Everyone knows that malnutrition is bad, not only for your health but also for your hair wellness. Recently, there has been increased attention to how it can damage your hair and cause noticeable hair loss. But which deficiencies might actually influence your hair health? And how do they happen? This article aims to shed light on these questions by going through several most common nutritional deficiencies and their implications.
Micronutrient Deficiencies - Mineral
1. Iron deficiency
This is a very common condition, and unfortunately it is also a popular cause of hair loss in women in terms of nutritional deficiency.
How a lack of iron could ignite hair loss can be interpreted in two ways. First, it prevents the proper functioning of ribonucleotide reductase - a rate limiting enzyme for DNA synthesis that is necessary to produce new cells including those found in your scalp and hair follicles. As a result, hair growth problems occur, which can lead to baldness in some cases.
Second, a lack of iron can actually cause an excessive production of hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) at the cellular level which damages proteins. Such overproduction ultimately causes oxidative stress on your scalp tissues, which, in turn, result in inflammation-induced alopecia.
Besides, some studies have also shown that iron helps regulate some genes that regulate hair growth. Thus a lack of iron would likely induce hair loss experience.
2. Zinc deficiency
Similar to iron, a decrease in the level of zinc might also trigger hair loss. There are currently two approaches that attempt to explain this relationship, but both need further research for more evidence and consensus.
In the first approach, zinc is considered an essential mineral which plays a key role in the process of protein synthesis and cell division. Poor zinc intake can reduce processes like protein synthesis and cell division leading to thinning or lack of new hair growth.
The other reason for this might be explained while tracing the role of zinc in the pathways that govern hair follicle growth. Without a sufficient amount of zinc in the body, these important metabolic functions can’t take place properly, causing poor development within those pathways and potentially leading to hair loss over time.
Micronutrient Deficiencies - Vitamins
1. Niacin (Vitamin B3)
Niacin is a B vitamin that transforms food into energy, thus contributing to the maintenance of your nervous system and skin health. When niacin deficiency occurs, it leads to pellagra, a systemic disease that results from severe vitamin B3 (Niacin) deficiency, and might cause hair loss. Pellagra usually comes from alcoholism, malabsorption (the failure of absorption), or drug-induced cases.
2. Biotin (Vitamin H)
Biotin deficiency is rare and originates from excessive ingestion of raw egg whites, or using antibiotics and antiepileptic medications. Biotin is a cofactor for carboxylation enzymes that helps convert nutrients into energy and maintain healthy hair, skin, and nails.
When your body lacks biotin, you can experience loss of all three: hair growth becomes slow or stops completely; the outer layer of your skin begins to peel off in sheets because it cannot retain moisture efficiently without sebum from oil glands; lastly but most importantly fingernails become brittle with vertical ridges where they used to be smooth.
3. Vitamin D
Lack of Vitamin D causes hair loss due to a disruption in the growth cycle. This is because Vitamin D helps regulate proper hormones, which are needed for healthy follicle development and cycles.
4. Vitamin A
While A vitamin has a role in activating hair follicle stem cells, unlike other vitamins and minerals, the lack of it does not contribute to hair loss. Rather, over-supplementation could cause redundancy and induce hair thinning.
There are some fatty acids that relate significantly to your hair health. For example, unsaturated fatty acids may inhibit 5α-reductase, a factor causing hair loss, or an omega-6 fatty acid may promote hair growth. Therefore, deficiency of those fatty acids would likely cause hair shedding. Incorrect uses and malabsorption disorders are likely to be factors that contribute to fatty acids deficiency.
Table 1. Imbalance in the amount of nutrients: the connection with hair loss and possible causes
Source: Adapted from Guo, E. L., & Katta, R. (2017). Diet and hair loss: effects of nutrient deficiency and supplement use.
Studies have proven that quantity and quality of hair are closely related to the nutritional state of an individual. The most popular nutritional deficiencies that you might experience include mineral, essential fatty acids or vitamins. Each nutrient deficiency can come from different sources such as inheritance, specific dietaries, use of certain drugs, after-effects of surgeries or lack of sunlight.
Although it is common to take supplements to inhibit the influence of nutrient deficiencies, it is highly recommended to consult your doctor in advance. Improper intakes might cause redundancy and cause harmful effects to both your health and your hair.
The information we provide is not intended to mitigate, prevent, treat, cure or diagnose any disease or condition. If you have any concerns about your health, please consult your doctor.
Almohanna, H.M., Ahmed, A.A., Tsatalis, J.P. et al. The Role of Vitamins and Minerals in Hair Loss: A Review. Dermatol Ther (Heidelb) 9, 51–70 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13555-018-0278-6
Goluch-Koniuszy, Z. S. (2016). Nutrition of women with hair loss problem during the period of menopause. Przeglad menopauzalny= Menopause review, 15(1), 56.
Guo, E. L., & Katta, R. (2017). Diet and hair loss: effects of nutrient deficiency and supplement use. Dermatology practical & conceptual, 7(1), 1.