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Do Vitamins & Supplements for Hair Loss Work?

There's no shortage of products claiming to promote hair growth and/or stop hair loss altogether, but are they safe? Do they really work? We provide you with the facts, so you can get real results and avoid wasting money on products that can’t do what they claim!

What Causes Hair Loss?

Before we jump into solutions, it’s important to address what causes hair loss in the first place, so you can pinpoint how to treat it.

Hair loss is primarily a result of genetics, and has to do with changes in your hormone levels. For women, menopause results in an inevitable decrease of estrogen and an increase of testosterone and its more potent offshoot, dihydrotestosterone (DHT). Testosterone and DHT are the main culprits of what is called male pattern hair loss, in both men and women.

Other causes of hair loss include health issues, such as thyroid problems, reactions to medical treatments such as chemotherapy, the side effects of medications (including steroids), serious illness, auto-immune disorders, alopecia, pregnancy, unusually high levels of stress, and malnutrition. If you suspect your hair loss may be due to health-related issues, it’s critical to consult with your physician for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Other typical culprits are over-bleaching hair, thermal straightening, perming, or wearing heavy hair extensions that damage hair to the point where it literally starts to fall out. If any of these sound familiar, then the primary thing you need to do is stop this type of assault on your hair. That may be all it takes to get your hair to come back.

Can Vitamins or Supplements Help Hair Grow?

Given the vast number of vitamins and supplements claiming to grow hair, you would think there wouldn’t be a receding hairline in sight! Obviously, that isn’t the case.

Here’s the deal: If you aren’t seriously vitamin deficient, there’s little chance that supplements can change a single thinning hair on your head. In fact, there’s research showing that overuse of supplements that contain selenium, Vitamin A, or Vitamin E might actually make hair loss worse!

If you are truly vitamin deficient, it’s important to consult with your physician to find out which vitamin(s) or element you’re lacking. Blood tests can show if you are low in vitamin D, zinc, or iron, all of which are related to hair growth. Getting these nutrients back within the normal range can definitely make a difference in your well-being and possibly increase the density of your hair.

Biotin, in particular, shows up frequently in supplements marketed to improving hair growth. Despite its popularity, however, no clinical trials have proven its efficacy for treating hair loss (unless a biotin deficiency was already present, which is extremely rare).

Vitamin C, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, amino acids, and B vitamins also tend to show up in so-called “hair-growth” pills. All of these are basic components in most vitamin supplements (including prenatal vitamins), so if you really want to give them a try, you don’t need to get them from an overly expensive hair-growth pill. But again, the research backing these ingredients for hair growth just isn’t there.

Does Diet Affect Hair Growth?

As is true for every part of your body, an overall healthy diet can help improve your hair to a certain degree. Don’t worry about stuffing yourself with foods like lentils, walnuts, or salmon, which are often touted for hair growth. Instead focus on eating a healthy, well-balanced diet and keep your expectations realistic.

You may also be wondering about protein, as hair is mostly made up of protein (keratin). A serious protein deficiency can cause hair loss, but this type of deficiency affects only a small percentage of the population. This is another instance where you need to check with your doctor and follow the doctor’s orders.

What Really Works for Hair Loss?

For men and women struggling with thinning hair, the topical drug minoxidil (A.K.A. Rogaine) is the most well-researched and safest option with conclusive evidence. Rogaine has been proven to significantly restore hair growth and slow hair loss to some degree. The trick is to start using it as soon as you notice any amount of hair loss, because waiting limits minoxidil’s effectiveness. And you must use it every day, twice a day. Minoxidil is not a cure, but it is a solution for the symptoms of hair loss.

Not surprisingly, many hair-growing systems often include minoxidil as part of their product offering. In reality, minoxidil is the only ingredient in the system that really does anything. The ads and infomercials go on at length about exotic plant extracts or special vitamin complexes being the miracle you’ve been waiting for, but when you look at the label, sure enough, there’s minoxidil listed among the ingredients. And, of course, there is no independent published research showing that the exotic plant extracts do anything other than waste your money.

The takeaway here: Consult with your physician to diagnose your hair loss and then start using minoxidil (5% for both men and women has been shown to have the most benefit). In three to four months you should see results!

References for this information:

Annals of Dermatology, June 2017, pages 276–282
Dermatology Practical & Conceptual, January 2017, pages 1–10
Dermatologic Clinics, January 2013, pages 167–172
Clinical and Experimental Dermatology, July 2002, pages 396–404