nutrition in hair loss
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Nutrition in hair loss

Hair fall, after the individual strands have completed their life cycle, is quite normal and nothing unhealthy; but of course, hair falling off reasoning large amounts, or a failure of hair follicles to regrow new hair after the old hair has fallen out, is a sign of ill health. Scientists and clinicians have been long attempting to identify the root causes leading to abnormal and uncontrolled hair shedding with a view to lessening the agony of the hair loss. Many past and ongoing research studies have laid bare the connection between hair loss in human beings (as well as the loss of the coat in animals) and nutritional factors.

Initial experiments to establish links between nutritional factors and hair loss conducted on animals proved the vital role of nutrients. Deficiency of any of the nutrients like iron or riboflavin or zinc was shown to mar the quality and look of the animal coat. Studies about the role of nutrients on human skin and hair changes are usually based on the observation of the responses to protein-energy malnutrition and eating disorders in people receiving deficient diets either through a lack of quality food or through misguided choice.

Protein malnutrition conditions like Kwashiorkor and Marasmus (in children) are also accompanied by degraded skin and hair quality. These findings, however, took a long time to be confirmed.

In human beings’ hair, losses due to nutritional factors are essentially of two types:
• Skin scaling maladies resulting in hair loss
• Follicular problems resulting in hair loss

Nutritional Factors Initiating Scalp Scaling And Hair Loss

Not all chronic scaling conditions of the scalp such as dandruff or seborrhoieic dermatitis that trigger hair shedding (telogen effluvium) and lead to noticeable thinning in hair density are related to nutritional deficiency. Yet many scientific findings associate scalp skin abrasions, chaffing and itching in the accompaniment of hair loss with nutritional imbalances.

Thus, deficiency of biotin is known to set off dermatitis, which, in turn, initiates the process of continual hair loss. Though the dermatologists have yet to establish the fact that biotin deficiency is a direct consequence of the intake of an imbalanced diet, regular doses of 1.0-2.0 mg of biotin (for say 2/3 months) is believed to prove effective in unresponsive scalp scaling problems.

Essential fatty acid (EFA) deficiency plays an important role in dermatitis and uncontrolled hair fall. EFA imbalance is usually of dietary origin and is more common among those who consume low fish oil and red meat. The two important groups among EFAs are;

  • Omega-6 EFAs - derived from linoleic acid present in red meat and vegetables
  • Omega-3 EFAs - derived from alphalinolenic acid present in oily fish and marine animals

EFA deficiency countered by the intake of EFA supplements is known to produce almost miraculous effects on scalp flaking and hair loss.

Nutritional Factors Damaging Hair Follicles And Causing Hair Loss

Scalp hair loss without any associated scalp scaling is of follicular origin. What happens in such cases is that nutritional imbalances weaken the hair follicles and this prompts acute hair shedding (telogen effluvium) or chronic telogen effluvium. Chronic telogen effluvium or CTE may stem from a variety of causes – from iron deficiency to zinc deficiency to deficiency of essential amino acids, etc. Studies have proved that excessive supplement intake may at times boomerang and prompt hair fall.

Unlike other nutritional factors, the role of Essential Amino Acids in hair growth and hair fall is quite complicated. In general, the supplies of Essential Amino Acids in the body are quite high for most people. However, this is not always the case with L-lysine. L-lysine is obtainable from foods of animal origin. Naturally, an imbalance between intake and utilization of L-lysine results in people avoiding these foods - namely vegans. The human system makes up for this shortage by drawing from the muscle reserves of L-lysine; however, the body does this for the more essential body functions and tissues rather than waste them on trifling matters such as hair growth, etc.

In defining the role of L-lysine, scientists have determined that this essential amino acid plays a vital role in the absorption of Iron and Zinc. This discovery is considered a revolutionary breakthrough in planning the remedies for abnormal hair loss. Doses of L-lysine (1.5 – 2.0 g/day) are believed to be of significant help to hair loss affected individuals with low serum ferritin concentration. However, the point to be noted in this regard is that the L-lysine supplement plus iron and zinc supplements are required together to contain the hair shedding problem. Individually, they have less effect on hair loss.

Truths About The So-called ‘Remedies’ for Hair Loss

Many a commercial enterprise tries to cash in on the emotional aspect associated with hair loss. The market is now full of consultants who promise people that their ‘drugs and therapies’ can stop hair fall and give back their youthful look. Two common remedial measures often considered by people are:

  • Multivitamin Supplements
  • Anti-androgen therapy

The after-effects of following a vitamin regimen or an anti-androgen therapy session is not always similar to what the consultants claim. In fact, in many cases adverse effects are also experienced.

Vitamin Supplements

Many women take to multivitamin supplements to improve their chronic telogen effluvium condition. However, an important finding in this field is the recognition that excessive supplement intake, particularly the intake of vitamin A, other fat-soluble vitamins and trace elements, can actually cause hair loss. Adverse effects have also been registered with high intakes of some water-soluble vitamins although the chances of side effects are overall less than with fat soluble vitamins.

Multivitamin supplements, even those specifically promoted for combating hair loss as found in many health food stores, can prove harmful for hair. In fact, multivitamin formulations and preparations often have high concentrations of folic acid (usually much higher than the quantity the body needs). This leads to elevated red cell folic acid concentrations, something that can prove detrimental for the healthy growth of hair.

Many times the multivitamin compositions are so erroneous that complications arise from the interaction between the different elements in the supplement pills. A case in point is the interaction between iron and zinc. The human body system requires the iron to zinc intake ratio to be 3:1, in order for uninterrupted absorption or iron. However, the over-the-counter multivitamin preparations rarely meet these parameters.

Hair Treatment (Anti-androgen Therapy)

Anti-androgen therapy is especially meant for women. Anti-androgen therapy for men is not appropriate as men require a certain level of androgen hormones in their body to maintain muscle mass, libdo, etc. Women with difuse androgenetic alopecia type hair loss are often treated with a combination of the oral anti-androgen, Cyproterone Acetate (CPA) and Ethinyl Oestradiol (EE2 - estrogen). At times, a combination of CPA and Dianette is also used.

Research studies have shown that CPA effects a marked decrease in blood serum B12 concentrations. Though no direct links between hair loss and lowered serum B12 concentrations have been established, its role in cell health suggests it could play a key role in hair growth. The administration of CPA/ EE2 medication is also known to induce a state of anxiousness and depression; however, no negative side effects on the health of hair have been noticed.

Conclusion

It may thus be inferred that multivitamin supplements and anti-androgen therapy for hair loss in their current forms are far from perfect. The role of nutritional factors in hair loss is yet to be fully explored. Nevertheless, it has dawned on human kind that external care-regimen apart, proteins, carbohydrates, fats, minerals and vitamins play a pronounced role for the maintenance of hair quality and hair growth. Dietary imbalance – whether it is deficiency or excess – disturbs the system equilibrium even in otherwise healthy individuals, which can only be rectified by way of balanced nutritional intake.


Nutrition in hair loss references

  • Rushton DH. Nutritional factors and hair loss. Clin Exp Dermatol. 2002 Jul;27(5):396-404. PMID: 12190640
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