Finding a few strands of hair in your hairbrush or circling the drain is no big deal. You naturally shed between 50 and 100 strands of hair every day; more hair loss could be the sign of a problem—and nutrient deficiencies could be to blame.
Hair loss is common. By age 50, almost 85 percent of men experience thinning hair and hair loss (1); and women make up 40 percent of hair loss sufferers (2), according to the American Hair Loss Association.
8 Vitamins and Supplements for Hair Loss
If you experience hair loss, make an appointment with your health care provider to assess the underlying causes and determine whether one of these eight vitamins or supplements for hair loss could help bulk up your tresses:
An absence of this essential mineral impacts the hair follicle, impeding hair growth. Pre- and post-menopausal women are at highest risk of iron deficiencies; those with celiac disease and vegans and vegetarians can also lack sufficient iron (3).
While insufficient iron is common, eating iron-rich foods like beef, chicken, tofu, beans, lentils and leafy greens such as spinach can help reverse deficiencies and restore hair growth. Pairing iron-rich foods with sources of vitamin C can help enhance iron absorption (4). Iron supplements are also available.
“In some women, iron levels are normal but their ferritin [the protein that stores iron in the tissues] can be low, so we might need to dig a little deeper and check ferritin levels, too,” notes naturopath Lauren Deville, founder of Nature Cure Family Health and author of How To Be Healthy: Body, Mind, and Spirit.
This water-soluble vitamin, also known as vitamin B7, is ubiquitous in hair products; too little biotin is associated with brittle hair and hair loss. Research published in the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology found that oral biotin supplements helped promote significant hair growth in women with thinning hair (5). Foods like organ meat, fish, eggs, avocado and mushrooms are also good sources of biotin.
“Everyone who comes to see me about hair loss is taking biotin,” Deville says. “But people typically aren’t taking enough. I usually recommended taking 10,000 mcg. If you’re not taking at least that much, it won’t do anything.”
A lack of this B vitamin weakens hair structure and impacts hair growth. Niacin deficiencies are linked to alopecia, one cause of sudden hair loss (6). Although there are no known studies on the serum niacin levels in women with hair loss (7), women with thinning hair due to alopecia reported significant increases in hair fullness after using topical niacin for six months, according to research published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology (8).
The omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil help nourish hair, making it thicker and shinier. Taking a fish oil supplement can help reduce hair loss, increase hair growth and boost hair density and the diameter of the hair shaft, according to research published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology (9).
In addition to fish oil supplements, Blake recommends fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines and mackerel as excellent sources of omega-3s; vegetarians can opt to add eggs and walnuts to their diets to boost their intake of these essential fatty acids.
In addition to promoting hair follicle development, zinc also helps synthesize proteins, improving hair growth. Too little zinc is associated with brittle hair and temporary hair loss called telogen effluvium or TE (10). In one study, patients with hair loss, including TE, had lower serum zinc levels (11); research showed that daily oral zinc supplements of 50 milligrams helped with hair regrowth (12).
Vegetarians and vegans are at higher risk of zinc deficiencies than carnivores because animal products, including meat, are excellent sources of zinc. Moreover, legumes and whole grains that are the staples of plant-based diets can inhibit absorption of the essential nutrient, according to Joan Salge Blake, a registered dietitian nutritionist and clinical associate professor of nutrition at Boston University.
Before taking a supplement, get tested for zinc deficiencies. Too much zinc can cause toxic effects, such as vomiting, diarrhea, headache and reduced immune function (13).
This vitamin helps with hair follicle cycling, ensuring that healthy new strands of hair continue growing. Deville calls vitamin D one of the common macronutrient deficiencies that lead to hair loss.
One very small study found that women with TE and female pattern hair loss had significantly lower levels of serum vitamin D2 (14). The researchers recommended screening for vitamin D2 levels and supplementation to correct deficiencies as treatment for hair loss.
Those who are dark skinned or obese are at higher risk of vitamin D deficiency (15); a lack of sun exposure is also linked with too little of the so-called sunshine vitamin.
Hair is made up of proteins; the nutrient is also essential for the production of keratin, which supports the structure of the hair, so it would make sense that a low protein diet would be linked with hair loss. Protein deficiencies could impact hair growth; malabsorption issues that make it difficult to absorb nutrients like protein could also cause hair thinning or hair loss, notes Blake.
Research shows that in the absence of documented protein deficiencies, limited evidence exists on the connection between protein supplementation or protein powder and hair regrowth (16).
Although the internet has called the medicinal plant a miracle tonic for hair growth, peer-reviewed research on the impact of using tablets, liquid extracts or powdered capsules to spur hair regrowth is limited. One small study on men with androgenic alopecia, hair loss on the front and top of the head, found that applying topical saw palmetto increased total hair count by almost 12 percent (17).
Hair Loss Remedies: Precautions
Although nutrient deficiencies can be a major contributor to hair loss, Deville notes that occurrences are rare in developed nations—and taking the wrong supplements could worsen hair loss. Studies show that too much vitamin A and E are linked with worsening hair loss (18). Before taking supplements for hair loss, consult with a health care provider to determine the root cause of thinning hair or hair loss.
For some common causes of hair loss, including hyperthyroidism and elevated androgen levels, taking a supplement is not enough to trigger regrowth. If supplements could be beneficial, your health care provider can help make recommendations based on your health history so you can restore your lush locks safely.