Nutrients for healthy hair: Do supplements help hair growth?
- 3 Minutes Read
Healthy hair requires the proper nutrients, but do hair loss supplements work? Learn whether popular vitamins and minerals taken for hair loss are effective.
People start losing their hair for many reasons: hormone changes, stress, illness, and rapid weight loss. As a result, countless recommended remedies exist to prevent and treat hair loss. Some of the most popular approaches include nutritional supplements, particularly certain vitamins and minerals. But do these products really work?
The truth is your hair needs vitamins and minerals to grow, and nutrient deficiencies can be an underlying reason for hair loss. However, nutritional supplements may not be the best solution. Let's look at a few of the most popular ones a little bit more closely.
Biotin is found in egg yolks, legumes, cereal grains, and soy flour and is part of the family of B complex vitamins. That said, it is rare for someone to lack enough biotin, even though biotin deficiency has been linked to hair loss. No scientific evidence shows that biotin effectively treats hair loss in people, though it may help brittle fingernails. Nonetheless, the popularity of supplemental biotin feeds the anecdotal stories of its effectiveness.
On the other hand, getting enough B vitamins in your diet can be helpful for hair growth. For example, B vitamins help move oxygen and nutrients throughout your body, including your hair follicles. This may, in turn, translate to healthy hair.
Various animal products, dark leafy greens, whole grains, nutritional yeast, and fortified plant milks like soy milk contain B vitamins.
Vitamin A helps your body grow hair cells and make sebum, an oily substance in your pores that contributes to healthy hair. Research says that vitamin A deficiency may lead to hair loss, but so does too much of it. Too much vitamin A can be dangerous for other reasons, too. As a fat-soluble vitamin that builds up in your body, it becomes toxic if supplemented in very high doses.
Eat more vitamin A-rich foods instead of taking a megadose vitamin A supplement for your hair, which has possible negative effects. Good sources include sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkin, and dark green leafy vegetables.
Vitamin C helps your body make collagen, an essential building block for healthy hair. It's also an antioxidant that can protect hair from weakness and dullness due to aging. In addition, vitamin C helps you absorb more iron, an essential nutrient for hair growth.
You're unlikely to be vitamin C deficient, but if you don't eat enough fruits and vegetables, start consuming more of them for a boost. Citrus fruits, strawberries, bell peppers, and broccoli make the best sources.
Hair loss and low vitamin D levels are linked, but the effect of the sunshine vitamin on hair growth is not certain. Many people are deficient in vitamin D due to too much time spent indoors. Some of the best sources of vitamin D are sunlight, fatty fish, and fortified foods.
Another antioxidant, vitamin E, may actually help boost hair growth. One study found that eight months of vitamin E supplementation helped people with hair loss to enjoy a nearly 35% increase in hair growth. Those who took a placebo reported only a 0.1% increase.
However, too much vitamin E can also be dangerous. Instead of supplements, you can easily add vitamin E-rich foods such as avocados, spinach, almonds, sunflower seeds, peanuts, broccoli, and wheat germ to your diet.
Hair loss can be a symptom of iron deficiency, but don't start an iron supplement unless advised by your healthcare provider. Excess is risky. Iron-rich foods include red meat, beans, dark green leafy veggies, and fortified grains and cereal.
Amino acids build proteins in your body, and you need them to grow hair. Protein deficiency can lead to hair loss. Protein deficiency is rare among otherwise healthy people. But various medical conditions or highly restrictive diets can increase protein deficiency risk. Talk with your healthcare provider if you are concerned about your protein levels.
Excellent protein sources include meat, fish, eggs, dairy, soy, dried beans and peas (legumes), grains, nuts, and seeds.
Despite lacking evidence of effectiveness, zinc, niacin, selenium, and folic acid are also popular supplements marketed as hair-loss treatments. Unfortunately, these nutrients have either not been studied on hair loss or have shown to be ineffective at producing healthy hair.
You will also notice an array of vitamin and protein-infused products in the hair care aisle. Since we cannot absorb vitamins through the scalp, there is no reason to expect they will promote hair growth.
Good nutrition is vital for healthy hair and may even prevent hair loss. Eating a variety of nutritious whole foods is probably your best bet. Skip the supplements and look at your diet instead to get the most bang for your buck. There may just be a few foods you need to add to your routine to make a difference in your hair health.
Reviewed and updated by Sue Heikkinen MS, RDN, CDCES on Feb 14, 2022.
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