5 Vitamins for Hair Growth

The amount of vitamins and minerals in your body can affect hair growth and the overall health of your hair. The vitamins and minerals you get from your diet, and sometimes from sunlight, are essential for cell growth and function.

If you don’t get enough of these elements naturally, you may develop a vitamin deficiency or low levels of one or more vitamins. A deficiency can affect health in several ways and depending on the vitamin or mineral you’re deficient in, might affect your hair health. You can correct a deficiency by eating a well-balanced diet or taking supplements.

Iron is an essential mineral that impacts all cellular functions. It plays a crucial role in the rapid growth of cells, including cells in the hair follicle. Hair follicles store a protein called ferritin; this protein releases iron when blood levels are low.

An iron deficiency is one of the most common deficiencies. An iron deficiency can weaken hair or stop hair growth. When the body is low in iron, it takes the ferritin from the hair follicles to maintain normal ferritin levels in the blood and support more essential bodily functions.

Some people are more at risk of developing iron deficiency. Women who are still menstruating are at higher risk because of blood loss. People who have celiac disease and other malabsorption disorders are also more at risk because their bodies cannot absorb iron from their diets. Iron deficiency is 1.8 times higher in vegans and vegetarians than in meat eaters. Plants contain non-heme iron that the body doesn’t absorb as well as heme (animal-based) iron.

Your age, sex, and diet will determine your daily intake amounts. The recommended amount for adult men between 19 and 50 is 8 milligrams (mg). Adult women between 19 and 50 will need about 18 mg. Vegetarians need to consume about twice as much non-heme (plant-based) iron to get the same results.

Foods that are high in iron include:

  • Cereals and breads that are iron-fortified (iron added during processing)
  • Oysters, sardines, tuna
  • Beef liver, beef, chicken, turkey
  • White beans, kidney beans, peas, chickpeas, lentils
  • Tofu
  • Spinach
  • Nuts
  • Raisins

Eating foods rich in vitamin C alongside iron-rich foods can help increase the amount of iron your body can absorb. For example, eating citrus fruits with spinach can help your body absorb more non-heme iron from the spinach.

Taking an iron supplement will only benefit your hair if you have a diagnosed iron deficiency. Iron can damage your body if you consume too much of it. Excessive iron can cause symptoms like constipation, nausea, vomiting, and ulcers. Severely high levels of iron can lead to organ damage, coma, or death.

Vitamin D impacts hair by affecting the cycle of hair growth. Hair follicles have receptors that bind with vitamin D. As vitamin D attaches to a receptor, it helps promote the anagen (active growing) stage of hair growth. When the body doesn’t get enough vitamin D through diet or sunlight, you can experience a pause in hair growth or increased shedding.

You can get some of your daily vitamin D from exposure to the sun through skin absorption. The best dietary sources of vitamin D include fatty fish while smaller amounts are found in some other meat and dairy foods. Mushrooms treated with ultraviolet (UV) light can be especially high in vitamin D.

Food sources of vitamin D include:

  • Trout, salmon, tuna, mackerel
  • Beef liver
  • Egg yolks
  • Cheese
  • Mushrooms exposed to UV light
  • Cereal and milk products fortified with vitamin D

Excessive amounts of vitamin D increase the amount of calcium the gastrointestinal tract absorbs, causing harm. High calcium levels in the body can cause nausea, vomiting, dehydration, muscle weakness, excessive thirst, and kidney stones.

The amount of vitamin D you need will vary based on your age and sex. Typically, men and women who are 19 to 70 years old need about 15 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin D daily, and people who are more than 70 years old need about 20 mcg daily. 

Folic acid is synthetic, meaning it is the man-made version of folate. Your body doesn’t store folic acid, so getting this vitamin through a healthy diet is important. Folate has many roles in the body, such as assisting with making DNA that carries genetic information. It also helps tissues grow and cells function. Because of its role in DNA production, researchers believe it plays some role in the hair follicle.

Most foods people eat are fortified with folic acid, so a folic acid deficiency is rare. Most people need about 400 mcg of folic acid daily. You can find folate in the following foods:

  • Legumes
  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Eggs
  • Beets
  • Bananas
  • Citrus fruits
  • Liver

People who don’t get enough folate typically don’t eat enough green leafy vegetables, are malnourished, or have mental status changes that make eating difficult. Consuming too much folate can worsen anemia and cognition and hide low vitamin B levels. Some studies suggest high folate intake can increase the risk of cancers.

Zinc plays a vital role in cell division and reproduction, including the cells responsible for hair growth. It also impacts the overall health of hair because it is an essential mineral for developing the hair follicle and its functions.

You get zinc through a well-balanced diet. The primary sources of zinc are from fish and meat. Foods high in zinc include:

  • Oysters
  • Beef
  • Blue crab
  • Pork, turkey
  • Shrimp, sardines
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Lentils
  • Oatmeal
  • Greek yogurt, milk, cheese
  • Cereals fortified with zinc

Some people can have a zinc deficiency. People who don’t eat meat may not get enough zinc through their diet. Also, people who have a condition that can cause malnourishment or affect their absorption of food may be at risk for a zinc deficiency. This can include eating disorders like anorexia nervosa, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and cystic fibrosis, or CF (a rare genetic condition primarily affecting the lungs and digestive system). People who have undergone jejunal bypass surgery, in which a large portion of the small intestine is removed, are also at risk.

Approximately 17% of the world’s population could have a zinc deficiency. The recommended dietary amount of zinc depends on age, sex, and whether you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Men who are over 19 should consume about 11 mg of zinc daily. Women over 19 should consume about 8 mg of zinc. People who are pregnant should consume 11 mg, and those who are breastfeeding should consume 12 mg of zinc daily.

Zinc from foods will rarely lead to toxicity or dangerously high levels in the body. Excessive zinc intake from supplements without a known zinc deficiency can cause nausea, vomiting, dizziness, stomach issues, headaches, and decreased appetite. 

Biotin helps make protein, like keratin, which strengthens the hair strands. Most people can get biotin from their diet. The gut bacteria are also responsible for making enough levels of this vitamin.

Biotin deficiency may happen as a result of taking antibiotics that disrupt gut bacteria or certain medications, such as anti-seizure drugs. It can also occur in people with carboxylase deficiency. Some zinc deficiencies may be due to eating excessive amounts of raw egg whites, as raw eggs contain a protein that inhibits the absorption of biotin in the body.

Biotin is in meat, fish, eggs, and liver. Seeds, nuts, and some vegetables also contain biotin. Good food sources of biotin include:

  • Beef liver
  • Egg (whole, cooked)
  • Salmon
  • Pork
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Almonds
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Broccoli
  • Spinach

In general, adults over 19 need about 30 mcg of biotin daily. Biotin supplements are widely marketed for hair growth. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough scientific evidence to support the claim that biotin supplements can stimulate hair growth. Excessive intake of biotin isn’t harmful. However, supplements that contain more than the recommended amount of biotin may affect some lab tests, like tests that measure levels of certain hormones.

Insufficient nutrient intake can negatively impact hair structure and growth. Eating a well-balanced diet can provide you with most of the vitamins and minerals you need for healthy hair. To get a well-balanced diet, try to:

  • Prioritize consuming fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat milk
  • Get lean protein from seafood, lean meats, poultry, eggs, beans, peas, soy products, and nuts
  • Limit your intake of added sugars, sodium, saturated and trans fats, and cholesterol

Most people get vitamin D by absorbing it through the skin from sun exposure. Certain factors, such as the season, time and length of day, cloud coverage, smog, and the use of sunscreen, can affect the amount of vitamin D you absorb through the skin. People who are older or who have darker skin absorb less vitamin D through sunlight. However, it’s still important to protect your skin from the sun’s UV rays and to limit your exposure. 

Numerous supplements are available over the counter, but the benefits are unclear if a healthcare provider has not first diagnosed a deficiency. Taking too many supplemental vitamins or minerals can harm your body and sometimes cause hair loss. Before deciding to take supplements, discuss your symptoms with a healthcare provider so they can test for deficiencies. 

Testing for Iron Deficiencies

Testing for iron deficiencies is typically done through a blood draw. A serum iron test, transferrin test, total iron-binding capacity test, and ferritin blood test will detect this deficiency. Healthcare providers may also order hemoglobin tests, hematocrit tests, and a complete blood count to check for iron levels.

Testing for Vitamin D Deficiencies

Healthcare providers can usually diagnose vitamin D deficiency with a blood test. The test is called 25 hydroxyvitamin D, or 25(OH), as it measures the levels of 25(OH) in your blood. In the body, your liver changes vitamin D into 25(OH) so your kidneys can make the active form of vitamin D your body can use.

Testing for Folic Acid Deficiencies

Healthcare professionals can detect folic acid deficiencies through blood draws. These can include a complete blood count (CBC) and a peripheral smear (PS). Healthcare providers should also test for vitamin B12 when testing for folic acid deficiency.

Testing for Zinc Deficiencies

Testing for zinc deficiency can be more difficult. Healthcare providers will usually diagnose it based on your dietary intake, symptoms, and response to zinc supplements. They may also test your plasma zinc levels and test for zinc in the urine.

Testing for Biotin Deficiencies

A healthcare provider will review your symptoms to help diagnose a biotin deficiency. They can also use lab tests to measure the levels of enzymes that help to use the biotin in your body, called biotinidase. These tests can include serum chemistries and other urine testing. Testing for more severe cases of the deficiency may include imaging like brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computerized tomography (CT). 

It’s important to get a deficiency diagnosis before taking supplements without a healthcare professional’s guidance. Instead, try these methods for promoting hair growth:

  • Egg whites: Using egg whites directly on the hair provides proteins and vitamins that can promote hair growth and improve hair appearance. Egg whites also help with scalp health and can help rebuild damaged hair structure.
  • Coconut milk: Coconut milk contains vitamins that help strengthen the hair cuticle. It’s also high in proteins, which may help repair damaged hair. Combine coconut milk with egg white to create a nourishing hair mask.
  • Saw palmetto: More research is necessary, but saw palmetto could effectively treat hair loss disorders. It was effective in some studies, creating thicker hair and improving overall hair health. Saw palmetto has also been shown to prevent certain hair disorders from getting worse. 
  • Collagen: Collagen is readily available over the counter. Low-molecular-weight collagen helps new hair grow by increasing growth factor secretion in the scalp.
  • Scalp massage: Scalp massage may help increase hair thickness when done for at least 24 weeks. Try massaging your scalp twice daily for at least 20 minutes, with a 12-hour break between treatments. Massaging your scalp involves pressing down with your hand, stretching the skin, and gently pinching the scalp. Temporary shedding may occur after 12 weeks, but sticking to the regimen is essential to get full effect.

Getting adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals can help maintain the strength, appearance, and growth cycle of your hair. Deficiencies in these elements can negatively impact hair growth and may cause shedding or lead to weak, damaged hair. However, vitamin deficiencies are often rare with a well-balanced diet.

A healthcare provider can diagnose a vitamin or mineral deficiency and recommend a supplement to help correct the deficiency and improve hair growth.

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