Luscious locks not only look amazing but can be a sign of overall good health. While genetics and your grooming routine can play a role in your hair health, vitamin deficiencies can affect or even contribute to hair thinning and even hair loss.
Low levels of iron, vitamin D and zinc are commonly known to impact hair loss. Plus, genetic conditions like autoimmune disorder alopecia can also play a part.
What is a vitamin deficiency?
Vitamins are one of six groups of essential nutrients that humans need to survive. The other groups include water, carbohydrates (amino acids), proteins, lipids (fatty acids) and minerals.
A deficiency is caused when your body does not have enough of these nutrients. This could be because your body is not absorbing them properly or you’re not consuming enough. A vitamin deficiency can be diagnosed by your doctor via a blood test, and treatment may include changes to your diet or even the use of dietary supplements.
What causes a vitamin deficiency?
You can develop a vitamin deficiency because of a low vitamin intake. This could be due to your diet or injury, certain medications, smoking, or excessive alcohol intake.
If there are no underlying conditions or diseases, eating a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, cereals, lean meats and some dairy products can go some way in ensuring you’re getting the vitamins you need.
If not, your GP might suggest adding a specific vitamin or multivitamin into your diet to tackle everything from vitamin D deficiency to an iron deficiency. You may be deficient in one or more vitamins, so it’s important to understand the function of each and the role they play in keeping both our hair follicles and our overall bodies healthy.
Which vitamin deficiency causes hair loss?
There are 13 essential vitamins and minerals, seven of which affect hair loss. These are vitamin D, iron, zinc, vitamin A, vitamin B7, vitamin F and vitamin E.
We’re breaking down the importance of each of these vitamins for hair growth and the health of hair follicles as well as signs of vitamin deficiency-induced hair loss and how to combat these deficiencies to aid hair growth.
Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones and to prevent muscle weakness. The best natural way to increase vitamin D is sun exposure. Ultraviolet radiation (UV) is required to produce vitamin D in the skin.
It’s recommended that you get at least 15 to 20 minutes of sun exposure, three times per week, to promote vitamin D production in the body. While vitamin D isn’t as readily available in food, it is found in fatty fish such as salmon, eggs, and margarine.
It may be difficult, especially for vegans or people who are lactose-intolerant, to get enough vitamin D from their diets, which is why people with low vitamin D levels may choose to take vitamin D supplements.
Along with preventing iron deficiency anaemia and boosting resistance to infection, iron can play a significant role in hair growth and health.
Iron helps your body produce hemoglobin, a protein in your red blood cells. It carries oxygen to your body’s cells, helping them grow and repair, including hair growth. Ferritin is a protein that stores iron, releasing it when the body needs it.
Leafy vegetables like spinach and red meats are probably the most well-known natural sources of iron. Other iron-rich foods include broccoli, peas and tofu. The best way to detect low iron or an iron deficiency is to get your ferritin levels checked by your doctor.
Depending on your results, you might need to take an iron supplement and increase your dietary iron intake and take 30 to 60 mg of iron along with 500 mg of vitamin C to aid absorption and re-check results after three to six months. Oranges, strawberries and tomatoes are all great natural sources of vitamin C.
Zinc is an important mineral for your immune system and supports effective wound healing. One of the first signs of a zinc deficiency can be hair loss (specifically alopecia) where hair follicles come out in sizeable clumps.
Plus, you might notice a range of skin changes that may appear like eczema, along with symptoms such as brittle nails, brittle hair and diarrhoea.
The main dietary sources of zinc are fish and meat. Zinc can be difficult to get from a diet alone, especially for vegetarians and vegans, so zinc supplementation may be required.
While vitamin A is important for hair health and the growth of healthy hair follicles, it’s rare that a deficiency would be the major source of hair loss. Night blindness is one of the first signs of vitamin A deficiency.
Vitamin A is necessary for maintaining immune and eye health and comes in the form of retinol. You'll find vitamin A present in animal-based food sources, including meat like liver, oily fish, poultry, and dairy products.
Biotin, or B7, is a vitamin found in food. It helps the body convert food into energy and plays many other important roles in our overall health.
Biotin boosts the health of hair follicles and nails and helps manage blood sugar levels, among other benefits. To boost B7 levels eat plenty of eggs, salmon, nuts and avocados.
You may not have heard of vitamin F and that’s because it’s not a vitamin in the traditional sense. Vitamin F is made up of two fats — alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and linoleic acid (LA). This “vitamin” is essential for brain and heart health.
While vitamin F deficiency is rare, it can promote healthy hair growth. Look for vitamin F sources in vegetable oils, nuts and seeds.
Most people do not get enough vitamin E and this vitamin is essential for hair health, along with vision, immune function and cell growth (including hair growth). The recommended daily intake changes with your age.
Vitamin E is also an antioxidant, which means that it can help protect cells in your body against damage caused by exposure to harmful substances such as cigarette smoke or radiation. It’s most commonly found in foods that contain fat like nuts, seeds, oils and some dark green vegetables.
What other ways can vitamin deficiency affect your hair?
Vitamin and nutritional insufficiencies play a significant role in hair loss, with iron, zinc and vitamin D levels having arguably the biggest impact.
A diet rich in these vitamins can aid hair regrowth and reduce hair loss. That's because a vitamin-rich diet stimulates cell growth, supports the production of new hair follicles and decreases the chance of vitamin deficiencies that can lead to hair loss.
What are other common hair loss causes?
One of the most common medical causes of hair loss is an autoimmune disease known as alopecia.
Alopecia means hair loss and there are two sub-condition: alopecia areata and alopecia universalis are autoimmune conditions in which hair loss is the main symptom.
Genetics and age are also factors, as well as hormonal imbalances, thyroid issues and cancer. If you’re experiencing extreme hair loss, be sure to consult your doctor to assist with identifying the cause and recommending treatment.
What are the best vitamins for hair growth?
While we caution you to be wary of “magic pills” for your hair, vitamin B, biotin (vitamin B7), Iron, vitamin D, vitamin A, zinc and vitamin C intake have all been known to assist in hair growth.
Other nutrients to promote growth include keratin and natural oils like rosemary and coconut oils.
While it’s normal to shed anywhere from 50 to 100 hairs a day, maintaining a diet rich in vitamins can help minimise hair loss.
Tips for treating hair loss
More than 50 per cent of adults report hair loss by the time they’re 50. We’ve compiled our top tips to help prevent, or slow down this loss.
- Eat a vitamin-rich diet
- Take vitamin supplements as directed by your doctor
- Try hair loss medication, like Pilot’s clinically-proven personalised hair loss treatment
- Wash your hair gently, and try to avoid pulling it back in tight ponytails or buns
- Stop smoking and reduce your alcohol intake
Remember not all experiences of hair loss are linked to a lack of vitamins. If you're noticing your hair thinning or are worried about a receding hairline, make sure to chat with your doctor (or speak to our team of GPs here at Pilot) to get to the bottom of what's causing your hair loss. The sooner you get started, the sooner you'll be able to get the problem sorted.