Hair loss can be tough to handle. You have so much power when it comes to optimizing your physical and mental health, but when your hair starts thinning, there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.
Or is there?
As I explain here, hereditary hair loss (androgenic alopecia) is typically caused by a combination of genetics, male hormones, and advancing age—although it can happen at any time. So far, scientists haven’t been able to find a “cure” for hair loss, but there are steps you can take to keep your hair and scalp healthy. Here are my top three supplements for hair growth.
Omega 3 fatty acids for strong, thick hair
I’ve already touted the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids from sources like fish oil for heart and brain health, but it turns out they’re also important for strong, thick hair. Numerous studies have shown that omega-3s nourish the hair and support its growth, and they also reduce the inflammation sometimes associated with hair loss. In addition to making your hair look healthy and shiny, omega-3 acids can give your skin a more hydrated and youthful appearance.
Not interested in getting your omega-3s from fish? Flaxseed oil is a good vegetarian source of omega-3s and is one of the ingredients in the popular hair growth supplement Viviscal Man. If you have a problem finding flax oil, you can buy whole flaxseeds, grind them up with a mortar and pestle or coffee grinder, and add them to smoothies or oatmeal.
Biotin to promote hair growth
Biotin is a B vitamin that has long been recommended by dermatologists and other experts to prevent hair loss. Biotin supports your scalp and hair follicles, promoting healthy hair growth. Like fish oil, it can also reduce inflammation that may lead to hair loss.
Taking a B complex supplement is a great way to ensure that you’re getting enough biotin, as well as other B vitamins like folate and panthenol (Vitamin B5) that may help with hair growth. I always tell my patients to choose a B complex that contains methylated forms of B vitamins. Why does methylation matter? Up to 30 percent of the population has an MTHFR genetic abnormality that prevents their bodies from metabolizing unmethylated B vitamins like folate and B12. If you’re in this 30 percent and you’re taking an unmethylated B complex, you’re throwing your money away—and possibly hurting your health in the process. You can also get these vitamins in foods like avocado, beans, nuts and eggs.
Zinc is one of the most consistently deficient micronutrients when we test nutrient levels as part of our Tack180 optimal health program. Not only is zinc important for sexual health (for sperm production and prostate health), it’s also key in maintaining healthy hair follicles. Zinc is even an effective treatment for a disease of hair loss called alopecia areata. I recommend 15- 30mg of Zinc along with around 1.5-3 mg of copper, because the body likes to keep around a 10:1 ratio of zinc to copper.
If you notice hair loss, have your zinc level checked. And if you’d prefer food sources over-supplementation (nature is always better than any manufacturer of supplements), rich sources of zinc are legumes, seeds, nuts, shellfish, and eggs.
Protein to prevent hair thinning
Lastly, I just want to add that since your hair is made almost entirely of protein, it makes sense that not getting enough of it can inhibit hair growth. In one animal study, a reduction in dietary protein led to thinner hair, and it appeared to negatively affect hair growth as well.
I don’t think protein deficiency is much of an issue among the readers of this blog, but if you want to check how much protein you need vs how much you are eating, check out this other blog post. All it takes is some simple math to approximate the optimal amount of protein for your body. The general method for calculating your recommended daily allowance (RDA) is to multiply your weight in pounds by 0.36 grams of protein. If math isn’t your strong suit, you can use an online calculator like this one. Just remember that other factors (like how much you exercise) will affect your protein needs.
Although it’s good to have an idea of how much protein you need, quality is actually more important than quantity. Healthy protein sourced from fish and plants isn’t just good for promoting hair growth—it can also lower your risk of developing conditions like heart disease. When shopping for plant-based protein supplements, look for powders made from ingredients like pumpkin seeds and peas. I like the vegan protein powders by Vega.
One thing to keep in mind when you take supplements for hair growth is that these things don’t work overnight. They’re not a quick fix, but when you take them consistently over time, you’ll likely start to see benefits.
Wondering what others areas of your health could use your attention? Consider taking my Optimal Men’s Health quiz. It’s designed to help you determine your next best step to getting healthier and closer to winning.
Myles Spar, MD, MPH is board-certified in Internal Medicine and in Integrative Medicine. As a clinician, teacher and researcher on faculty of two major medical centers, he has led the charge for a more proactive, holistic and personalized approach to care that focuses on cutting edge technology and preventative care. Dr. Spar has traveled with the NBA, presented a TEDx Talk, appeared on Dr. Oz, and been featured in publications such as the Men’s Journal and the Los Angeles Times.