Which Vitamin Deficiency Causes Hair Loss?
Reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Geoffrey Whittaker
You probably grew up with some version of it: the urge to take your vitamins and eat your vegetables so you can grow up big and strong.
Millennials might remember the frightful warnings to drink our milk, lest our bones powderize. Gen X kids had Popeye and his vitamin-packed spinach. In any case, everyone remembers hearing some version of “Finish your food or you’ll stay short forever, your muscles will shrink and your hair will fall out.“
Anytime our bodies underperform, it’s ingrained into us to wonder if we can fix the problem with vitamins. But how much truth is behind this idea?
A lack of vitamins can cause health problems, and vitamins can strengthen your immune system and sometimes do specific tasks like encouraging the regrowth of new hair.
The reasons for this are complicated, but we’ll walk you through the basics, including:
How vitamins and hair loss are connected
Which vitamins are associated with hair loss
How to prevent vitamin-related hair loss
Let’s get started.
How Vitamin Deficiency Causes Hair Loss
As your favorite cartoon strongmen reminded you when you ate cereal in front of the TV, vitamins, minerals and nutrients all play an important role in your body. This includes the health of your hair, from the development and growth of the hair follicle itself to the immune function that protects the follicle.
It’s technically true that the causes of hair loss include not getting enough vitamin support to keep growing. Vitamins help supply the structures of the hair follicle, so not having enough of them can technically lead to hair loss.
Vitamins for hair loss may correct that. But let’s take a look at what insufficient vitamins can do to your hair, one vitamin at a time.
Vitamin Deficiencies That Cause Hair Loss
A vitamin deficiency isn’t going to automatically make your hair fall out. But over time, vitamin deficiencies can cause problems for the growth, sustainability and overall health of your hair.
On the long list of vitamins and minerals needed for a healthy body, there are some that apply particularly to hair:
We don’t typically think about vitamin A as a hair vitamin, in part because it’s so frequently used in acne medications and treatments.
Vitamin A presents a unique set of traits with regard to hair loss. It’s important to both the immune health that protects the hair follicles and the cell growth and cell division processes for hair.
Research has also shown that vitamin A helps you keep the hair on your head — treatment with vitamin A supplementation may lead to fewer hairs in the telogen (or resting, before shedding) phase as a result of telogen effluvium.
Vitamin B in all its forms (including both water-soluble and fat-soluble vitamin types) is important to the growth and health of your hair.
Vitamin B2, vitamin B6, vitamin B7, riboflavin, biotin, folate and vitamin B12, are all different versions of the vitamin B complex, which plays crucial roles in hair growth, cellular development, cell signaling and gene regulation.
Your body maintains its own levels of biotin. But if it’s struggling to do so and you have a biotin deficiency, a biotin supplement may be an important solution to this essential nutrient problem. Otherwise, all these versions of vitamin B can be acquired through a healthy diet.
Vitamin C deficiency has a surprising connection to hair loss. While you might assume the antioxidant properties of vitamin C are to blame here, it’s actually the nutrient’s critical role in iron absorption in the intestines that makes the difference. Low iron levels can slow your hair growth and ultimately cause hair loss over time.
Oh, and since vitamin C is also crucial to the process of reducing oxidative stress, it’s considered one of the critical protectors of your hair follicles.
Vitamin D is a critical tool in warding off conditions like telogen effluvium (another type of hair loss) and androgenetic alopecia. So if you’re deficient, you’re giving these hair loss types a leg up.
Your vitamin D levels are important for another reason, though: vitamin D deficiency is directly related to keratinocytes, a type of cell crucial to the growth of your hair — if your levels of vitamin D are low, hair loss can result just from insufficient supply of these cells. Vitamin D supplements might be the answer, but talk to a healthcare professional to learn more.
Vitamin E is an important fat-soluble antioxidant for your hair, and it protects against oxidative stress in your hair follicles, which can destroy them if allowed. Can vitamin E deficiency cause hair loss, though? Research is limited.
Anecdotal research suggests that vitamin E deficiency can adversely impact people with alopecia areata. One small study found that levels of vitamin E were lower in people with autoimmune diseases like psoriasis, vitiligo and alopecia areata than in people without any of these conditions.
One small study does not make a medical fact, and it is a big leap in logic to say that keeping vitamin E levels up with stave off hair loss, but it might be worth keeping an eye on your vitamin E levels regardless.
Iron deficiency, known as iron deficiency anemia, is common worldwide. An iron supplement might be important to everyone’s health, but its value to hair is somewhat less understood. Still, low levels of iron are commonly associated with hair loss in women.
This is true of female pattern hair loss, particularly in postmenopausal women, but it might also affect pregnant women. Though iron’s role in hair growth calls for more research, taking steps to prevent anemia is important regardless of its impact on your hair.
Too much selenium may lead to hair loss if it reaches toxic levels. But generally speaking, low levels of selenium — a more common problem — have pointed to a relationship between this vitamin and hair loss.
Zinc is important for your body, but your body cannot manufacture its own supply of zinc. This means you’re going to need to get your zinc deficiencies fixed with an outside supply.
Why does zinc matter? Well, zinc mineral deficiencies often result in hair loss, and it’s a fairly common deficiency in people with hair loss in general. Supplementation is a debated question, though — talk to a healthcare professional about sources of zinc if you find that you’re deficient.
Can Too Many Vitamins Cause Hair Loss?
Taking too many vitamins could, in theory, lead to hair loss — but only if you really go overboard with popping Flintstones gummies containing vitamins that can kill hair when present in high concentrations.
Some vitamins may cause hair loss when taken in excess volumes. At least some anecdotal research has found examples of both selenium and vitamin A as the culprits in some types of hair loss.
Luckily, it’s more or less true that you’d have to really overdo it to see any damage. And we’re not talking about having kale with too many meals here — this could only happen with a substantially imbalanced diet or very irresponsible supplement intake.
And besides, deficiency is arguably a way worse problem for your hair — because the problems it causes can vary so greatly.
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How to Prevent Hair Loss from Vitamin Deficiency
Fixing a vitamin deficiency isn’t as simple as downing a bottle of over-the-counter everyday vitamins. While gummy-and-pill-form vitamins and supplements have their place, some research shows that certain vitamins are best absorbed not through supplements but as part of our natural diet.
There are several strategies for optimizing your intake of pro-hair vitamins we recommend:
Eating a balanced diet is the best way to get many of the vitamins and minerals we need to live. A diet rich in the right combination of proteins, fruits, vegetables and whole grains will supply you with much of what you need to survive. If you’ve been sleeping on the idea of eating better, wake up.
Experts agree that certain vitamin deficiencies can be improved by the use of supplements. Though there’s a fair amount of back and forth about how exactly a supplement should work (or how much you should take), they might be an option if you’re dealing with some deficient vitamin levels.
Topical Vitamins and Minerals
Research is scarce on the effectiveness of vitamins in things like conditioner. But if you’re seriously deficient, the vitamins and minerals in your shampoo might very well provide your hair with the vitamins it needs.
Talk to your healthcare provider about topical treatments. If they give you the go-ahead, see if you can find a shampoo or another one of the many hair treatments on the market with some vitamin content in the ingredients list.
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No matter the treatment plan, the best place to start is somewhere. Early action is the best hair loss prevention.
Vitamin Deficiency and Hair Loss: Next Steps
Instead of asking, “Got milk?” when your hair starts to thin, you should probably be asking the far-less-catchy rhetorical question of whether you have support from a healthcare professional.
In the big picture — and regardless of the potential cause of your hair loss — you should talk with a healthcare provider if you’re experiencing hair loss.
Some things to keep in mind:
Whether you take vitamins or not, yabba-dabba don’t rely solely on vitamins to treat hair loss.
Things like your medical history, existing damage to the hair follicles, and genetics or family health history may be equally or more important than a vitamin deficiency when it comes to your type of hair loss.
Professionals can help you determine whether your hair loss is due to a vitamin deficiency, another medical condition or just a result of common male pattern baldness. Once the cause is pinned down, they’ll chart your best course of action from the long list of hair loss treatment options for men.