Hair Supplements, is it a Scam?
I recently came across an article published in Today’s Dietitian about hair growth supplements. I am sure by now we have all seen the celebrity endorsements for hair supplements promoting long luscious healthy locks in a short amount of time. How could you not believe the product works? Your favorite celebrity with amazing long hair sponsoring the product, and it has a 5 star rating, with tons of before and after photos to prove its value. I admit I have always been very skeptical of these products so I decided to do a little research and this is what I found.
According to a 2017 study, "While such products contain a variety of nutrients, review of the medical literature finds a notable lack of evidence supporting their use." The study goes on to mention that much of the evidence about the relationship between nutrients and hair loss is based on people with an underlying nutrient deficiency, and few studies have looked at hair growth supplementation in individuals without nutrient deficiency.
Hair growth products commonly include the following ingredients and claim they promote normal, healthy hair, but limited evidence supports these benefits in the absence of a nutrient deficiency. Common ingredients in hair growth product: methionine, cysteine, lysine, keratin, vitamin A, C, E, B vitamins, folic acid, iodine, iron, selenium, copper, manganese, resveratrol, polyunsaturated fatty acids, and gamma-linoleic acid to name a few. The following nutrients have been shown to have some publicly available research findings to support healthy hair, not all are listed.
Omega-3 fatty acids- Help with appearance of hair, reduce dry, scaly skin- Good sources: salmon, ground flaxseeds, walnuts
Protein and Amino Acids- Provides adequate amounts of sulfur to hair cells, aiding in growth, supports hair strength, and healthy hair growth- Good sources: legumes, Meats, Dairy products
Iron- Research suggests that many women who experience hair loss have low levels of blood iron- Good sources- dark leafy vegetables, Legumes, ground flaxseed
Zinc- Contributes to stronger hair structure and can improve the rate of hair growth- Good sources- legumes, eggs, meat
Selenium- Protects hair follicles through its role as an antioxidant-Good sources- brazil nuts, fish
Vitamin A- Contributes to hair growth by maintaining healthy follicles. Products high in Vitamin A claim to promote thicker, longer hair. Good sources-orange vegetables, lettuce, tropical fruit
What about Biotin (B7)?
Ever have your hairdresser tell you to take biotin to help grow longer, stronger hair? I definitely know I have. But what is biotin and does it really help my hair grow? Biotin (B7) is needed for protein, fat, and carbohydrate metabolism; a deficiency can lead to poor metabolism of nutrients and undernourished hair follicles over time. While clinical studies suggest that a biotin deficiency, while rare, can lead to severe hair loss, there's no evidence supporting the role of biotin supplementation in the prevention of hair loss when biotin is consumed in adequate amounts in the diet. People with adequate protein intake shouldn't experience a biotin deficiency or hair growth-related side effects of a biotin deficiency.
Some food sources high in biotin include: legumes, cereal grain products, egg yolks, yeast, soy flour, liver.
In the absence of an underlying disease state, a healthful, balanced eating pattern can be sufficient to prevent nutrient deficiencies and provide adequate amounts of nutrients to protect hair without the need for supplements specifically marketed for hair growth.
If you still feel the need to take a supplement for hair growth, a one-a-day vitamin is sufficient and is likely a fraction of the price.
1. Biotin. Oregon State University website. http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/vitamins/biotin
2. Finner AM. Nutrition and hair: deficiencies and supplements. Dermatol Clin. 2013;31(1):167-172.
3. Reisdorf AG. CPE monthly: beauty and nutrition — evidence-based dietary practices can help patients look and feel their best. Today's Dietitian. 2016;18(9):56-61.