Zinc for Hair Loss - Does It Help?
Reviewed by Vicky Davis, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Zinc supplements are cheap, easy to find and widely promoted for their effects on your immune system and skin.
But can zinc prevent hair loss? Using zinc to treat your hair loss is a little like throwing spaghetti against the wall to see if it will stick -- it’s not necessarily a good tactic when it comes to medical treatment.
You could be wasting your time, your money, and putting yourself at risk if you don’t do any real research first.
When you’re losing hair, you don’t have time to try out every supplement that may potentially be effective. We know, with each passing hour, you feel like you’ve lost another hair.
With each passing week, you even worry that you’re getting that closer to having to do the bald man shave-off.
You need to know that what you’re spending your money on is worthwhile. Unfortunately, there are no guarantees, but doing a little bit of research on the front-end could save you some major stress down the road.
We’ll get into the details below, but if you’ve only got a few minutes to spare, here’s are the key things you need to know about zinc and hair loss:
Zinc is an essential mineral that’s found in many food sources. Animal proteins, such as beef, pork, chicken and oysters are good sources of zinc, as are beans, fortified cereals and many types of nuts.
Although zinc doesn’t appear to play a major role in androgenetic alopecia (male pattern baldness), zinc deficiency can contribute to some types of hair loss.
Some research has found that men with male pattern baldness and some other forms of hair loss have low levels of zinc.
Other research has found that zinc may inhibit 5 alpha-reductase, an enzyme that plays a role in producing the hormone dihydrotestosterone (DHT).
Currently, there’s no definitive proof that zinc can aid in slowing down or reversing male pattern baldness.
There are risks and potential side effects associated with zinc supplementation, although most of these are a concern for people taking very high doses of zinc.
What is Zinc?
Zinc is an essential mineral that’s involved in several biological processes within your body. It’s a mineral that your body needs, but that it can’t store.
It’s found naturally in many foods, added to some that have been "fortified" and found in many dietary supplements.
As an essential mineral, zinc plays a key role in proper immune function (keeping you healthy), wound healing, cell division and growth, protein synthesis, DNA creation and even your senses of smell and taste.
Because your body doesn’t keep a stockpile of zinc, a steady supply is needed for it to aid in all of these important functions.
Most people get their zinc from animal sources, such as seafood, red meat and poultry. Others get zinc from beans, nuts, dairy products and fortified foods.
While zinc is present in cereals, legumes and other plant foods, so are phytates -- antioxidants that can bind with zinc and prevent your body from properly absorbing it.
Because of the phytate content of these foods, the zinc they contain is slightly less bioavailable than the zinc found in animal products.
Despite this, it’s still important to include these foods in your diet as sources of zinc, as well as for general nutritional variation.
Zinc Deficiency: Signs and Symptoms
Zinc deficiency is a key issue around the world. In fact, data from the World Health Organization suggests that approximately 31 percent of the global population is affected by some level of zinc deficiency.
Although zinc deficiency is far less common in the United States than in developing countries, it remains an issue of concern.
People in certain groups, including vegetarians, pregnant or lactating women, people with sickle cell disease, alcoholics and people with gastrointestinal disease or other medical conditions that reduce nutrient absorption all have an elevated risk of zinc deficiency or inadequacy.
Hair loss can be a potential sign of zinc deficiency, although other symptoms of deficiency would usually need to be present for your healthcare provider to make that call.
What we know about the effects of zinc deficiency largely comes from the study of people with a genetic disorder called acrodermatitis enteropathica.
People with this condition suffer from severe zinc deficiencies and prior to scientists discovering the cause, they typically died.
It’s very unlikely that a lack of zinc from normal dietary sources could lead to this level of severe deficiency.
What’s far more likely is moderate or marginal zinc deficiency, with less dramatic (but still serious) effects.
Symptoms of mild/moderate zinc deficiency include:
Loss of appetite
Poor immune health
Symptoms of severe zinc deficiency include:
Delayed sexual maturation
Your serum zinc levels can be checked with a simple blood test. If you think that you may have a zinc deficiency, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider as soon as possible.
Zinc Side Effects
Although zinc supplements are safe to use at a normal dosage, zinc can cause side effects if it’s consumed in excess.
Potential adverse effects of zinc toxicity (excessive zinc intake) include vomiting, nausea, loss of appetite, diarrhea, abdominal cramps and headaches.
Very high intakes of zinc have also been associated with reduced immune function, low levels of high-density lipoproteins (HDL, or “good” cholesterol), altered iron metabolism and lower copper levels.
Currently, the Recommended Dietary Allowances for zinc are 11mg per day for adult males, and 8mg per day for adult females.
For men and women aged 19 and older, the Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) for zinc is 40mg per day.
Like many other dietary supplements, zinc can interact with certain medications, including some antibiotics, diuretics and the rheumatoid arthritis medication penicillamine.
To avoid interactions, it’s important to inform your healthcare provider before using zinc or other dietary supplements.
Zinc for Hair Loss
The relationship between zinc and hair loss is complicated. While some research has found that zinc may play a role in slowing or reversing some forms of hair loss, the evidence for zinc as an effective supplement for hair loss is largely mixed.
Some experts think that zinc may act as a 5-alpha reductase inhibitor -- a substance that blocks the effects of the enzyme that converts testosterone into dihydrotestosterone (DHT).
In fact, a study of zinc sulphate published in the British Journal of Dermatology in the late 1980s described the essential mineral as a "potent inhibitor of 5-alpha reductase activity."
DHT is an androgen hormone that can bind to receptors in the scalp and cause the hair follicles to miniaturize.
It’s the primary hormone responsible for male pattern baldness in men, as well as female pattern hair loss in women.
Prescription hair loss medications, such as finasteride, work by inhibiting 5-alpha reductase and reducing DHT levels.
Unfortunately, there’s very little further research on zinc’s effects on DHT levels and its potential as a treatment for male pattern baldness.
Several other studies have looked at the effects of zinc on hair loss, though most have focused solely on alopecia areata, an autoimmune disease.
In one case study published in the International Journal of Trichology, researchers found that a woman with diffuse hair loss receiving treatment for hypothyroidism saw improvements in some symptoms, including hair growth, after taking a zinc supplement.
Several studies have also found that zinc supplementation may promote healthy hair growth for people with alopecia areata.
One small study published in the Annals of Dermatology found positive effects for zinc in people with alopecia areata and suggested that zinc “could become an adjuvant therapy” for hair loss of this type in people with low zinc levels.
Another study, which involved 100 people with patchy hair loss from alopecia areata, stated that oral zinc sulphate is “one of the most effective treatment options” for alopecia areata, noting that it had a low relapse rate.
Interestingly, research has also found that low levels of zinc and copper may be associated with hair loss, including male pattern baldness.
Despite these findings, there aren’t any studies that show improvements in hair growth amongst balding men who use zinc.
In the scientific world, there’s a heavy burden of proof. While zinc may be promising, there isn’t yet enough scientific evidence to view it as a reliable treatment for male pattern baldness, or as an alternative to medications like minoxidil or finasteride.
On the other hand, when it comes to hair loss caused by nutritional deficiencies, zinc may be a helpful treatment option, either on its own or with other nutrients and medications.
Hims has helped thousands of men regrow their hair
Zinc Benefits for Men
While research on the effects of zinc’s benefits as a hair loss treatment is limited, we know that zinc has real benefits in the body.
Healthy levels of zinc help to:
Strengthen and maintain your immune system
Support and promote optimal wound healing
Assist in DHT synthesis and cell division
Provide an accurate sense of taste and smell
Although zinc supplements are often marketed as natural testosterone boosters, research into the effects on testosterone largely doesn’t show much of an effect.
In pregnant women, optimal zinc intake is also important for supporting proper fetal growth and development.
How Much Zinc Should I Take a Day?
For adult men, the Recommended Dietary Allowance for zinc is 11mg per day, or 8mg per day for adult women (19 and over).
Most animal proteins are rich in zinc, meaning you shouldn’t have any difficulties reaching this level if you eat at least one normal-sized serving of poultry, fish or red meat per day.
If you’ve been diagnosed with low levels of zinc, your healthcare provider may recommend that you take a zinc supplement.
The Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) for zinc is 40mg per day for men and women aged 19 or older. If you exceed this amount over the long term, you could see adverse effects.
As always, it’s best to talk to your healthcare provider before taking zinc or any other nutritional supplements.
Other Hair Loss Treatment Options
Although research is mixed on the effects of zinc as a hair growth supplement, there are several real, science-based treatments that you may want to consider if you’re losing your hair.
Currently, the most effective treatments for male pattern baldness are the medications minoxidil and finasteride:
Minoxidil is a topical medication that stimulates hair growth. It works by moving hairs into the anagen, or growth, phase of the hair growth cycle. It also stimulates blood flow to the scalp. We offer minoxidil solution and minoxidil foam online. You can find out more about using minoxidil in our guide to applying minoxidil for hair growth.
Finasteride is an oral medication for hair loss. It works by inhibiting 5-alpha reductase and blocking the conversion of testosterone to DHT, protecting your hair follicles from damage caused by DHT exposure. We offer finasteride online, following a consultation with a licensed healthcare provider who will determine if a prescription is appropriate.
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No matter the treatment plan, the best place to start is somewhere. Early action is the best hair loss prevention.
The Bottom Line on Zinc and Hair Loss
Although zinc supplements may help to treat hair shedding if you have a zinc deficiency, there isn’t any scientific evidence that zinc can slow down or reverse male pattern baldness.
Instead, you’ll get the best results by treating hair loss with science-based hair loss treatments such as minoxidil and finasteride.
If you’re considering taking zinc, it’s best to talk to your healthcare provider first and make sure that you limit your dosage to the daily allowance.
If you currently take prescription medication, make sure to ask your healthcare provider about any potential drug interactions.