So you’re starting to notice that your hair isn’t quite what it used to be. Maybe your forehead is a little higher, the crown a little thinner. You’re beginning to see some hair loss. Though male baldness is common—two thirds of men shed at least some of their hair by the time they hit 35—the reasons for it are varied. In addition to genetics, hair loss results from certain diseases, meds, infections, radiation, toxins, and stress. And in some parts of the world, nutritional diseases and vitamin deficiencies can also cause hair to fall out.
Serious vitamin deficits are rare among American men, but scientists have begun to explore whether vitamins and supplements might slow the rate of hair loss or even help hair grow back. “Though we’ve yet to see large, randomized clinical trials to show that vitamins aid hair growth, a number of smaller studies have shown some results,” says Men’s Health advisor and dermatologist Adnan Nasir, M.D.
The supplements market is awash with products promising to thicken your mane, and vitamins alone aren’t likely to work as well as the prescription treatments or procedures.
What that in mind, we dug into the scientific research to see which vitamins and minerals might be worth checking out. And while you’re looking around, we checked into the most common supplements containing numerous vitamins, herbs, minerals and other natural compounds for hair loss—ones often lumped under the term “nutraceuticals”—for you, too.
The lowdown on vitamins and minerals for hair loss
Dr. Nasir notes that guys following keto diets, who’ve had bariatric surgery, or who drink alcohol heavily can end up with lower levels of certain vitamins, including biotin. There’s plenty of research to show that the missing vitamin can result in hair loss (as well as eczema and fungal infections). An article published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, which examined every biotin study since the 1980s, found a number of cases in which hair loss was stabilized or reversed after taking the vitamin, although other scientists say there needs to be more research before it’s recommended for hair loss or growth. In people who aren’t actually biotin deficient, the results aren’t as promising.
Even more common than a lack of biotin, Vitamin D deficiencies affect hard-core vegans, men with milk allergies, people with Crohn’s and celiac disease, and those who don’t get enough exposure to sunlight. Vitamin D helps generate new hair follicles, and a prolonged dip in levels can leave hair brittle and in piles around your drain. Vitamin D is found in foods including fatty fish, liver, eggs, and milk (find out the best ways to get it into your diet here). The Mayo Clinic recommends that adults get at least 600 International Units (IU) of Vitamin D per day, though 1000 to 2000 IU per day is considered safe, and may also help keep your bones, muscles, nerves, and immune system in ship shape.
Studies show a link between zinc deficits and a range of hair loss disorders (kidney, liver, and sickle-cell diseases have been associated with low levels of zinc as well). Some older studies found zinc supplements helped clear up hair loss due to telogen effluvium, a hair-thinning disorder usually caused by stress (including Covid), toxins, or trauma. However, researchers at the Baylor College of Medicine point out that the numbers were small and there’s not enough evidence to suggest that zinc grows hair in other circumstances. Overdosing on the mineral can cause abdominal problems, including nausea and diarrhea.
What’s what with other supplements for hair loss
“Nutrients such as zinc, iron, niacin, selenium, fatty acids, folic acid, biotin, amino acids, protein, antioxidants, and vitamins D, A, and E, can all affect hair growth,” says nutritionist and author Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RDN. And two brand leaders that sell combinations of these nutrients are Nutrafol and Viviscal. Both of these “nutraceuticals” claim to help hair growth by compounding many of these nutrients into a single capsule.
Nutrafol: This product combines vitamins, herbs, and ingredients like marine collagen, resveratrol, saw palmetto and numerous other compounds in its pills. The ingredients, the company says, work by targeting the factors that contribute to hair thinning, including stress from the environment and aging. It claims that this combination of ingredients reduces levels of dihydrotestosterone (DHT), the testosterone byproduct that can, in high concentrations, cause hair follicles to thin out. “Clinical studies show that even androgenetic alopecia (i.e., male pattern baldness) is made worse by stress,” says dermatologist Michael Gold, M.D., Medical Director of the Global Center for Hair Restoration in Nashville. “Nutrafol contains stress adaptogens—botanicals that have been shown to reduce elevated cortisol levels.”
Viviscal: This supplement contains ingredients including shark collagen and mollusk powder, both believed to help indigenous Inuits in the Arctic grow especially thick hair. Research published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology suggests that marine collagen can both decrease hair loss and help new hair grow. But due to the mollusk powder, guys with shellfish allergies should steer clear.
Both Nutrafol and Viviscal are available on the web and often through your dermatologist’s office, which is where Dr. Gold recommends buying them. “It’s always good to consult with your physician first,” he says. “Even if you have classic familial pattern hair loss, a skilled dermatologist can make sure to exclude other contributing scalp and hair conditions, other contributing factors, and recommend a variety of options.”
A month’s supply of Nutrafol runs $75. Viviscal costs a little less, at $50, though the company recommends using the supplement along with its shampoo. Is the price-tag worth it? “The bottom line is, they work,” Dr. Gold says. “I have personally seen great results with Nutrafol and Viviscal in my clinic.”
Some of the ingredients in Nutrafol and Viviscal are available in individual form. Kirkpatrick warns that “it’s important not to over supplement your vitamins and nutrients because doing so many cause other medical complications.” Excess vitamin A, for example, gets stored in your fat cells and extreme amounts from supplements can become toxic. The same goes with selenium, which can ironically make hair loss worse if taken in excess. Here’s what’s what with some of the main, individual ingredients.
Saw Palmetto: Saw palmetto, the fruit-extract that Nutrafol claims blocks DHT, comes in pill form, as a liquid tincture, and as topical serum. Research done by scientists at UC Irvine, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, and the Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine found that saw palmetto “demonstrated modest improvement in hair regrowth,” but was inferior to the prescription drug finasteride (Propecia).
L-Cysteine: This sulfur-rich amino acid, found in soy, wheat, lentils, and onions, among other foods, works to strengthen both hair and fingernails. Keratin is one of the most abundant proteins in the hair and is loaded with L-Cysteine. In a 2018 review, Spanish scientists concluded that haircare products fortified with the nutrient “slow down hair loss.” L-Cysteine is available as tablets and capsules ranging from 200 to 500 milligrams. Too much, though, can lead to nausea, diarrhea, headaches, vomiting and even liver complications.
Procyanidin B2 with Apple Extract: Although many have never heard of it, this is one of the best-tested nutraceuticals. In a 2018 Italian study, extracts from the Annurca apple promoted hair growth at rates “fully comparable with or even higher” compared to tests of the leading prescription meds, but without the pharmaceuticals’ side effects. “Procyanidin may help promote hair cell growth by stimulating Anagen, the active phase of the hair growth cycle,” says Joshua Zeichner, M.D., Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in the Dermatology Department at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. The only catch is that while it’s easy to find Vitamin B2 and apple-extract products, obtaining the right compound is a little trickier. A powdered drink mix can be procured through Badmonkey Botanicals and Toki Botanicals.
Get your healthy-hair vitamins from groceries first
Before you head to the health-food store, Kirkpatrick urges guys to take a hard look inside their fridges and cupboards. “A diet rich in vitamins and minerals are the best bet in maintaining healthy hair,” she says. She especially recommends the Mediterranean diet, which prioritizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and seeds, and allows for poultry, fish, and eggs (get everything you need to know about the Mediterranean diet here). In addition to providing all the vitamins and minerals necessary for a healthy head of hair, going Mediterranean can lower your BMI and blood sugar, and reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease.
Dr. Nasir adds that the skin, including the hair, is “a window to our general health.” Premature hair graying, unrelenting hair loss, and significantly advanced male pattern baldness at an especially young age can all be signs of underlying medical problems. A vitamin deficiency isn’t something a guy can diagnose on his own. It’s a good idea to see a doctor before starting a new vitamin regimen to rule out bigger problems. Consulting with a registered nutritionist or dietician can ensure your diet strikes the right balance of essential nutrients and help you avoid getting scalped by the hype.
If everything’s fine nutritionally, embrace your head of hair as it is. Consider that some guys believe that the hottest hairstyle is not having hair at all. And they know how to work it.
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