When it comes to hair loss, we are bombarded with information. Whilst there’s a lot of useful advice available online, some tips and recommendations are dubious at best.
In this article, we’ll explore the connection between vitamin deficiency and hair loss.
What is hair loss?
Alopecia, which is the medical term for hair loss, naturally occurs as we age. However, there are certain forms of alopecia that can be caused by a variety of factors (other than age). The most common forms of hair loss include:
- Androgenic alopecia is the genetic variant that causes both men and women to lose hair as early as age 20. This can lead to pattern baldness or hair thinning.
- Alopecia areata results in sudden hair loss due to an immune system dysfunction. This is usually reversible.
- Scarring alopecia, on the other hand, is a non-reversible form of hair loss caused by skin conditions that leave behind scarred skin.
There are many other forms of hair loss. For example, some patients may be so stressed out they begin to develop a habit of pulling out their own hair to compensate (trichotillomania). Drugs and malnutrition (including vitamin deficiency) can cause hair loss in some people.
What are the common causes of hair loss in men?
More than 50% of men over the age of 50 years will show signs of hair loss. Alopecia is a natural consequence of ageing and genetic make-up. But if you’re experiencing sudden or unexpected hair loss, it could be due to external factors of medical issues.
Medical conditions which can cause hair loss include:
- High blood pressure
- Heart/cardiac issues
Severe stress, fungal infections and immune system conditions can also lead to hair loss. These types of alopecia are more readily reversible than age-related hair loss.
Vitamin deficiency and hair loss
A balanced diet rich in micronutrients and vitamins is an important part of staying healthy and maintaining a luscious mane. Unfortunately, no matter how many multi-vitamins you take, certain types of alopecia won’t be helped by it.
However, studies have shown that 39% of patients with alopecia areata also had a deficiency of vitamin D. Whether vitamin D deficiency actually causes hair loss or is indirectly linked is not well understood.
Vitamin A, on the other hand, may actually cause hair loss if taken in high doses. A balanced diet offers plenty of vitamin A, and therefore supplementation is rarely advised. Adults who take more than 10,000 IU of vitamin A per day have reported sudden hair loss.
Biotin (vitamin B7) deficiencies have been reported in 38% to 49% of women with hair loss. Other signs of a severe lack of biotin will include brittle nails and skin rashes. A lack of vitamin B7 can be genetic.
Meanwhile, lack of vitamin B2, which is incredibly rare, has been connected to hair loss.
Zinc is indirectly linked to losing one’s hair. For example, scientists have noticed that trace elements including zinc, copper and selenium were deficient in patients diagnosed with hypothyroidism – a condition that is commonly associated with hair loss.
Iron deficiency may also play a role in female alopecia and particularly in premenopausal women. But one study found that 22.7% of men with male pattern baldness had significantly lower iron levels than non-balding men.
Hair loss that is due to vitamin deficiency or malnutrition is reversible. But before you run off to the drug store and stock up on supplements, we’ll review the scientific evidence on various vitamins and whether they could be beneficial to promote hair growth.
What vitamin is good for hair loss?
Let’s begin with the best known of all vitamins – C. Ascorbic acid is an antioxidant that plays an important role in lowering free radical damage to cells. Vitamin C deficiency is incredibly rare as most packaged foods now contain added ascorbic acid. If you’ve been diagnosed with iron deficiency, you should take vitamin C for better absorption of iron.
Vitamins B2, B7 and B12 may be beneficial for healthy hair. However, there are no clinical trials to ascertain that supplementing with any of them is beneficial for patients with alopecia. Nevertheless, eating a balanced diet rich in different types of vitamin B is a good idea to maintain healthy cell growth.
Given the evidence that alopecia patients frequently exhibit a vitamin D deficiency, research studies have tried to find out whether supplementation could boost hair growth. However, these trials have failed to show an effect. Patients who applied a 0.005% calcipotriol (vitamin D derivative) cream twice a day for 12 weeks saw 50% more hair regrowth than those who did not use the ointment.
One study in 38 patients found that supplementation with 50 mg of vitamin E increased hair count by 34.5%. However, that’s a very small sample size to draw any definite conclusions from.
Iron supplementation is advised for women (and occasionally men) who have been diagnosed with an iron deficiency. This should reverse hair loss over time.
67% of alopecia areata patients given a dose of 50 mg zinc per day saw positive results. Another study found that 60% of patients who supplemented with zinc daily noticed hair regrowth.
Unless you’ve been diagnosed with a vitamin deficiency, it’s unlikely that supplementation will reverse your alopecia. However, a balanced and healthy diet could stave off associated medical conditions that can cause hair loss. For now, the best treatments to reverse alopecia include finasteride and minoxidil.
- Hosking, A.-M., Juhasz, M. and Atanaskova Mesinkovska, N. (2018). Complementary and Alternative Treatments for Alopecia: A Comprehensive Review. Skin Appendage Disorders, 5(2), pp.72–89.
- Binitha, M., Sarita, S. and Betsy, A. (2013). Zinc deficiency associated with hypothyroidism: An overlooked cause of severe alopecia. International Journal of Trichology, 5(1), p.40.
- Park, S. Y., Na, S. Y., Kim, J. H., Cho, S., & Lee, J. H. (2013). Iron plays a certain role in patterned hair loss. Journal of Korean medical science, 28(6), 934–938. https://doi.org/10.3346/jkms.2013.28.6.934
- Riboflavin Rs R. Encyclopedia of dietary supplements. London and New York: Informa Healthcare; 2010. pp. 691–699.
- Almohanna, H. M., Ahmed, A. A., Tsatalis, J. P., & Tosti, A. (2019). The Role of Vitamins and Minerals in Hair Loss: A Review. Dermatology and therapy, 9(1), 51–70. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13555-018-0278-6