Have you ever wondered – what can you possibly eat to grow healthy hair? With plethora of vitamins for hair growth on drugstore shelves, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. What miracle supplement would result in an overnight transformation of your hair? (Quick answer: none. You cannot have a sustainable transformation of your hair overnight. Sorry). There is a huge market for skin, hair and nails vitamins – yet some of the real hair heroes get overlooked, and the “fake ones” get all the spotlight.
A simple and rather sad fact: not only does your skin age, but your hair does too. Ageing shows up not only in your hair turning grey – but thinning out, increased fragility and brittleness due to damaged hair follicles and “tired” hair shaft. It wears out, exhausted due to chemicals, high heat styling temperatures, sun and other environmental influences: all these are but a few factors leading to ageing of your hair. We subject our hair to so much brutality, yet somehow expecting that slapping a quick mask will miraculously result in an overnight transformation.
Beauty needs to come from within and the one that nurtures you “inside out” – takes time to build. Fortunately, science has already advanced in its understanding on how to sustainably support our internal biological mechanisms, including hair growth. Before despairing, let’s explore what available options to restore your hair health and keep it that way for the many years to come.
To understand 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 form when oxygen interacts with certain molecules. Resulting newly formed molecules are a result of our bodies being exposed to pollution, harmful UV rays, stress, unhealthy diet and some medications. Once in our body, free radicals, naturally unstable in nature, try to stabilise themselves by “stealing” electrons from healthy cells. This “theft” leads to the damage of these healthy cells they get attached to. Such imbalance leads to progressive damage of cellular structures, not only destroying those cells, but also further debilitating our natural ability to detoxify from 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 them from stealing atoms 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 down and even preventing ageing of hair and skin, ultimately paving the way towards healthy hair and becoming the #1 vitamin for hair growth.
Again, let’s look at the root and the mechanism of the problem. To understand the role of zinc in enabling growth of healthy hair and reducing hair loss, we need to look at zinc’s role in reducing inflammation.
“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 an inflammatory episode. Periods of long-lasting inflammation can lead to a chronic problem. In some cases, like autoimmune disease alopecia areata, this may cause body starting to treat hair as a foreign object and try to expel them. Therefore treating the symptoms (i.e. hair loss in this case) is not sufficient and healing needs to start 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 in 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. In addition to all that, zinc helps support over 100 chemical reactions within the body, such as the formation of hormones and enzymes. It is especially significant in 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 attacking our hair follicles – and direct its efforts where our focus is: maintaining healthy bodies and balanced immune system.
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 (and hair) homeostasis, therefore taking one of the lead roles in “hair growth vitamins to consume”.
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. It’s important to note that this does not only apply to men. Women produce testosterone and can 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.
Biotin: “The #1 Hair Vitamin”… or is it?
You might have heard all the craze around Biotin, a ubiquitous ingredient in all skin-hair-nail supplements. “The #1 vitamin for hair growth and hair loss”. Drugstore shelves shout at us about its benefits in improving our appearance, creation of youthful complexion and beautiful, long and healthy hair. 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 as hair vitamin is to be converted into amino acids, which are then converted into keratin. However instances of biotin deficiency is relatively 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 are: certain medications, intestinal problems, long-term dieting, hereditary 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.
Hair growth vitamins: A conclusion
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 hair growth vitamins and 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.
Effect of vitamin C and its derivatives on collagen synthesis and cross‐linking by normal human fibroblasts, International Journal of Cosmetic Science, 1
You Asked: What Is Inflammation, And Why Should I Care About It?, Time Health, 2
The Therapeutic Effect and the Changed Serum Zinc Level after Zinc Supplementation in Alopecia Areata Patients Who Had a Low Serum Zinc Level, Department of Dermatology, College of Medicine, Hallym University, Seoul, 3
Zinc is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent: its role in human health, Department of Oncology and Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Center, Wayne State University School of Medicine, 4
Role of the vitamin D receptor in hair follicle biology, The Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, 5
Hair Loss Remedies—Separating Fact From Fiction, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, 6
A Review of the Use of Biotin for Hair Loss, Skin Appendage Disorders, 7