Question: I have an ok diet, it’s not great because I work a lot and often end up eating late or grabbing a take away but I’m worried this might be why I’m shedding a lot of hair at the moment. Can you tell me specifically which vitamin deficiency causes hair loss?
Answer: Hi, Brook. Any dietary issues severe enough to lead to a significant nutritional imbalance can cause hair loss. However, there are a few key vitamins and minerals that are more likely to cause thinning hair that others.
A study was published in the Dermatology Practical and Conceptual medical journal in January 2017 detailing precisely which vitamin and mineral deficiencies were most likely to cause hair loss. Their findings were taken from looking at other studies into the subject and collating them. The outcome, as many hair specialists suspected, pinpointed deficiencies in iron, zinc, selenium or vitamin D as the key culprits.
Iron is important for haemoglobin production, which allows oxygen to be efficiently transported around the body. In cases of iron deficiency (anaemia) this process is hindered, causing the body to divert energy towards conserving oxygen and away from non-essential functions, such as the hair growth cycle. As a consequence, hair fall may occur from all over the scalp which tends to take around three months to become noticeable.
Zinc is one of the key minerals involved in hair health due to its role in cell production and regrowth. A lack of zinc can cause the same type of disruption to the hair growth cycle as is seen with iron deficiency anaemia, but – in addition to causing hairloss – it can lead to hair shafts becoming brittle and weak, making them more prone to hair breakage.
Selenium deficiency is rare, except in certain regions of the world including China and Tibet, as it is only required in relatively small amounts which can generally be found in a varied diet. However, as selenium contributes to the maintenance of healthy hair, the normal functioning of our immune system and the protection of cells from oxidative stress – a factor identified as being linked to premature hair loss in men – if there are low levels of this mineral in the body, hair health may suffer as a result. Furthermore, selenium is critical in order to convert the thyroid hormone thyroxine (T4) into triiodothyronine, so if there is a deficiency, hypothyroidism symptoms may present – one of which is hair loss.
Vitamin D’s role in the process of cell division and helping to maintain the normal functioning of the immune system also assists with the maintenance of healthy hair. Various studies have linked ‘the sunshine vitamin’ to improved hair growth in cases from hereditary hair loss to the autoimmune disorder Alopecia Areata. As such, when vitamin D levels are depleted, thinning hair may occur.
Vitamin D3, in particular, was only recently hailed as playing a far more crucial role in hair growth than other forms of the vitamin. This is why vitamin D3 appears, alongside zinc, selenium, biotin and other key vitamins, minerals, amino acids and botanical extracts identified by Belgravia’s hair specialists as being beneficial to hair health, in the Centre’s highly-targeted Hair Vitalics for Men and Hair Vitalics for Women food supplements.
Biotin, whilst not mentioned in the 2017 study, is well established as being important for the maintenance of normal, healthy hair growth. It is a water soluble B vitamin (B7), active in many enzyme systems in the body, that is necessary for the production of normal skin and scalp secretions and ensuring hair and skin health is maintained. As with selenium, biotin deficiency is rare but when present can cause hair loss or thinning hair.
The hair loss condition these deficiencies tend to present as is temporary, generally lasting no more than six months, and is called Telogen Effluvium. In more persistent cases it may last longer and be reclassified as Chronic Telogen Effluvium, but is still considered temporary. The only time when the hair thinning may be permanent is in cases where there is an underlying genetic predisposition to Androgenetic Alopecia (Male Pattern Baldness and Female Pattern Hair Loss) as its onset can be accelerated by these temporary conditions.
When considering nutritional deficiencies it is important not just to review your diet in terms of what you eat and drink. Of course it is vital to ensure you are feeding your body a healthy balance of key vitamins, minerals and fatty acids etc, but it is also beneficial to look at whether there are any other symptoms that could suggest an underlying health issue or undiagnosed illness, meaning your body may not be able to absorb some nutrients properly. For example, the autoimmune disorder Coeliac’s disease – where those affected are intolerant to gluten – can hinder absorption of vitamin B12 and folate, resulting in pernicious anaemia.
There are in fact a number of dietary factors that can influence both hair growth and hair fall. Sugar consumption – which can be unexpectedly high due to the rise in ‘hidden sugars’, particularly in convenience foods – has been linked to thinning hair. As, conversely, have diet drinks and foods. Eating too much red meat is another dietary minefield when it comes to general health concerns as well as hairloss, though those with highly restrictive or elimination diets, such as vegetarians or vegans, also need to be particularly mindful of their nutrition in order to maintain healthy hair growth.
Whilst all these are theoretical possibilities, in general, as long as you eat a well-balanced diet and have a relatively healthy lifestyle, including a decent amount of exercise, these issues should not be too much cause for concern.
Two other pertinent non-nutritional factors which may be worth monitoring are your lifestyle and stress levels. Stress is a well-established cause of hair loss in men and women, and lifestyle issues such as regularly not getting enough sleep, and smoking, all place strain on the body and have been shown to result in unusual levels of shedding.
This is why, when considering what causes hair loss it is rarely as simple as pinpointing one specific vitamin deficiency. It is important for hair specialists to take an holistic view, including looking at a person’s overall wellbeing, given the many factors – besides genetics – that can be involved, in order to correctly diagnose the problem and recommend appropriate hair loss treatments where necessary.
The Belgravia Centre is an organisation specialising in hair growth and hair loss prevention with two clinics and in-house pharmacies in Central London, UK. If you are worried about hair loss you can arrange a free consultation with a hair loss expert or complete our Online Consultation Form from anywhere in the world. View our Hair Loss Success Stories, which includes the world’s largest gallery of hair growth comparison photos and demonstrates the levels of success that so many of Belgravia’s patients achieve. You can also phone 020 7730 6666 any time to arrange a free consultation.