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Causes of hair loss: Effects of nutrient deficiencies

About 50% of men and women are affected by hair loss by the age of 50! However, due to different reasons, some people experience hair loss early. They start having hair problems in their 20s or 30s! And among other things, nutritional deficiencies negatively affect your hair health. And this article, explains the possible nutritional causes of hair loss.

Nutritional deficiency can influence your ability to lose or retain hair. Research shows that nutritional deficiencies play a part in poor hair health. As a result, they negatively affect your hair strength, structure and growth. For example:

  • Sudden weight loss and protein deficiency can induce acute telogen effluvium.
  • Whilst niacin deficiency contributes to the development of diffuse alopecia.

Also, other studies show that nutrient deficiencies are associated with several hair loss problems.

These problems include:

  • Chronic telogen effluvium: Occurs when a large number of your hair follicles enter a resting phase. This results in temporary hair loss.
  • Androgenetic alopecia: Is the most common form of hair loss. It is commonly termed male pattern baldness.
  • Female pattern hair loss: This is almost similar to androgenetic alopecia. Only the hair loss patterns differ.
  • Alopecia areata: A condition that causes hair to fall out in small patches. These small patches can be unnoticeable.

Defining hair loss

Graphic: Having healthy looking hair is a sign of good health.
Having healthy hair is one sign of good health

Loss of hair involves balding, bald patches, gradual thinning and breaking of hair. The most common cause of hair loss is genetic. But nutrition plays an important part in delaying or accelerating hair loss.

But, how does nutrition affect hair loss?

Research shows that nutrient deficiencies can induce hair growth abnormalities. Such abnormalities trigger hair loss. These nutrient deficiencies are usually caused by reduced nutrient intake. Or by inborn errors/genetic errors that impair nutrient uptake.

The deficiencies in energy, proteins and other nutrients negatively influence hair growth. They cause structural abnormalities in your hair. And these result in hair health problems. These problems include abnormal hair pigmentation, breaking and loss of hair.

Nutrient deficiency in the body causes various forms of malnutrition. Malnutrition in turn triggers several health problems that include hair loss. The nutrient deficiency is mainly due to:

  • Inadequate diets
  • Malabsorption of nutrients
  • Insufficient parental alimentation

So, why does nutrition impact hair loss or hair growth?

Hair follicles are among the most metabolically active tissues in the body. As a result, they are in constant need of nutrient supplies. And any form of nutrient deficiency in the body affects the follicle. And this results in the effects of nutrients being shown in your hair.

So, in other words, hair follicles need adequate nutrients like any active tissue. And if the nutrients are not available, your hair is in trouble!

So, let’s discuss the nutritional causes of hair loss and hair health problems.

Nutritional causes of hair loss

A list of the nutritional causes of hair loss. Blog graphic.
Nutritional causes of hair loss

Hair follicles have a high metabolic and turnover rate. So, they need a good and constant supply of nutrients to stay healthy. Insufficient nutrition causes a deficiency of nutrients in the body. And this in turn causes abnormalities in your hair health. Combined nutrient deficiencies worsen these abnormalities. However, adequate nutrition can help you improve your hair health. And adequate nutrition can be achieved through balanced diets. Or through dietary supplementation.

However, in some cases, nutritional causes of hair loss tend to be overestimated. This leads to the overestimation of nutritional deficiencies. Physicians, hair supplement companies and patients, all overestimate the deficiencies. This results in the over-supplementation of nutrients. And most nutrients have serious adverse effects in excess.  Especially when it comes to vitamins and minerals. So, excessive usage of hair nutrient supplements can be harmful!

Mineral deficiencies and hair health

Most minerals are involved in normal healthy hair cycles. So, mineral deficiencies may worsen existing hair problems. Or they may induce damage to healthy hair or total hair loss. Therefore, they are an important nutritional cause of hair loss.

Iron deficiency and hair

An iron deficiency can result in hair loss. This is because iron controls several processes important to hair growth. Some of the effects of iron deficiency on hair include:

  • Diffuse hair loss
  • Impaired keratin synthesis resulting in thinner anagen hairs.
  • Banded hair colours have been reported in Africa.

Zinc deficiency and hair loss

Zinc is an essential cofactor for approximately 300 metalloenzymes. And also a component of several transcription factors. This means it is an important mineral in growth and development. Zinc deficiency can induce hair loss. This may be because zinc is needed in the Hedgehog signalling pathway. And this pathway is important for the health of hair follicles.

Zinc deficiency also contributes to poor hair growth. It also induces the development of poor hair structure. And as a result, this leads to telogen effluvium, brittle hair and hair whitening.

Zinc is also involved in collagen synthesis. And collagen is important for your hair health. This means a collagen deficiency, is not good for hair health.

Zinc deficiency also contributes to alopecia (patchy hair loss) and diffuse non-scaring alopecia. And it also causes hair dryness and hair loss. Zinc is suspected to influence hair growth cycles. This makes it important an important component of hair growth.

On the other hand, over-supplementation with zinc negatively affects your health. Excess zinc can result in calcium and copper deficiency. Drowsiness and headaches are the other symptoms of zinc toxicity.

Selenium deficient as a cause of hair loss

Selenium deficiency may also influence the loss of your hair. It has been implicated in poor growth and hypopigmentation of hair. People with selenium deficiency may have sparse hair growth. In children, selenium deficiency causes hair loss. And also alopecia with pseudo albinism.

Copper

Copper is needed by several enzymes essential in hair keratin production. As a result, copper deficiency is implicated in hair hypopigmentation.

Essential fatty acid deficiency and hair loss

Essential fatty acid deficiency is also involved in poor hair health. Deficiency in omega fatty acids results in loss of scalp hair. In addition, the deficiency also causes lightening of eyebrow hair.

Studies show that both linoleic and alpha-linoleic acid are important for hair health. Their deficiency has been shown to influence hair depigmentation. And also hair lightening, scalp and eyebrow hair loss.

Essential fatty acids deficiency has similar hair health effects to zinc.

Malnutrition, lack of energy and weight loss diets as causes of hair loss

These conditions result in energy deficiency in the body. In that situation, the body utilises amino acids for energy. But this also reduces the glycogen levels in the hair follicles. As a result, the energy available for follicular cell division is reduced. And this results in poor hair growth. It also results in fragile, thin and sparse hair. This is common in cases of sudden weight loss, anorexia and severe malnutrition.

Also, a severe shortage of carbohydrates results in wasting, hair loss and anorexia.

Vitamin deficiencies as causes of hair loss

Niacin

This is an important B vitamin involved in energy utilisation. Niacin deficiency can influence your hair strength, structure and growth. Studies show that niacin is important in cell energy supply. This means it may be needed in the energy supply to the follicles. Deficiencies in niacin can cause diffuse hair loss.

Vitamin D in hair loss

Vitamin D deficiency plays an important in hair health. The vitamin is believed to play a part in hair follicle development. And its deficiency has been implicated in poor hair growth.

Vitamin A and vitamin E

Vitamin A deficiency also causes hair loss. And it has been shown to cause follicular hyperkeratosis. However, excessive intake has been implicated in several cases of hair loss.

Vitamin E deficiency is also linked to loss of hair and poor hair quality.

Biotin deficiency

Biotin deficiency is responsible for several hair health problems. These include terminal hair loss on the scalp, eyebrows and eyelashes. This makes it the most common component of hair supplements.

In children, biotin deficiency has been implicated in hair follicle development abnormalities. This affects the scalp, eyebrow and eyelash hair follicles. As a result, there is sparse hair development in these areas. And also total hair loss occurs in some cases. Deficiency also induces structural changes in the hair.

However, over-supplementation with biotin has been implicated in several cases of hair loss.

Vitamin C

Is important in hair loss especially in adults. Vitamin C deficiency has been shown to cause follicular changes that result in hair loss. Scurvy and serious vitamin C deficiency cause alopecia (patchy hair loss) in children. It also causes follicular hyperkeratosis, perifollicular bleeding and corkscrew hairs.

Vitamin C also plays a part in collagen synthesis. And it’s a deficiency, therefore affects collagen synthesis in the hair follicles. This means it also affects the muscle structures in the hair follicles.

The vitamin is also essential for iron absorption in the gut. Deficiency may also limit iron absorption. This may induce iron deficiency which also negatively influence hair loss.

Vitamin B12 deficiency and hair loss

Deficiency is rare, however, it is common in vegetarians and people with gastrointestinal disorders. The deficiency of this vitamin is linked to hair loss and hair greying.

Riboflavin and folate deficiencies

Low dietary riboflavin and folate are all linked to hair loss. Riboflavin deficiency causes loss of hair and poor hair quality. This is because it is involved in cellular functions that facilitate hair growth.

Folate deficiencies can trigger an unhealthy change to your hair and skin.

Protein-energy malnutrition

Being deficient in essential amino acids and proteins can affect hair growth, hair strength and quality. This is because proteins are major constituencies of hair. So, protein deficiency negatively affects your hair health.

Not having adequate proteins may result in:

  • Impaired hair growth
  • Dull reddish hair
  • Telogen and dystrophic effluvium
  • Loss of hair elasticity
  • Loss of natural hair colour
  • Easily breakable and pluckable hair.
  • Alopecia
  • Banded hair patterns

Antioxidants and other chemicals

Antioxidants are also important in a hair loss prevention diet. This because they prevent oxidative stress by scavenging free radicals in the body.
Oxidative stress can trigger balding. And also the rate at which balding progresses

Hair loss prevention supplements: What they contain and associated risks.

Most minerals are involved in the normal follicle cycle for hair growth. And both minerals and vitamins are important in normal cell cycles. As a result, their deficiencies cause hair problems. These problems can be solved by eating balanced diets or nutrient supplementation. However, with supplements, you need to be careful. You must know what to look for in supplements. That is because excess supplements can cause loss of hair and toxicity!

Studies on hair loss show that supplementing the diet with nutrients can help delay hair loss. The nutrients in this section are utilised in hair loss supplements. Some of the supplements have unrealistic hair health claims. All owing to the use of some of these nutrients.

Nutrients found in hair loss supplements

When you buy hair growth, loss or strengthening supplements, you must look for these nutrients. Because most of them are toxic in excess. In addition,  having high doses of some nutrients causes hair loss. This is the reason why balancing your diet may be a healthier option.

  • Studies show that most vitamin D supplements improve hair health. It improves the symptoms of losing hair.
  • If you have hair loss problems and your iron level is low, you must supplement.
  • Also, those with iron deficiency must check their vitamin C intake. Because vitamin C enhances iron uptake in the body.
  • Vitamin C deficiency also causes iron deficiency due to its function in iron absorption. So it can contribute to hair problems.
  • There is insufficient data to recommend zinc, riboflavin, folic acid and vitamin B12 supplements in terms of deficiency.
  • However, you are more likely to see these nutrients in common hair loss and growth supplements!
  • Supplements of vitamin E and biotin are also not supported by the literature.
  • Studies also show that supplementing with the amino acid cysteine improves hair health and strength.

Iron, selenium, vitamin D, vitamin B12 and folate deficiencies are involved in hair greying and whitening. This happens in childhood and early adulthood. Supplementing with these nutrients can help improve cases of premature hair whitening and greying.

Also, most hair loss supplements contain more biotin than dietary recommendations. This is can cause side effects to your health.

These nutrients cause hair loss in excess

These nutrients may harm your health and hair in excess!

  • Zinc
  • Iron
  • Selenium and too much selenium causes loss of hair. It also causes brittle hair.
  • Too much vitamin A is toxic to the body. And it can also cause hair loss and decreased pubic as well as auxiliary hair. In addition, it can cause liver, renal and cranial damage.
  • Too much vitamin E also causes hair loss.

Note: It’s very difficult to find supplements with the correct amount of any of these nutrients.

So, what can you do? The diet? A healthy diet can provide you with all the nutrients you can need. Which means it can prevent nutrient deficiencies. Without nutrient deficiencies then, hair loss problems due to nutrition are eliminated!

Also read: 9. Different ways healthy foods can sustain your body

Also read: 13 Healthy eating habits for your family

At the mercy of the hair loss supplements industry?

People are usually desperate to protect and keep their hair intact. As a result, people usually resort to dietary supplements that promise non-existent results. These supplements usually carry nutrition claims with no scientific backing.  And most of these hair loss supplements are not risk-free. This is because they can harm your hair. All, due to excess nutrients which may be toxic to your hair.

So, what can you do?

You have to be extra careful about hair health supplements. This is because the supplement industry is unregulated. The first question you need to ask yourself is: Do I need supplements in the first place? If you do, then get a nutritional and medical examination done. This will help you know, the nutrients that you need to supplement with. And also, help you know if you have any underlying causes of nutritional deficiencies. This may help in determining what your body needs to prevent hair loss.

Because, without this, you are at the mercy of the supplement industry. This industry makes use of the vulnerability of people. As a result, they can fleece you of your hard-earned money for nothing.

For more in-depth information, find these articles:

Finner, A.M., 2012. Nutrition and hair: deficiencies and supplements. Dermatologic clinics, 31(1), pp.167-172.
O’Connor, K. and Goldberg, L.J., 2021. Nutrition and Hair. Clinics in Dermatology.

In conclusion

A healthy diet builds a healthy body. This is because it prevents nutritional deficiencies. When you are well nourished, you don’t need to worry about nutritional causes of hair loss. You won’t need supplements to grow your hair. However, nutritional supplements are not all bad. Because there is evidence showing that they may reverse nutrition-based hair loss.

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