This is not the first time we’re talking about hair loss on this blog and, in particular, the role that certain nutrients—or lack of those nutrients—can play in helping you maintain a robust, healthy head of shiny hair. In a society that places enormous value on how we look, there have been multiple studies and numerous lifestyle articles written about the psychological effects of hair loss.
For example, this piece shares that a 2019 study published in the International Journal of Trichology—(trichology is the study of hair and scalp)—associated androgenic alopecia (we’ll talk about that in a bit) with a lower quality of life for many men, especially when it comes to self-perception and interpersonal relations.
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The same article points to another study in men—this one from 2018 in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology—that also discovered low self-esteem among patients with androgenic alopecia.
But it’s not just men who suffer with psychological impacts from hair loss. Women, too, are saddled with sadness and a loss of confidence that results from hair loss.
One might argue that the solution to loss of confidence in those with hair loss stems from society’s definition of beauty and therefore should rightly be an effort to shift societal values—but that would be a huge and long-term undertaking best addressed by other types of blogs. Fortunately, there are some simpler solutions that can help you avoid some types of hair loss, some involving nutrition, and we’ll get to that.
The Hair Society said back in 2015 that approximately 35 million men and 21 million women suffer from hair loss, while NYU Langone Health advises that more than 80 percent of men and nearly half of women experience significant hair loss during their lives. So, if you’re wondering about who can be affected by hair loss, the answer is quite a number of people.
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What Conditions Can Cause Hair Loss?
Hair loss can occur anywhere on the body, but it’s losing hair on your head that attracts the most attention. And the psychological impacts are not the only concern. Losing hair may signal other serious medical conditions too.
There are lots of reasons why hair loss occurs and it’s important to understand why you’re losing hair so that you can find the right solution. Here are some common situations or conditions that may result in alopecia, the medical term for hair loss.
- Genetics—Androgenic alopecia (also called androgenetic alopecia) is the specific term for what you’ve probably heard called male pattern baldness. Hair loss starts above the temples then moves to the perimeter around the top of the head. Eventually this condition can result in baldness. Women are also subject to this condition, in those cases known as female pattern hair loss. For women, androgenic alopecia doesn’t usually result in baldness, but women, particularly aging women, will notice (sometimes a dramatic) thinning of hair, obvious as the part in your hair gets wider.According to this post, androgenic alopecia effects more than 50 million men and 30 million women in the U.S., making it the most common type of hair loss.
- Hormonal changes—Pregnancy and menopause are two of the hormone-related reasons related to women’s hair loss. An imbalance in hormones for men can also lead to hair loss.
- Stress—It’s not unusual to hear someone say they’re pulling their hair out because of a stressful situation. The truth is that stress may cause your hair to fall out on its own. During times of stress, whether you’re not eating right or your hormones (like cortisol) are jumping about, things like losing a job, serving as a caregiver to a loved one who is ill, or going through a divorce, are just some of the stressors that can lead to hair fall-out. Often when things go back to normal in your life, your hair may too. But if you’re in that continuous loop of stress all the time, you may have a hair loss problem that doesn’t go away on its own.
- Illness or medical conditions—not only does illness lead to stress, but there are reasons why illness can result in hair loss. For example, cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy may have to watch their hair fall out in clumps. Some auto-immune diseases such as alopecia, lupus, polycystic ovary syndrome, thyroid disorders like Graves’ disease, Crohn’s disease and others, as well as reactions to the medications used to treat these conditions, can lead to hair loss. The obsessive-compulsive hair pulling disorder known as trichotillomania results in hairless patches from hair pulling.
- Nutrient insufficiencies/deficiencies—It goes without saying—but we’ll say it anyway—that a well-balanced, nutrient rich diet is an important component of good health—and that includes healthy hair. We’ve previously blogged about a lack of vitamin B12 and hair loss. In that blog we also briefly touched upon findings that identified how a lack of other vitamins and minerals as well—including iron, zinc, selenium, omega-3 fatty acids, biotin, folate, niacin, riboflavin and vitamin D—are associated with hair loss. Let’s take a closer look at hair loss and vitamin D deficiency.
Is There a Connection Between Vitamin D Levels and Hair Loss?
Some studies have shown that low blood levels of vitamin D can be responsible for hair loss.
For example, this article referenced several studies, including a 2017 review in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences that associated low levels of vitamin D with excess hair shedding (known as telogen effluvium), the autoimmune condition known as alopecia areata, and female pattern hair loss. Further, a 2016 study in the International Journal of Trichology showed that among younger people with hair loss, women had greater vitamin D deficiency.
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And this piece cited two additional studies that offered promise for those who keep their vitamin D levels in the right range. First, a 2020 study from Dermatology and Therapy noted the important role of vitamin D in immune health, finding vitamin D deficiency to be a risk factor for developing alopecia areata with a significant number of patients with this condition having low levels of the vitamin. The second study, also published in 2020 but in the International Journal of Dermatology, suggested that a vitamin D deficiency could play a role in the development and severity of male pattern baldness.
Another study—a scientific review article published in 2021 in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology—reinforced the inverse relationship between vitamin D levels and telogen effluvium, androgenetic alopecia, alopecia areata, and trichotillomania and also found a new connection, advising that vitamin D deficiency was associated with scarring alopecia, an inflammatory condition that destroys hair follicles.
Hair Loss Vitamin D Deficiency
Consider this: when it comes to the current body of scientific literature on vitamin D and hair loss, researchers would like to see more studies to confirm the role between the two; however, the number of other benefits of this essential vitamin (e.g., bone health, heart health, immune support and more) warrant strong consideration for making sure you are in the sweet spot for this vitamin.
Once you know your vitamin D blood levels, you can make appropriate changes as needed, followed by regular testing to maintain a desirable level. Read more here.
And why is that important for hair loss?
As Anna Chacon, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and hair loss expert in South Florida, explained in a previously referenced article, “Vitamin D and hair loss are very closely intertwined. Both vitamin D deficiency, as well as vitamin D excess, may cause hair loss.”
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Interestingly enough, however, while the authors of this Q&A column in the Houston Chronicle, also advised that a deficiency in vitamin D could lead to hair loss, they could “…find no research on the effects of excess vitamin D on hair loss.”
What are Solutions for Those Experiencing Hair Loss?
It really depends on why the hair loss is occurring and to figure that out you should be consulting with a dermatologist. He or she may start by suggesting testing your vitamin D blood levels to see if they are too low. If they are, the next steps are relatively simple and affordable—most likely adding vitamin D supplements to your dietary habits and re-testing several times a year to bring your numbers to a desirable level. Once your levels are in the appropriate range, hopefully the hair loss stops and the regrowth begins.
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However, as previously discussed, there are all sorts of other reasons besides a nutrient shortfall as to why you might be experiencing hair loss. And for those reasons there are other solutions including medical treatments, behavioral therapies and lifestyle changes. In some cases, there are no solutions: for instance, with scarring alopecia, once the hair follicles are replaced by scars, the hair loss is usually permanent.
Are There Certain Nutrients That Can Help with Hair Growth?
Yes, there are several nutrients that are thought to help with hair growth and a number of companies who offer vitamin supplements that are formulated specifically for hair health support, including growth. Some of the hair growth nutrients most often mentioned (and often in combination) include A, C and D vitamins, B vitamins (including B12, biotin, folic acid) and iron (especially for women), selenium and zinc. Since this blog is about vitamin D, that’s where we’ll focus.
First a little background on hair growth. Hair follicles are the tiny pores that house individual hairs. On average, a healthy scalp boasts around 100,000 hair follicles housing a similar number of hairs.
There three or four (depending on which expert you’re talking to) phases of the hair cycle: anagen, catagen, telogen and exogen. The first phase is the growth phase where the follicular stem cells proliferate and differentiate into a mature hair follicle. The catagen phase occurs when the lower part of the hair follicle is no longer stimulated, and follicle growth ends—this is considered the transition phase. The third phase is the telogen phase, also known as the “resting” phase, where the hairs neither grow nor fall out. The exogen phase is sometimes combined with the telogen phase, and focuses on shedding when hairs are lost, followed by the antigen phase beginning again.
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Here’s where vitamin D steps in as that nutrient helps create new hair follicles and maintain healthy ones along their journey. As this article explains, getting adequate amounts of vitamin D supports hair growth and regrowth.
This article explains that vitamin D is metabolized in the skin by keratinocytes, the cells that produce keratin, the protein found in hair, nails and skin. Without enough vitamin D, the keratinocytes in hair follicles may not properly function, resulting in disruption in the hair growth to hair shedding cycle. Just one more reason why adequate to optimal vitamin D helps hair growth.
Bottom line: Make sure your vitamin D blood levels are in—and remain in—an adequate to optimal range for a host of health benefits, including healthy hair.