Hair loss can be a distressing time. It can cause stress, anxiety and even depression. In extreme cases, it can lead to body dysmorphic disorder and a very real problem with self-confidence in both males and females.
Androgenic alopecia is a condition that can affect both sexes. In males, its referred to as male pattern baldness. This is the familiar pattern of thinning hair and baldness on male scalps, which begins above both temples and gradually moves backwards. This is often accompanied by a thinning of the hair on the top of the head, around the crown. It can eventually lead to complete baldness and is the most common reason men lose their hair.
In women, androgenic alopecia is called female pattern baldness. This usually results in a thinning of the hair all over the scalp, rather than in certain areas. It doesn’t often result in complete baldness like it does in males. Women tend to lose their hair due to reasons other than androgenic alopecia. This includes reasons such as stress, hormonal imbalances for example in the case of polycystic ovary syndrome, pregnancy or the menopause, or from traction alopecia, where the hair has been continually styled too tightly.
Daily Hair Loss Medications – Are They Worth It?
Many men take a daily hair loss medication called Propecia (also known by its active ingredient name, finasteride). This is a proven drug that helps to block the action of the hormones that cause male pattern hair loss. (It isn’t suitable for women.)
But it needs to be taken every day for it to work. If you stop, within a few months any new hair growth will be lost, and your hair will begin thinning again. Plus, there are side effects associated with Propecia. These include a risk of erectile dysfunction and a reduced sperm count.
But what if taking a simple vitamin supplement could also help?
Vitamin supplements aren’t usually associated with any side effects. So doesn’t it seem to make sense to take one each day to help stop the very thing that is causing us such upset and anxiety?
Well, the answer is in the science behind what these hair loss vitamin supplements do, and how they work. Plus, are they any better than eating a healthy diet to help keep our hair follicles strong?
So first, let’s look at the role nutrition plays in the health of our hair, follicles and scalp…
The Right Diet for a Healthy Head of Hair
Just like eating for a healthy heart, brain or any other part of the body, eating for healthy hair means eating a balanced and nutritious diet. But there are some specific nutrients that help and its useful to understand what they are:
Protein – Our hair is made of a protein called keratin, which helps to keep the hair strong. So we need to make sure we’re eating enough protein to keep our hair healthy. We’re not talking protein shakes, ten eggs and a steak for breakfast like a competing body builder might. But around a third of our daily intake of food should consist of protein.
Good sources include eggs, lean meat and poultry, fish and low fat dairy products. If you’re a vegan or vegetarian then nuts, seeds, beans, chickpeas, peas, hemps and tofu are all also excellent sources. If you’re not eating enough protein, you might notice your hair start to become dry and weak and find that it breaks easily. If this is you, increase your intake of protein!
Omega 3 fatty acids – Our body cannot make omega 3 fatty acids by itself, so we need to consume them in our diet on a daily basis. They’re crucial for heart and brain health, and also for a healthy scalp. If our scalp isn’t healthy, then our hair follicles may become compromised which means they won’t produce healthy or strong hairs. Omega 3 fatty acids also help to keep the hair well hydrated and conditioned, meaning that its less at risk of becoming dry and brittle.
Oily fish such as mackerel, sardines and salmon are great sources of omega 3. As are walnuts, flax seeds and avocados.
Iron – A deficiency in iron can cause us to feel tired, lethargic and lacking in energy. But it can also cause hair loss. Iron is crucial for healthy red blood cells, and if there isn’t a nutrient rich blood supply getting to the hair follicles, it can cause them to die. This means that the follicles shed their hairs, and struggle to produce new ones.
Red meat, poultry and fish are all high in iron. Vegetarian and vegan sources of iron include spinach, kale, broccoli and lentils.
Zinc – Research is beginning to emerge on the importance of the mineral zinc for the health of our hair. Without enough, it seems the scalp can become dry, flaky and itchy, which can lead to hair loss.
We only need small amounts of zinc in our diet, but to ensure you’re getting enough, make sure you eat plenty of eggs and wholegrain cereals and breads. Oysters are also a plentiful source of zinc, so if you like them, go ahead and enjoy them. Your hair will thank you for it!
Vitamin A – The high vitamin A content in carrots doesn’t just help us see in the dark. It helps keep our hair healthy too. Sebum is the oily substance that builds up on the hair which helps condition it. Vitamin A helps the body make sebum, which is why this vitamin is important for our hair.
Aside from carrots, yellow and orange vegetables such as sweet potatoes, peppers and pumpkins are all good sources of beta-carotene which the body uses to make vitamin A.
The B vitamins – This group of vitamins is responsible for releasing the energy from our foods to keep us functioning well day to day. They also help carry oxygen around the body, including to the scalp. If the scalp isn’t getting a good enough oxygen and blood supply, it could cause trouble for healthy hair growth. Vitamin B12 and another B vitamin called biotin (vitamin B7) are particularly important for hair and scalp health.
Good sources of B vitamins include wholegrain cereals and breads, brown rice, green leafy vegetables and eggs.
Vitamin C – Vitamin C is an antioxidant vitamin which means that it keeps the immune system strong and healthy. Strong immunity generally means good all round health, including that of the scalp and hair. Vitamin C also helps the body produce collagen, the substance that keeps our skin young and plump looking. But collagen also keeps the tiny blood vessels that supply the scalp with nutrients working well. A good blood supply to the scalp will help keep the hair follicles well nourished.
Good food sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits, berries, kiwis, broccoli and sweet potatoes.
Vitamin E – This vitamin is essential for healthy and nourished skin and does the same for our hair. It also helps to protect the hair from sun damage.
Nuts and avocados are fantastic sources of vitamin E.
So you can see that a healthy, balanced diet filled with a range of foods is key. As is staying well hydrated and avoiding smoking or too much alcohol. But what about extra help? Could certain vitamin supplements help us keep our hair for longer?
The Science Behind Vitamin Supplements and Hair Loss
Although here at the DK Hair Klinik, we are a surgical hair restoration practice, we still keep up to date with all other hair loss remedies. This includes following the result of successful studies into hair loss vitamins. The same vitamins that we mentioned above were important to include in our diets…
We understand that often if we have a poor diet, or we’re stressed or too busy to cook from scratch, then a little extra help is needed in the form of vitamin supplements. Here’s some of the stand out studies and trials into hair loss vitamins:
Studies into B vitamin supplements – A 2011 study looked at how effective a solution containing a variety of B vitamins along with caffeine and an ‘acrylate polymer’ would have on hair health. The solution was designed to be left on the hair, much like any other styling product would be after washing the hair. Rather than treating the scalp, encouraging more hair growth or strengthening the hair against breakage, this study looked at the possibilities of thickening the existing hair in subjects.
The study, published in the British Journal of Dermatology found that the solution “significantly increased the diameter of individual, existing hair fibres”. This increased the thickness of the hair overall by 10%. Each hair strand was also found to be more supple, which meant that it had become more resistant to breaking.
Studies into omega 3 fatty acid supplements – in 2015, researchers published a paper in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology that looked at the effects omega 3 and 6 fatty acid supplements had on hair loss in 120 subjects. The supplements also contained antioxidant elements. After six months, the subjects that had been given the supplements showed positive results vs those given a placebo.
The study concluded that omega 3 and 6 fatty acids along with antioxidants acted “efficiently against hair loss in improving hair density”. 89.9 per cent of the supplemented subjects reported a reduction in hair loss after six months. 86.1 per cent said that individual hair thickness had improved and 87.3 per cent said that the density of their overall hair was better.
Like many studies into hair loss or growth, researchers depend greatly on the perception of the subjects on their hair. Which is why they must always compare results with a placebo group. But there is advanced technology involved too. Powerful and highly specific microscopes and trichometers are used. A trichometer is a tool that hair experts can use to gauge the quantity, quality, thickness and density of hair.
Studies into zinc supplements – Although we only need to consume small amounts of zinc, it’s a crucial mineral for hair growth. It’s essential for the health of the hair follicles, which we know, if left to become unhealthy, won’t perform their job of growing and holding onto hairs properly.
In fact, in the autoimmune condition, alopecia areata, where the immune system mistakenly views the hair follicles as foreign invaders and attacks them until they die, zinc supplements have been found to help. A 2009 study in the Annals of Dermatology journal found that those with both low serum zinc levels and the condition alopecia areata were helped by taking a daily zinc supplement alongside any other treatment for the condition.
A different study into zinc and hair loss, this time in 2013 and published in the same journal backed this up. It found that not only did patients suffering alopecia areata show low zinc levels in the blood, but patients with both male and female pattern hair loss – androgenic alopecia – were too. This further suggests that zinc plays a crucial role in various forms of hair loss.
Studies into iron supplements – Although testing patients with hair loss for iron deficiency isn’t commonplace, the leaders of one research group back in 2006 said that they think it should be. The study authors, who had their work published in the Journal of American Academic Dermatology, believe that “treatment for hair loss is enhanced when iron deficiency, with or without anaemia, is treated”.
And as iron plays such a vital role in the health of our hair, this sort of regime makes sense. In fact all of these studies go a long way to proving that vitamin supplements can, and do, have an important role in the wide reaching treatments for hair loss.
Studies Specific to Female Androgenic Alopecia
Female hair loss can be a result of more complex issues, so many studies have looked specifically at female androgenic alopecia.
One such study published in the Journal of Clinical Aesthetic Dermatology in 2012 looked at the efficacy of a hair supplement in women with thinning hair. Half of the women in the study were given this new oral supplement, the other half were given a placebo. The oral supplement contained biotin, vitamin C, iron, zinc, silica and a protein ‘marine complex’ that derived from fish and other sea molluscs.
After 180 days, hair growth was “significantly increased”. An encouraging sign, one that is thought to be the “first report of increased hair growth in women associated with the use of a nutritional supplement”. There were no reported side effects.
Another study on women suffering hair loss found that a supplement containing B vitamins, millet seed extract and an amino acid (a building block of protein) called L-cysteine also helped. After three months, women taking the supplement “reported a significant increase in the number of individual strands of hair”.
The Role of Ageing and Genetics
All of that said about nutrition, for around half of us, hair loss is an inevitable part of getting older. It’s written in our genes from the moment we’re conceived. Obviously, eating the right balance of nutrients is important in all aspects of health, both physically and mentally.
But for this 50%, eating right and taking hair friendly vitamin supplements won’t stop the clock when it comes to our hair. It might delay things for a while, but Old Father Time and Mother Nature do tend to win out in the end. But on the other hand, eating a diet full of fried, fatty, sugary and salty foods that distinctly lacks in anything fresh or green, could bring early hair loss on significantly sooner.
We hope that we’ve made the subject of hair loss and vitamins clearer with this in-depth piece. For some, taking a daily hair food supplement will be enough for you to either encourage hair growth or simply maintain the head of hair you already have.
For others, daily medications such as Propecia or the topical scalp solution Regaine / Rogaine (also known by its active ingredient name of minoxidil) will suit you.
But for many, a hair transplant is the best way of restoring a full head of hair, one of which you can be proud. And even in these cases, a vitamin supplement can help things to stay luscious! If you’d like to know more about how a hair transplant could help you, fill in our free online consultation today.
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