the pancreas to release large amounts of insulin. In contrast, low-GI carbs, which take much longer to digest, generally cause only a small, slow rise in the blood glucose and insulin levels.
Insulin is necessary for the body to be able to use glucose for energy, but excess insulin in the bloodstream can lead to a sharp increase in circulating androgen and insulin-like growth factor, which have been associated with hirsutism in women. Most non-starchy vegetables, legumes and fruit have a low GI rating while most refined carbohydrate-rich foods and potatoes are rated high on the Glycemic Index.
#3: Step Up Your Vitamin B Intake
B vitamins, especially vitamins B2, B3, B5 and B6, may be particularly beneficial for hirsute women. Vitamin B2 helps convert dietary fat, protein and carbohydrates into energy. Vitamin B3 helps maintain normal blood sugar levels and vitamin B5 may help with weight loss due to its ability to control fat metabolism. Vitamin B6 plays a critical role in maintaining hormonal balance. It is also needed for proper absorption of zinc in the intestines. In addition, vitamins B2, B3, and B6 are essential for normal thyroid function and metabolism, and can thus help reduce excess body weight.
#4: Watch Out for Fats But Don't Eliminate All Fats
A high intake of dietary fat can lead to weight gain and obesity which is associated with hirsutism. Fat contains more than twice as many calories as protein or carbohydrates. A gram of fat provides 9 calories (39kJ) whereas a gram of carbohydrates or protein contains 4 calories (16.8kJ). Furthermore, contrary to the common belief, fats are the least filling of all the macronutrients (you become hungry sooner after a fatty meal than a meal high in fiber-rich carbohydrates or protein). Fat also has a low thermogenic effect, that is, the body uses very little energy for the breakdown of fat (only 0-3% of its calorific value). In contrast, protein has a high thermogenic effect (20-30 percent), which means that the body burns a significant share of the calories provided by a protein-rich meal in the process of breaking down and digesting the meal.
That said, it is important not to completely eliminate all fats from diet. Essential fatty acids (EFAs) — found in large quantities in such foods as nuts, seeds, fatty fish and unrefined whole grains — are absolutely necessary for the proper functioning of the body. These fats cannot be synthesized by the body and must therefore be obtained through diet. Also so-called monounsaturated fats should be included in any diet aimed at preventing or treating hirsutism. Research suggests that monounsaturated fats can decrease insulin resistance associated with hirsutism.
In contrast, saturated fats — found in foods from animal sources like meat and dairy, should be avoided. These fats have been shown to promote fat accumulation and weight gain more than the unsaturated EFAs. The body does need saturated fats in very small amounts for some very specific purposes, but the body is able to synthesize its own saturated fatty acids when needed. Some studies also suggest that saturated fats can exacerbate insulin resistance.
Trans fats, yet another type of fat, should be completely eliminated from diet. These fats are formed in a chemical process that food manufacturers use to turn liquid oils into solid fats and to increase the shelf life of foods. They are most often found in fried foods, vegetable shortenings, hard margarine, cookies, crackers, chips, and baked goods. In addition to their other detrimental effects on health, trans fats can lead to a higher overall body weight, even when the total caloric intake is controlled. In one animal study, male monkeys were fed either a western-style diet containing trans fats or a diet that contained monounsaturated fats such as olive oil. All monkeys received the same, modest amount of calories. The monkeys who ate trans fats had a 7.2 percent increase in body weight, compared to a 1.8 percent increase in monkeys that ate monounsaturated fats.
#5: Consider Including Glycyrrhizin in Your Diet
Glycyrrhizin in licorice root has been shown to significantly reduce plasma testosterone, which is good news for women suffering from hirsutism caused by elevated testosterone levels. Researchers in Italy gave healthy women between 22 and 26 years of age licorice containing 120 mg of glycyrrhizin daily for two menstrual cycles. At the beginning of the trial, the average plasma testosterone stood at 27.8 ng/dL. After the first cycle, it had dropped to 19 ng/dL and after the second cycle to 17.5 ng/dL. After the trial period the testosterone levels of the test subjects rapidly returned to the pretreatment values. It appears that glycyrrhizin inhibits an enzyme required for the production of testosterone.
If you intend to consume licorice in an effort to stop the growth of unwanted hair, keep in mind that frequent consumption of large quantities of licorice may cause high blood pressure, edema, depletion of potassium, headache, heart problems, and other health complications.
#6: Eat Plenty of Foods That Contain Chromium
Chromium is a component of the glucose tolerance factor (GTF) which helps maintain normal blood glucose levels by making insulin more efficient. This will fight insulin resistance which is often associated with hirsutism. Furthermore, chromium promotes weight loss due to its ability to help control cravings, reduce hunger, and control fat in the blood.
Deficiencies in chromium are fairly common among people whose diet is based on processed foods, as processing significantly decrease the chromium content of foods. Also physically active people and people who consume lots of coffee, tea, or sugar have an elevated risk of being deficient in chromium. Good dietary sources of chromium include romaine lettuce, onions, tomatoes, whole grains, and potatoes. To get the most health benefits from these foods, combine them with foods high in vitamin C which increases the absorption of chromium.
#7: Consume Magnesium-Rich Foods
Research indicates that there is a strong link between magnesium deficiency and insulin resistance associated with hirsutism. Magnesium is required for proper glucose utilization and insulin signaling, both of which are impaired in people with insulin resistance. Magnesium appears to be the most common micronutrient found to be depleted in insulin resistant people. Mild deficiencies of magnesium are fairly common in women living in Western countries, where consumption of processed foods is common, as processing significantly decreases the magnesium content of foods. Also intensive farming, practiced in many Western countries, depletes the soil of magnesium, thereby reducing the magnesium content of the plants growing in the soil.
For further information about the nutritional approach to prevent and treating hirsutism, see: