Are you having issues with your hair?
Is your hair thinning, falling out, or not as thick or dense as it once was?
I have some good news:
There are various treatments you can do to improve the quality and texture of your hair but you need to make sure you are using the RIGHT supplements for YOUR body.
In this post, I go over the best hair growth vitamins, how to use them, which ones work best and how to determine if you need further evaluation.
Let’s jump in:
What Really Causes Hair Loss
Can vitamins and supplements actually help regrow your hair?
It turns out that the answer to that is yes, but they must be used correctly.
In order to understand which supplements to use you need to understand why you are having hair loss to begin in.
Hair loss occurs as a result of multiple causes:
- Nutrient deficiencies(due to poor diet, processed foods, etc.)
- Mineral deficiencies(specifically iron)
- Hormone imbalances including high testosterone (specifically in women), low thyroid (both sexes), high cortisol (both sexes)
- Exposure to repeated or chronic stress
- Genetics(we can’t change this)
- Certain medications(including some thyroid hormones)
So if you know WHY you are having hair loss then you can target your treatment to that specific problem.
Unfortunately, you may have one or more of the following issues going on in your body without knowing it, which creates a problem for us.
Luckily there are several things we can do to test for these problems and you can match your symptoms to the various problems to pinpoint where your problem is.
Once you have that information down you can target your treatment to get results.
How to Regrow your Hair with Vitamins & Supplements (Start here)
If you know you don’t have any issues with hormones, stress, etc. then you can start here.
These supplements are REQUIRED for proper hair growth and they also happen to be depleted in many individuals.
The use of these supplements will result in increased hair growth, increase hair volume, and increased hair density.
#1. Biotin + Silica + Choline
Studies have shown that certain nutrients can dramatically help improve hair growth even in nutrient-repleted states.
The combination of Biotin and Silica represents one such combination.
In this study women with thinning hair were given that combination of supplements over 180 days (1).
Compared to the placebo the women had an increase in hair volume and number of hair follicles that was twice that of the control group (placebo).
This supplement is probably my favorite and one of the most effective hair-regrowth supplements that I know of.
Does it work for everyone?
Unfortunately not, but in my experience up to 60-70% of people who try it will experience some benefit.
If you decide to use this supplement make sure you use it for at least 2 months.
If you don’t notice any improvement after 2 months then you aren’t likely to be a responder and you should re-evaluate the cause of your hair loss.
Iron represents one of the most common and underappreciated causes of hair loss in women.
Because adequate iron stores (in the form of ferritin) are REQUIRED for optimal hair growth and this has been shown in several studies.
You need at least a ferritin level of 30ng/ml for optimal hair growth (2).
By the way – this is usually why women who take a prenatal vitamin experience increased hair growth.
It’s because MANY women are iron deficient and prenatal vitamins almost always contain iron.
So why is this an issue?
Because most of the focus of physicians is on iron deficiency but only if it causes anemia.
But many studies have shown that low iron by itself (even with normal RBC/hemoglobin count) STILL influences hair growth and can cause hair loss long term.
This is a big deal for women because of menstruation.
If you have a heavy menstrual cycle there is a high chance you may be iron deficient (as evidenced by a low ferritin level) but NOT anemic.
If so then you need to make sure you check your iron studies including your ferritin.
If you find that your ferritin is below 30ng/ml and you are experiencing hair loss then treating it with iron would be the first step to take.
If you’ve taken iron before and it has made you constipated then you will be happy to know that you can take liquid iron which does not cause constipation and will still be absorbed.
L-lysine is another overlooked nutrient required for optimal hair growth.
L-lysine is present in the hair root and is responsible for the shape and volume of your hair (3).
When you are deficient in l-lysine your hair becomes brittle, thin, and limp (4).
This is a big deal for several reasons:
It is often overlooked and quite common.
Not many people take L-lysine despite the many benefits it has (even on immune function).
L-lysine is required for the optimal absorption of both iron and zinc.
We just got done discussing how important iron is for hair growth but we need to take it one step further.
Iron deficiency can definitely be caused by iron less (through menstruation, etc.) but it can also be caused due to reduced absorption.
And this is where L-lysine comes in.
Even if you are taking iron supplements you may not be absorbing it.
And l-lysine has been shown to INCREASE that absorption (5) (along with zinc).
So if your hair quality is changing, or you feel that your hair is getting more sparse or thinner than it has been in the past it is a great idea to try the combination of L-lysine plus Iron plus zinc.
This combination gives you back ALL of the critical nutrients required for hair growth.
*We haven’t discussed the importance of Zinc at this point but we will discuss it later in this post.
Minoxidil isn’t necessarily a vitamin, it’s actually a medication, but it can be purchased over the counter.
It’s actually FDA approved to treat hair loss in both men and women (6) and can be helpful in certain circumstances so it’s worth mentioning here.
It’s not a matter of whether minoxidil works or not, it definitely works – it wouldn’t be FDA approved if it didn’t.
The problem with minoxidil is that once you stop using it your hair will go back to the way it was previously, and that’s the issue.
The entire goal of growing your hair, increasing your volume and density is so that it STAYS that way.
But, as I mentioned, minoxidil still has value, and here’s why:
Minoxidil can be combined with other supplements for a compounded boost to hair growth.
What I mean is you can start minoxidil AND other therapies at the same time.
Once your hair starts growing from the other therapies then you can stop the minoxidil (or continue with it if that’s your preference).
Minoxidil offers a very quick solution to your hair loss/thinning hair.
It offers immediate improvement and has a very high chance of working.
This is important because we have to realize that hair loss can have a very big effect on self-confidence.
If you have significant anxiety surrounding your hair loss or your thinning hair is keeping you from going out into the public then minoxidil (short term) is a good idea to use while you also try other supplements.
In terms of how it works?
We aren’t 100% sure how minoxidil works, we just know that it does.
Studies have shown that it probably works by increasing blood flow, improving oxygenation to hair follicles, and by altering certain potassium channels (7) – all of which likely help to reduce hair loss and increase hair growth.
If you choose to use Minoxidil just remember that once you stop using it the beneficial effects that you experienced will subside (unless you use minoxidil + other vitamins).
#5. B12 Shots
B12 is another big one that is worth spending some time on.
I specifically mention B12 shots here instead of oral or sublingual B12 and that is intentional.
Before we talk about why B12 shots are superior we need to establish why you would want to use B12 for your hair.
Well, it turns out that studies have shown (8) that you need all of the following nutrients in adequate amounts in order to regrow your hair:
- Vitamin B12 level: Serum levels need to be higher than 700 (I prefer 1,000) ng/L
- Ferritin: Must be 70 ng/ml (some studies show greater than 30, but I prefer closer to 50-70)
- Hemoglobin: Must be at least 13 g/dL in women
We’ve already talked about ferritin (which is a marker of your iron stores) and hemoglobin isn’t usually a problem unless you have iron deficient anemia – but most patients are aware of this condition.
That leaves the B12.
You probably know Vitamin B12 as the “energy” nutrient, but what you might not have known is that it also plays an important role in hair growth.
Like iron, Vitamin B12 is another very common nutrient that many patients are also deficient in.
B12 requires proper thyroid hormone, gastric acid, and other cofactors for optimal absorption.
This leads to a situation where many patients taking oral B12 supplements (and even sublingual B12 drops) still have suboptimal levels.
And that’s where B12 shots come in.
Taking B12 bypasses gastrointestinal absorption by placing the B12 directly into your subcutaneous or skeletal muscles.
This results in near 100% absorption and assimilation right into your cells for optimal benefit.
B12 shots also come with other benefits including potentially helping with weight loss, energy, and more…
These first 5 supplements are all things that can boost hair growth and can be used if you aren’t certain what is causing your hair loss.
Below I will go over some other specific situations that can lead to hair loss and how to deal with those.
What if High Testosterone is Causing your Hair Loss?
Another very common reason for hair loss in women is due to high testosterone levels.
Much like men, women also can develop hair thinning and male-pattern-baldness-like scenarios based on their testosterone levels.
High testosterone levels can also cause coarse or dark hair growth in other places like the chin and upper lip.
I won’t go over the causes of high testosterone here, but you can read more about how to diagnose and treat high testosterone in this post.
For now, I want to focus on why high testosterone levels generally lead to hair loss in women.
When we talk about testosterone in women we really need to talk about testosterone metabolites.
It turns out that androgens, specifically a very potent androgen known as DHT or dihydrotestosterone have a direct action on hair follicles that leads to hair loss in both sexes.
Your body turns testosterone into DHT through the enzyme 5-a reductase.
So high activity of this enzyme will result in higher than normal testosterone metabolism in favor of more DHT.
The more DHT you have (as a woman or male) the more hair loss occurs.
What makes this tricky is that standard lab tests only check for serum testosterone levels.
Very few physicians actually check for DHT so it can be missed.
The good news is that there is a way to slow down the enzyme 5-a reductase and reduce the amount of DHT your body is producing.
The way to do this is by using two supplements:
#1. Zinc + Saw Palmetto
Both zinc and saw palmetto have been shown to slow down this enzyme and reduce DHT production (9).
This gives you a powerful tool for managing testosterone conversion inside your body.
Taking the combination of these supplements won’t necessarily reduce your total testosterone level, but it will impact your DHT conversion.
Along with this benefit, the combination of zinc and saw palmetto also has a positive influence on inflammation, immune function, and even thyroid function in your body.
We will talk more about zinc and thyroid function, but just realize that zinc IS required for hair growth as well.
So taking zinc in this setting is actually a really great idea.
By the way, this is also why taking zinc for acne has been shown to be helpful in hormonal acne (it reduces androgen activity in hair follicles AND sebaceous glands (10)).
So how do you use these supplements?
What if Hypothyroidism is Causing your Hair Loss?
Ok, this is another big one and worth spending some time on as well.
You probably already know that low thyroid function is associated with hair loss, but what you may not have realized is how common the condition actually is.
Hypothyroidism is so common that I have 50+ posts on the subject alone.
Some studies show that up to 10-20% of people have thyroid-related diseases (and at least 10% of the population is walking around without knowing it).
In addition, most of us think of hypothyroidism as causing obesity, but the opposite is also true.
Obesity causes thyroid dysfunction (11).
This means if you are overweight you HAVE thyroid issues, whether or not your thyroid problem caused your weight gain.
Couple this with the fact that most patients are undertreated and/or misdiagnosed and you can see that the odds are high (or inability to grow your hair back).
So how does this relate to hair loss?
Well, because your thyroid has a direct action on your hair follicles any problem with your thyroid will also result in a problem regrowing your hair.
In fact, hair loss is one of the major symptoms of hypothyroidism, right up there with weight gain and fatigue.
When you take a look at these symptoms it’s easy to see that many people are suffering from thyroid issues without even realizing it.
Other symptoms that tend to accompany thyroid problems include:
- Weight gain or inability to lose weight
- Hair loss, brittle hair, or inability to grow back your hair
- Fatigue or low energy
- Problems with sleep
- Menstrual irregularities
- Constipation or other GI problems like gas/bloating/acid reflux
- Mood issues like depression or anxiety
If you have hair issues AND any of the above symptoms then you need to have your thyroid function evaluated correctly.
Because if you don’t address your thyroid then it will be difficult to regrow your hair.
Having said all of this there are a couple of things you can do to boost your thyroid function, and these supplements also happen to be required for proper hair growth anyway so it’s a win-win.
You can read more about the symptoms of hypothyroidism and learn how to accurately test for thyroid issues here.
We’ve already discussed how zinc can positively impact testosterone metabolism.
What we need to talk about now is how zinc can positively impact thyroid function AND improve hair growth.
Zinc metabolism has been shown to be required for optimal hair growth (12) (this is why zinc is almost all hair growth formulations).
Not only is zinc involved in the hair growth cycle but it’s also a nutrient that many people are deficient in.
People who notice an improvement in their hair when taking zinc probably don’t realize HOW it’s working, they just know that it is working.
Taking zinc can help improve your hair growth if your problem is related to thyroid function because zinc actually increases peripheral thyroid conversion.
Most of the thyroid hormone in your body is circulating around in an “inactive” form.
In order for thyroid hormone to be activated your body needs certain nutrients like selenium and zinc.
When inadequate amounts of these nutrients help boost the conversion from T4 (the inactive thyroid hormone) to T3 (13) (the active thyroid hormone).
Zinc obviously plays a role in this important process but it also helps metabolize testosterone, reduce inflammation (14), promote hair growth directly, and improve immunity (15).
These factors make taking zinc very important if you are having issues with hair growth.
Selenium is another important nutrient that many people are deficient in.
What’s more, is that selenium is required for proper hair growth.
Because selenium is an important part of selenium proteins that play a role in thyroid function, DNA synthesis, and antioxidant defense.
Selenium is also a component of the hair matrix and normal levels must be taken up by hair follicles in order to have normal hair growth (16).
In addition, selenium also promotes T4 to T3 conversion in deficient patients and may boost immune function.
Couple all of these benefits together and you can see why patients with hair issues should consider supplementing with selenium.
If you do decide to supplement with selenium it’s also a good idea to combine the combination of zinc plus selenium.
These two nutrients seem to work in tandem with one another in a multiplicative effect.
Other Factors that Cause Hair Loss
We’ve already hit the majority of the main causes of hair loss and how to treat those problems, but we aren’t done yet.
There are other conditions that alter hair loss and they should at least be considered if you don’t know why your hair is falling out or not growing as well as it used to.
Remember that these conditions I am talking about are complex and usually interact with multiple systems in the body.
Because of these interactions, it is important for you to address any and all problems you find in your body.
By taking this approach you will have the best success in improving your hair texture, quality, and density.
Stress is often overlooked as a cause of disease, even though it may be one of the most important aspects of modern diseases.
Stress has been linked to multiple disease states (including an increased risk for heart disease (17) and developing autoimmune diseases (18)) but here we will focus on its effects on hair follicles.
It is well known that high levels of stress alter the life cycle of your hair follicles (19).
When you perceive stress (this can be emotional, physical, or social) your body responds by releasing cortisol – your stress hormone.
Simply triggering this stress response isn’t necessarily a big deal, but when you constantly trigger your stress from day-to-day activities then you develop problems.
This constant exposure to stress alters your HPA axis and cortisol levels.
This is important because high levels of cortisol have been shown to alter hair growth acceleration by up to 40% (20)!
What this means for you is this:
High-stress levels may be LIMITING the ability your body has to regrow your hair.
So while it may not necessarily cause hair loss (although it can if you develop an autoimmune disease) it most certainly will limit your body’s ability to regrow any lost hair.
This can be incredibly problematic if you have more than one condition like hypothyroidism-induced hair loss PLUS stress which can then limit regrowth potential.
So what can you do about it?
It turns out that certain adaptogens can help reduce your cortisol level and indirectly influence hair growth through this mechanism.
The adaptogen I am referring to is known as Ashwagandha and it has been shown in certain individuals to dramatically improve hair growth:
Lastly, another important factor for hair loss is your sex hormones.
We’ve already discussed how testosterone can influence hair growth but it turns out that your estrogen and progesterone levels ALSO play an important role.
In fact, it’s well known that estrogen helps your hair stay thick and grow quickly.
This explains why some pregnant women notice an improvement in both the texture and quality of their hair (and unfortunately why the hair reverts back to normal post-pregnancy).
What you may not realize is that estrogen/progesterone imbalances lead to hair LOSS and a reduction in the quality and texture of your hair.
Another important factor is that these imbalances in estrogen and progesterone are increasingly becoming more common.
How do you know if you have sex hormone issues?
You may have 1 or more of the following symptoms:
- Hair loss (or changes to hair density or texture)
- Menstrual irregularities
- Mood changes (especially those that coincide with your menstrual cycle)
- Bloating or swelling in extremities
- Breast tenderness
- Pelvic cramps or pelvic pain
- History of PCOS, endometriosis, or fibrocystic breast disease
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above AND you have hair issues then you may have a problem with your sex hormones.
If this is the case then you should read this article for more information on how to balance these hormones and promote hair growth.
The evaluation of sex hormones, and treatment of those problems, can be quite complex and I’ve gone into detail in previous posts about how to treat it but I won’t include it in this post.
Back to you
The moral of the story:
Hair loss is a complex issue and may require more than just 1 or 2 supplements to fix the problem.
Your hair follicles are influenced by a variety of factors including stress, hormones, nutrients, and even your diet.
If you want to promote proper hair growth you need to find WHAT is wrong in your body and fix that problem.
Having said that there are multiple nutrients that have been shown to simply promote hair growth and these would be where you should start.
If you fail with these basic nutrients then it might be time for further evaluation of your thyroid function and sex hormones with specific treatment to those areas if necessary.
Now it’s your turn:
Have you used hair regrowth vitamins successfully?
If so, which ones worked best? Which didn’t work?
Leave your comment below!