Hair loss, also known as alopecia, is a dermatological disorder that affects about 2% of the world population. The etiology of hair loss is quite complex, ranging from metabolic and hereditary causes to drugs that result in hair loss, such as chemotherapeutic agents and medicines used to treat arthritis. However, one the commonest causes of hair loss are nutritional deficiency, which weaken the hair structure and lead to hair loss due to hair breakage.
Considering the prevalence of hair loss, various research studies have been conducted to examine the role of vitamins and other nutritional components in the management of alopecia. This article provides an evidence-based analysis on how ensuring adequate vitamin intake can improve hair health and promote hair growth.
Understanding the Hair Growth Cycle
Before understanding the role of vitamins in hair growth, it is important to understand the normal hair growth cycle. A hair filament, which is comprised of compacted cells, grows through specialized follicles present in the skin. The cycle can be divided into four stages — active growth, transitional stage, resting stage, and returning growth. During the returning growth, which is the last stage of the cycle, the follicle pushes out the old hair, which results in hair shedding.
Usually all stages of the hair growth cycle occur in a balanced manner. However, disease, nutritional deficiencies, and stress, all can impact one or more stages of the cycle, causing the returning stage to take over the other stages and leading to abnormal hair loss.
Vitamin Deficiency and Hair Loss
In today’s fast-paced world, it is common to see people skip meals or rely on junk food which offer little nutritional value. This may result in nutritional deficiencies, causing an individual to suffer from various health-related problems, including hair loss.
Research suggests that deficiency of the following vitamins can cause hair loss and increasing their intake may promote hair growth.
1. Vitamin A
Vitamin A possesses anti-oxidant properties which play a major role in protecting hair follicles from damage caused by free radicals. In addition to this, a research study conducted on mice suggests that hypovitaminosis A (deficiency of vitamin A) can cause hair loss.
However, since vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, its excess amounts are not easily eliminated from the body and can lead to side effects caused by increased concentrations of vitamin A. Therefore, supplements of vitamin A should be used after consultation with a dermatologist. The normal therapeutic dose of vitamin A is 25,000 IU per day while doses exceeding 50,000 IU per day can lead to hair loss.
2. B-Complex Vitamins
Almost all vitamins included in the B-complex vitamins group influence hair growth in one way or another. Deficiency of vitamin B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), niacin, and pantothenic acid can cause undernourishment of hair follicles and lead to hair loss.
A study conducted on women suffering from telogen effluvium, a condition in which hair roots are pushed prematurely into the resting state, injectable supplements of vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) reduced hair loss. In another study, the same vitamin re-colored the hair of patients suffering from homocystinuria. Considering the results, today, vitamin B6 is a part of many hair preparations sold over the counter.
B-complex vitamins, when used in combination with amino acids, have been found to improve hair quality, as well as reduce hair loss and repair ultraviolet damaged hair.
3. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin that’s known to influence numerous physiological functions in the human body positively. From strengthening of the immune system to scavenging the free radicals, the vitamin improves health in several ways.
While deficiency of vitamin C is known to produce several hair-related symptoms, such as hair thinning on the scalp, emergence of corkscrew hairs from purpuric follicular hyperkeratotic areas, and hair loss, there is no scientific evidence to prove that vitamin C supplementation can improve hair growth, except for the conditions where a deficiency of vitamin C has been proven through laboratory analysis.
4. Vitamin D
Vitamin D, which is considered to be an essential nutrient for bone health, is known to play a role in hair growth. A study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology found that the subjects who were fed low calcium, low vitamin D diet developed transient alopecia. On further investigation, it was determined that the nutritional deficiency led to formation of dystrophic hair follicle, loss of hair shafts, and increased apoptosis of hair cells. Another study proved that low vitamin D levels were a risk factor for the occurrence of alopecia in normal healthy individuals.
Considering these findings, one can suggest that taking adequate amounts of vitamin D is essential for hair health. The vitamin is formed on exposure to sunlight, but since dermatologists do not recommend a lot of sun exposure; therefore, individuals facing hair loss should consider getting vitamin D from fortified foods, such as milk, cereals, and juices.
5. Vitamin E
Just like vitamin A and vitamin C, vitamin E is an oil-soluble anti-oxidant vitamin that can kill free radicals and prevent the damage caused by them. Vitamin E has also been known to stimulate beard growth. Because of its anti-oxidant properties, the vitamin can help maintain the integrity of the cell membranes of hair follicles and prevent their damage. However, there are no reports about the of vitamin E individuals with different hair problems.
Do Vitamin Supplements Really Help in Hair Loss? — The Conclusion
Since vitamins play a great role in the hair growth cycle, their deficiencies can lead to hair loss and several other health-related issues. Two vitamins, vitamin A and D, are important in particular because of their proven role in the growth of hair. However, other vitamins, such as vitamin C, B-complex, and vitamin E are also important in order to keep several hair problems at bay, including dandruff, hair thinning, brittle and dry hair, and hair loss.
What’s important to understand is that while vitamins are essential nutrients, there supplemental dose should be taken on a regular basis only after consultation with a health care professional because excessive amounts of all vitamins, particularly the fat-soluble vitamins, can lead to different side effects.