5 Vitamins to Consider for Hair Growth
There is a simple, rather sad fact: not only does your skin age, but your hair does too. And ageing is reflected not only in turning grey – but thinning out, increased fragility and brittleness due to damaged hair follicles and hair shaft. It gets worn out and exhausted due to chemicals, high heat styling temperatures, sun and other environmental influences – all these but a few factors leading to ageing of your hair. We subject our hair to so much, yet somehow we tend to expect that slapping a quick ointment on hair in it mature stages of growth once in a while will miraculously transform it overnight.
Unfortunately, beauty comes from within and nurturing your “insides” takes time. Fortunately, science already advanced in its understanding on how to support our internal biological mechanisms, including hair growth, from inside out. So, before despairing, why not explore what options are available to restore your hair health from within and keep it that way for the many years to come?
For this one, let’s start with some scientific explanation of free radicals. Free radicals are atoms or groups of atoms with an odd (unpaired) number of electrons which can be formed when oxygen interacts with certain molecules. Molecules, that are formed as a result of our bodies being exposed to pollution, harmful UV rays, stress, unhealthy diet and some medications. Once in our body, free radicals unstable in nature, try to stabilise themselves by “stealing” electrons from healthy cells, leading to the damage of these healthy cells. This imbalance leads to progressive damage of cellular structures, not only destroying those cells, but also further debilitating our body ability to detoxify those harmful free radicals. With age, production of free radicals increases, while the internal defence mechanisms decrease.
However there are ways to tackle this process, by introducing antioxidants to your system. Antioxidants essentially “offer” the missing electrons to free radicals, thereby preventing these bad guys from stealing it from healthy cells. Healthy cells stay intact, free radicals are satisfied: “Wolfs are sated, and the sheep are intact”.
Vitamin C is the super-hero here, it is a powerful antioxidant whose molecules offer its electrons to free radicals, therefore directly slowing and even preventing ageing of hair and skin.
Again, let’s look at the root and the mechanism of the problem. When looking at Zinc’s role in aiding hair growth, we need to understand what inflammation is.
“Inflammation is an activation of cells and cell-derived components that have the job of fighting invasions, and in some cases just sponging up or clearing out damaged cells,” says Valter Longo, a professor of biological sciences at the University of Southern California. In other words, inflammation is a good thing – this is how your body fights off that nasty flu. However not all inflammations are created equal, especially when looking at longevity of it. During the periods of lasting inflammation, this may become a chronic problem. In some cases, like autoimmune disease of alopecia areata this may cause body starting to treat hair as foreign objects and try to expel them. Therefore treating the symptoms (i.e. hair loss in this case) is not sufficient and healing has to come from within.
Studies in 2009 by Park et al showed that zinc supplementation in patients with alopecia areata who were low in zinc helped with hair regrowth. In addition, studies by Prasad in 2014 showed that zinc supplementation trials decreased the incidence of infections by approximately 66% in the zinc group. Zinc supplementation also decreased oxidative stress (think free radicals!) and decreased inflammatory signalling between the cells in the elderly. Zinc helps support over 100 chemical reactions within the body, such as the formation of hormones and enzymes. It is especially significant to maintaining a healthy immune system and wound healing – making your body efficient in healing itself and therefore preventing prolonged inflammation from occurring.
The link between hair loss and Zinc isn’t a straight line, however Zinc prevents inflammation which in turn promotes a balanced immune response within our body, so our body can stop panicking and “putting out fires” – and direct its efforts where our focus is: maintaining healthy scalp and hair follicles.
One would have thought that the vitamin which is essentially sunshine – available at no cost, wouldn’t be a problem? However the move towards more sedentary, desk-bound indoor lifestyles leads to deficiency in this vitamin. It is essential in stimulating formation of new hair follicles as well as making sure that the old ones aren’t falling permanently to sleep. A growing body of evidence shows that vitamin D and its receptor are responsible for maintaining not only calcium homeostasis but also skin homeostasis.
Study published in The Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in 2007, explained that vitamin D receptor (VDR) is expressed in numerous cells and tissues, including the skin. “The critical requirement for [skin-related] expression of the VDR has been proven by investigations in mice and humans lacking functional receptors. These studies demonstrate that absence of the VDR leads to the development of alopecia.” Same study showed that mice with the activated VDR maintain healthy process of forming hair follicle.
To support healthy VDR in its function of formation of the hair follicle, ensuring your body has sufficient vitamin D is key. This is especially important for people living sun-deprived lifestyles or in sun-deprived places: working night shifts or located in areas where sun is absent for prolonged periods of time (e.g. Northern Europe). If sun isn’t as freely available, where you are, taking a supplement and ensuring you consume enough vitamin D through your diet is essential.
Saw Palmetto extract
Male pattern hair loss is the most common type of hair loss in men. Hair at the temples and on the crown slowly thin and eventually disappear. The exact reason why this happens is unknown, but genetic, hormonal, and environmental factors are all thought to play a role. Dihydrotestosterone (DHT) is believed to be a major factor.
For some time, scientists believed that it is high levels of testosterone that lead to reduction in new hair growth and formation of new hair follicles. However in the most recent studies, it has been discovered that it is DHT to blame for: a hormone made through conversion of testosterone, via another enzyme, 5-alpha-reductase.
An extract of Saw Palmetto may block 5-alpha-reductase therefore preventing a chunk of testosterone to be converted in hair-reducing DHT, therefore serving as a natural DHT-inhibitor. Research on whether saw palmetto works to treat hair loss is limited but promising.
However this does not only apply to men. Women produce testosterone and may have excessive levels of DHT. Whether resulting from hormonal shifts in perimenopausal period, or other influences such as excessive androgens from polycystic ovaries, or PCOS, it is important to understand exact reasons behind your hair loss and not just focus on treating the external symptoms. A blood test can show the level of testosterone and DHT and explain whether your hair loss is related to hormonal imbalance. If so, Saw Palmetto might be the answer.
You might have heard all the craze around Biotin, a ubiquitous ingredient in all skin-hair-nail supplements. Drugstore shelves shout at us about its benefits in improving our appearance. And while indeed, if deficient, this complex B-vitamin can lead to brittle nails and thinning hair, the truth isn’t so clear-cut and straightforward.
Hair consists of 80% of keratin, one of a family of fibrous structural proteins present in our bodies. Biotin’s role here is to be converted into amino acids, which are then converted into keratin. However instances of biotin deficiency is pretty rare and taking this supplement will lead to better hair growth only if such deficiency exists. It is absolutely essential to have balanced levels of biotin to support healthy hair growth, but taking more than your body needs will have little to no impact on your hair growth. Common factors for biotin deficiency is certain medications, intestinal problems, long-term dieting, hereditiary and genetic factors, amongst others. If you suspect a deficiency, a quick blood test revealing any vitamin deficiencies and a conversation with your doctor / GP will help understand whether supplementing your body with extra biotin will help in your journey towards beautiful hair.
To sum up, while it is absolutely essential to have all the necessary vitamins in your body balanced, before you rush into the next store to buy hunderds £s / €s / $s worth of supplements – make sure to have a blood test to understand your hormonal composition and identify any vitamin deficiencies.
Often topical solutions won’t work if an internal issue is severe, but the good news is when internal treatment is coupled with the right external treatment – your body is capable to give you exactly what you need. And if yours is the search for beautiful hair, designing a balanced nutrition plan, balancing your hormones and vitamins together with strong kick of The Hair Fuel mask every week can really work wonders.