Healthy hair is reflective of many things: nutrient intake, stress, hormone balance, environment, and more. In some cases, nutrient deficiencies may be associated with hair loss. At other times, excessive amounts of vitamins or minerals could disrupt other nutrients and impact hair health.
In this article we’ll cover the links between nutrients and hair loss, what you can do to support healthy hair, and how to know when you should check in with a medical provider.
Your health involves complex interactions of multiple nutrients and compounds in countless ways. If you’re low in some vitamins, it can have a more direct impact on your hair, although it’s not always that straightforward. Some health-related factors that can affect hair loss include:
It’s important to check with your medical provider. In some cases, certain types of hair loss may not be reversible. Your primary care provider can refer you to a dermatologist or other specialist as needed.
Vitamins and minerals provide essential nutritional support to cells and tissues all throughout the body. Inadequate intake, or other reasons for disrupted nutrient balance, can affect hair health, including shedding patterns, regrowth, and more. The following minerals, vitamins, and fatty acids may be involved with hair health. Read on to learn what the research says.
Iron is a vital mineral that supports oxygen and energy transport in the body. From your hair follicles to your toes, you need iron so that your red blood cells are formed and functional. Anemia, when the body is low in iron, can happen for many reasons, but often has an impact on the hair.
Low iron stores are a common finding when people have hair loss (along with inadequate protein). Low ferritin (the storage form of iron) has also been linked to hair loss. Not everyone needs iron supplements, but some groups of people may be more at risk of iron deficiency than others. Following a plant-based diet, giving birth, and experiencing regular menstruation are commonly associated with low iron, although gastrointestinal issues make it harder to absorb iron, too.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble nutrient that is essential for healthy cellular function throughout the body. Vitamin D comes from the sun and supplements. It’s one of the few vitamins that doesn’t primarily come from food.
Vitamin D is needed for numerous functions relating to skin, hair, and tissue function. It plays a role in epidermal barrier integrity, including hair follicles, and helps encourage healthy immune system balance. The immune system controls a number of oxidative processes involved with aging. Vitamin D supports the natural mechanisms that support a healthy free radical response from immune cells.
In clinical trials, low vitamin D levels have been associated with hair loss. But vitamin D alone was not effective for hair growth, though it did help when paired with other treatments. In another small study looking at hair loss in 40 people, vitamin D helped improve hair growth in 82% of the participants after 12 weeks.
Zinc is an essential mineral that supports healthy tissue function and immune system wellness. There’s been a lot of discussion about zinc and hair. In situations where the gastrointestinal tract has absorption issues, such as after metabolic or bariatric procedures, low levels of zinc may be associated with hair loss.
While zinc may be supportive in cases of hair loss that are linked to deficiency, it’s important to check with your healthcare provider first. Hair loss does not automatically mean a zinc or other nutrient deficiency. Taking mineral or other vitamin supplements when you don’t need them can destabilize nutrient balance in the body.
Biotin has frequently been linked with healthy hair. It’s a B vitamin and helps with cell signaling and energy production. While rare biotin deficiency has been linked to hair loss, clinical evidence does not confirm biotin to be helpful for addressing hair loss as a standalone issue.
Biotin supplements have not been shown to cause hair growth, and taking high amounts can interfere with several types of laboratory tests. Check with your doctor before taking a biotin supplement.
Vitamin A is known for its important role in a healthy immune system and eye health. Having an inadequate intake may affect hair health indirectly, but vitamin A is more closely linked to hair loss when too much is consumed. Excessive vitamin A intake, usually from dietary supplements or high intakes of cod liver oil, can be a cause of hair loss. Medications that are used to treat acne can also result in side effects of hair loss when they are taken at higher doses or consumed for longer periods of time.
Vitamin A is important, but a balanced intake is vital. Retinol vitamin A can also be dangerous for fetal development, so before supplementing with retinol, check with your medical provider.
Selenium is a mineral that has antioxidant functions. But as with most minerals, balance is important. Selenium deficiency can happen, but getting too much is tied to hair loss. A study found that excessive selenium levels from environmental exposures were linked to hair loss. Procedures to address weight have been linked to low selenium levels and hair loss. Generally most people get enough selenium from their diet.
Vitamin E is an antioxidant nutrient that is needed for healthy cells all throughout the body, including in the skin. Skin health affects hair follicles, so vitamin E’s relationship to hair is more indirect. Very little research has established a link between vitamin E and hair conditions, and what is known has only identified a possible link between low vitamin E, hair loss, and immune function.
Because vitamin E is fat-soluble, it should only be supplemented on its own if your healthcare provider recommends it. Generally speaking, most people get enough vitamin E from foods like nuts, seeds, and healthy oils.
Vitamin C is an antioxidant that is needed for many things, and it plays an important role in collagen synthesis. It helps support healthy skin and epidermal integrity, which does affect scalp health. However, vitamin C is also essential for healthy iron absorption, and if vitamin C intake is low, it might further worsen low iron intake or absorption problems.
Vitamin C is water-soluble, and so can’t be stored or absorbed to excess. While it’s found in an abundance of foods, if you’re not eating fruits and vegetables every day, you may not be getting enough.
Fatty acids are necessary for cellular structure, healthy immune system responses, and more—and they’re essential because the body cannot make them. The relationship between fatty acids and hair health is not completely clear, and it’s hard to establish a one-size-fits-all link. But regardless of hair health, the body relies on fatty acids for numerous vital aspects of wellness, including the brain and the heart.
Folic acid is a B vitamin that is important for cellular and DNA health. It’s also needed for healthy iron absorption. It works synergistically with the other B vitamins, which are all needed together to function properly.
Folate is naturally found in many foods, like leafy greens and avocado, and folic acid is added to foods. Both can be found in multivitamins and other supplements. But deficiencies are still possible for many reasons, and can include several symptoms including skin, nail, and hair changes. People who are treated with bariatric or metabolic procedures may experience certain nutritional deficiencies, including a folic acid deficiency, that may be linked with hair loss.
Vitamin B6 is found in many foods, including meat, seafood, fruits, and vegetables, so deficiencies are less common. Supplementation of water-soluble nutrients is usually considered lower risk, because the body does not store them. However, excessive intakes of B6 have been linked to gastrointestinal issues, skin changes, and sensory nerve changes. Avoiding deficiency of nutrients is important, but more is not always better. While B6 deficiency is less common, people who have gastrointestinal conditions, are pregnant, or consume higher amounts of alcohol may have inadequate levels from reduced absorption.
Vitamin B12, also known as cobalamin, is a vital nutrient for a healthy nervous system and all cells in the body. It’s mostly found in animal-origin foods, so people who follow vegan or vegetarian diets may be more prone to inadequate intake.
Vitamin B12 deficiency comes with many symptoms, including neurological health. It’s not directly linked with hair in the same way that other nutrients are. However, supplementation with folate or high folic acid intakes can mask a B12 deficiency, which can impact many aspects of health.
Talk to your medical provider before taking any B vitamin supplements. They may suggest taking a B-complex or provide other directions to ensure a healthy nutrient balance.
Vitamin B3, also called niacin, supports more than 400 enzymatic processes in the body. This means that numerous genes, enzymes, and cellular energy generating systems hinge on adequate access to vitamin B3. It has a less direct relationship with hair health than other nutrients, but because of its metabolic demand, inadequate intake can impact cells all throughout the body. Hair growth is not a high priority function in the body (compared to, say, digestion and heart wellness), so when nutritional intake is not sufficient, crucial metabolic processes get first priority.
Hair can be affected by so many things. Your individual genetics and health factors can play a role and if you experience hair loss, it’s not necessarily because of something you did (or didn’t do). Hair loss should be addressed with your healthcare provider because it can be associated with so many different things.
Some basic hair-related lifestyle supports to consider are:
Basic wellness also affects your hair, including getting enough high-quality sleep, staying hydrated, and managing your stress.
A balanced, nutritious diet is important for all aspects of your health, including your hair.
Protein is an especially important macronutrient. Life (including all cells and even your DNA) is built and rebuilt on proteins. Inadequate protein intake can lead to a number of health challenges, and hair loss is one of them. But this doesn’t mean that higher-than-normal protein is needed. Just make sure you’re getting enough to meet your dietary needs. If you’re not sure, work with your doctor or a registered dietitian to understand your body’s protein, carbohydrate, and fat requirements.
Supplements can be beneficial to bridge nutritional gaps or provide support for specific needs. A medical provider may recommend one or more supplements to address deficiency or inadequate intake, or to support balanced nutrients for certain health conditions or needs.
In many cases, a multivitamin or prenatal vitamin may be a good nutritional starting point. Other supplements that may support hair health include digestive enzymes to support effective nutritional breakdown in the gut or protein powder to contribute to your daily intake.
Before starting any dietary supplements, consult with a medical provider. If you experience hair loss that is new or not associated with an expected period of shedding, like after having a baby, let your doctor know.
Hair loss can be a sign of a health condition, but may also indicate that your body needs nutritional support or is under significant stress. Hair loss can also be associated with aging. A healthcare provider can run tests to determine the cause and formulate an individualized plan to address your health needs.
Your hair can be linked to many elements of health, from dietary intake to hormone changes to other conditions. Hair loss isn’t always something you can prevent or control, and it can be upsetting if you experience unexpected shedding. Your healthcare provider can help establish a plan to address hair loss and other needs. A healthy diet and a nourishing lifestyle play important roles in overall health, including your hair.