Are you wondering what you can do about hair loss? Our hair reflects our overall health and has always been a symbol of beauty, health, strength, and success. Having a full, healthy head of hair is no accident. This is because hair growth and volume is not just a perceived reflection of our nutritional status and health, but a real one:
During deficits of any vital nutrients (amino acids, vitamins, or minerals), the body allocates all available micro-nutrients to the fundamental processes required to sustain life. Since hair growth is a non-vital function, the body forgoes supplying this process and uses the available nutrients to fuel others.
The result: minor deficits in certain amino acids, vitamins, or minerals initially do not evidence any problems. However, hair no longer receives the building blocks it needs to grow.
Low levels of iron are easily recognizable: even with blood levels of iron that are still deemed sufficient according to clinical standards, diffuse hair loss has been observed as an indicator of deficiency. Iron deficiency is especially prevalent in women: 75% of women between puberty and menopause evidence iron deficiencies 1. Taking iron as a nutritional supplement has shown that these deficiencies can be resolved within a period of several weeks.
Hair loss and dull, lackluster hair are early indicators of nutrient deficits. Hair loss not only points to a deficit in iron, but is an indicator that other vitamins and amino acids are deficient.
Amino Acids: Building Blocks of Hair
Hair consists in large part of the sulfur-containing amino aids cysteine and methionine.They are involved in building hair keratin and also bind the individual keratin fibers into hair.
In order to grow, hair roots (“follicles”) require the two sulfur-containing amino acids as well as vitamin C, vitamin E and the minerals iron, zinc, and copper.
Cysteine: a fundamental hair building block
Taking supplemental cysteine, in combination with pantothenic acid (vitamin B5) and millet seed extract has proven very effective in women with diffuse, androgenic alopecia (hair loss).
In a German study in which women with diffuse hair loss took a 400 mg preparation of millet seed extract, cysteine, and pantothenic acid, hair growth was restored to normal levels within just 3 months. Millet seed extract is rich in silicon and appears to have hair growth stimulating components. The study was placebo-controlled and its findings are statistically significant. This means that the results can be deemed reliable. 2
Methionine for strong hair and nails
Methionine, the second important sulfur-containing amino acid, forms sulfur chains that make up the basic structure of skin, nails, and especially hair. An Italian study has found that taking methionine can promote healthy hair growth. 3
For problems with hair and nail growth, taking sulfur-containing amino acids like cysteine and methionine together with zinc and B vitamins is recommended. 4
Arginine and healthy hair
Arginine is a semi-essential amino acid that is particularly important for circulation. Arginine supplies the compound NO (nitric oxide) which gives small blood vessels the signal to dilate. Only with proper dilation can these blood vessels transport the necessary blood and nutrients to tissues.
Circulation is also important for hair growth, as a recent study conducted in 2013 would indicate. 5
Vitamins and Minerals to support hair growth
Iron Deficiency: a common cause of hair loss
Approximately 75% of women between puberty and menopause evidence a deficiency in iron. 6 Even low levels of iron that are not deemed to be a deficit may lead to excessive hair loss.
Good sources of iron include red meat (beef, pork, or venison), and spinach. Those who do not consume a lot of beef or pork often evidence a low level of iron. Following a diet rich in iron is especially recommended for women. In some cases of alopecia, it may be helpful to supplement one’s daily diet with iron.
Vitamin E: 50% have a deficit – supplementation can slow hair loss
Vitamin E is a fat soluble vitamin that plays an important role in cell integrity and protects sensitive cells in the skin and hair follicles. Approx. 50% of the population, both men and women, do not get the minimum recommended daily allowance of vitamin E. And that statistic is not reflective of developing countries. Instead, it reflects the results of the German National Consumption Study of 2008, a government-sponsored study of 20,000 Germans.
Among other things, a deficit in vitamin E also results in impaired hair growth. An eight-month study found that supplementation with vitamin E increased hair growth among the participants an average of 42%. 7
Vitamin C deficiency is also very prevalent in Germany. Across all population groups, approximately every third person evidences a deficit in vitamin C and does not get the recommended daily allowance of 80 mg. Vitamin C plays an integral role in the synthesis of keratin and is therefore a vital element for healthy hair, skin, and nails.
Biotin is a water soluble B vitamin. It is of particular importance in cell division (mitosis) and cell metabolism. Symptoms of biotin deficiency include dry skin, alopecia, and baldness.
Zinc is one of the most important trace elements as it is involved in more than 200 different metabolic processes. Zinc deficiency causes a broad spectrum of symptoms, including increased hair loss. Zinc plays an important role in the formation of keratin, the most important component of hair, skin, and nails.
Alopecia caused by a zinc deficit is easily reversed through supplementation with the mineral (approx. 10 mg to 15 mg a day).
Copper is another mineral that is crucial for hair growth, and particularly hair color. If the body lacks copper, hair breaks easily and loses its color and shine. Copper deficiency – like deficits in zinc, iron, or vitamins – can be relatively easily corrected with nutritional supplementation or a change in diet.
Grape Seed Extract
Grape seed extract contains procyanidins. These plant-based substances improve circulation and have a high antioxidative potential. These effects may contribute to better protection of sensitive hair roots and improved nutritional supply. The company Inneov has successfully tested several combination products that contain grape seed extract, but has not published results.
Hair loss during and after pregnancy
During pregnancy, a woman requires double the amount of vitamins and minerals than normal. However, only 20% more energy (carbohydrates and fat) are required. If a strict diet consisting of plenty of fruits, vegetables, and lean meat is not adhered to during pregnancy, hair loss may result as a symptom of nutrient deficiency.
During pregnancy, the body continues the principle of addressing the functions with the highest priority first. The fetus is priority number one, the mother priority number two. The mother’s hair is last.
How long does it take for supplementation to be effective?
In order to estimate how long it will take for supplementation with important amino acids and hair vitamins to bring visible results, let’s take a closer look at the hair growth process. Hair growth occurs in three phases (“hair cycle”):
- Anagen phase: the growth phase of the new hair root. Hair is growing in the skin. This growth phase lasts between two and six years and more than 85% of hair should be in the anagen phase at any point in time.
- Catagen phase: a transitional phase that only lasts a few weeks. Hair stops growing and the follicle shrinks. 1% of hair is in this transitional phase.
- Telogen phase: the resting phase in which hair no longer grows and it has detached from the follicle. The hair remains anchored in the skin by the root. This phase lasts two to four months. No more than 15% of hair should be in this end phase.
The result: even if you are successfully correcting vitamin or amino acid deficits today, you will continue to lose hair for at least another two to four months because it takes that long for hair that died prior to supplementation to fall out. You therefore cannot expect to see visible results until two to four months have passed.
Because the hair cycle is relatively slow and sensitive, many experts recommend supplementation with a multi-product so that various deficits can be addressed at once. Trying to see which vitamin works on an individual basis is too time consuming.
- (please see German National Consumption Study 2008, part 2, Attachment tab. “Iron”) ↩
- Trüeb R.M.: Systematic approach to hair loss in women, Journal of the German Society of Dermatolgy 2010; 8 (4): 284- 297 ↩
- Alonso, L. & Fuchs, E.; “The hair cycle”; Journal of Cell Science, 2006; issue 119, pages 391-393 ↩
- Gröber, Uwe; “Orthomolecular Medicince”; 3. Edition.; p. 192 ↩
- Saini, R. & Zanwar, A. A.; “Arginine Derived Nitric Oxide: Key to Healthy Skin”; Bioactive Dietary Factors and Plant Extracts in Dermatology”; 2013, pages 73-82 ↩
- Results Report German National Consumption Study, Part 2, 2008 ↩
- Ling et al., School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Malaysia. Not published due to patent rights ↩