- A new study suggests nutritional supplements may be helpful in effectively treating hair loss.
- The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate supplements, and hair loss experts emphasize that it’s essential to have a conversation with your provider before taking any.
- Dermatologists also stress that not all hair loss is reversible or treatable.
Dr. Justin Rome, a hair restoration specialist and the founder of the Barber Surgeons Guild, says he’s had countless conversations with patients over the years about supplements and whether or not they can help treat hair loss.
“When researching treatments for hair loss, it is impossible not to be confronted with various types of supplements and their enthusiastic claims,” says Rome,
However, new research suggests there might be some validity to these claims.
Nevertheless, experts are skeptical about the research and supplements in general.
Researchers wanted to assess and compile findings on dietary and nutritional interventions in treating hair loss.
However, hair loss can be caused by a variety of issues, including nutrient deficiencies.
For example, people with anemia may be losing their hair because they have low iron and may need a supplement. But the authors wanted to look at the effectiveness of supplement interventions in people without a known deficiency.
They used three databases (MEDLINE, Embase, and CINAHL). They searched for any research on dietary and nutritional interventions for patients with hair loss or alopecia written in English from the inception of the database through October 20, 2021.
The authors ultimately included 30 articles. From there, they assessed the data for quality in early January 2022.
Their evaluation indicated that the highest-quality evidence for supplements for hair loss came from several supplements, including capsaicin, omegas 3 and 6 with antioxidants, zinc, and pumpkin seed oil.
Vitamin D and kimchi were among the supplements with lower-quality evidence for hair loss improvement.
The authors indicated that adverse effects were rare and mild for each therapy they assessed.
The authors wrote that their research suggested nutritional supplements may have a role in treating hair loss and encouraged physicians to have shared decision-making conversations about the potential risks and benefits.
They called for more research, particularly larger randomized control trials.
Dermatologists critically evaluated the research, saying it had promising — but not definitive — results.
“The findings tell us there could be some real benefit from supplements in the treatment for hair loss, but as their name suggests, they should be used to supplement FDA-approved and well-researched medicines,” says Rome.
Rome called particular attention to the “limitations” disclosure at the bottom of the study.
“The authors note that the results could have a bias as most of the studies were funded by the supplement companies,” he says.
Further, the authors said the findings should be interpreted within the context of the design.
What does that mean?
“Unlike studies for medications, which follow the gold standard of double-blind controlled setups, these supplement studies lacked such standards,” Rome says. “The study results for some supplements are promising, but they do not tell us how they line up compared to FDA-approved medications.”
Because the FDA does not regulate supplements, the idea of what makes for a quality supplement for anything, including hair loss, is murky. And one dermatologist notes that the study did not hash out those standards.
Despite the review’s limitation, Rome says people were interested in supplements for hair loss even before the new research and doesn’t expect that to change.
In fact, a 2022 survey of more than 3,000 adults in the U.S. suggested that three-quarters are taking some type of nutritional supplement.
“Supplements are easy to obtain since there is no prescription needed, making them often a first option for many people out of sheer ease,” Rome.
But he and the other dermatologists Healthline spoke with stress that patients should not consider them a first option.
The first step in deciding on which — if any — interventions are best to treat your hair loss is to speak with a licensed healthcare professional, such as a dermatologist. (Your primary care physician or health insurance provider, if applicable, can usually recommend a dermatologist.)
“I recommend discussing your hair loss with a board certified dermatologist before starting any treatment,” Rhodes says. “Your physician can look for signs of hair loss that require more aggressive treatment.”
What’s more, Dr. Viktoryia Kazlouskaya, a Pittsburgh-based, double-board-certified dermatologist/dermatopathologist, says individuals may be meeting their nutritional needs sans supplements.
“We also eat a lot of foods that may have the same elements that are present in supplements,” Kazlouskaya says.
For example, salmon and walnuts are good sources of omega-3s. Chile peppers have capsaicin.
And Kazlouskaya stresses that it’s essential to get to the root of your hair loss and receive a proper diagnosis before trying anything on your own at home. Rome agrees.
“For many people, the combination of medications and restoration is needed in order to achieve desired results,” Rome says. “It is important to understand that the medications and supplements cannot grow back lost hair, and restoration cannot help actively thinning hairs. This is why they have so much synergy.”
“Scarring hair loss, such as from lichen planopilaris, lupus erythematosus, central cicatricial centrifugum alopecia, results in the permanent loss of hair follicles, and sometimes [regrowth] is impossible,” Kazlouskaya says.
Rome says people with very advanced hair loss may also have issues with any treatments.
“In cases of very advanced hair loss, unfortunately, medications and supplements will not prove effective as the hair is already gone, and restoration also may not be effective if there is not enough donor supply to meet the patients’ recipient demand,” Rome says.
But Rome is hopeful continued research and advances in modern medicine will help patients.