Essential nutrients for looking after your hair
Reviewed by our clinical team
For lots of us, our hair is a point of pride, and we want to do everything we can to take care of it.
While the thickness and texture of our hair is mostly dictated by genetics, there are a few things we can do to ensure that it stays healthy. One important place to start is with good nutrition.
Which nutrients are important for hair health?
There are a few specific nutrients which are linked to hair health, including iron, possibly zinc, and vitamin C and D. Not getting enough of these may cause a deficiency, and in rare cases, lead to hair damage or hair loss.
These key nutrients, along with B vitamins and selenium, are often found in hair loss supplements. The role of B vitamins and selenium is not really clear. Most people get all the nutrients they need from food, particularly if you eat a healthy, balanced diet.
Iron is an essential nutrient for the body. It helps make red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body. If you don’t get enough iron, you might develop iron deficiency anaemia, which can sometimes lead to hair loss.
Iron deficiency anaemia is more common in pregnant women, women who have heavy periods, and anybody with a condition that causes blood loss. You might also develop a deficiency by not eating enough iron-rich foods, like red meat, liver, and green leafy vegetables.
You can take iron supplements if you think you’re not getting enough in your diet. However, if your GP thinks you have a deficiency they’ll probably prescribe iron tablets, which are much stronger than supplements.
Zinc is another vital nutrient that’s linked to hair health. Zinc aids the immune system and helps with wound healing. It helps to build new cells and enzymes, and to process the nutrients in the food we eat. We also need zinc for normal growth and development.
If you have a poor diet that doesn’t contain enough zinc, you might develop a deficiency. One of the symptoms of this is hair loss, along with weight loss, rashes, and getting sick more often.
Vitamin C is a nutrient that helps to maintain and repair the skin, bones, teeth, blood vessels, and connective tissue. Not getting enough vitamin C in your diet can lead to scurvy, which can affect your hair, causing it to split.
There seems to be a link between hair loss and low vitamin D levels. Most people in the UK have low-ish vitamin D levels, so getting more exposure to the sun (observing sun safety advice) or taking vitamin D supplements might be a good idea, particularly if you live up north.
Should I take vitamins for thinning hair?
If you’ve noticed that your hair is thinning and you think the cause might be a vitamin deficiency, you may benefit from taking vitamin supplements. However, it’s important to speak to your GP first to make sure you’re getting the right treatment in the right dose.
Though hair loss or split hair as a result of vitamin deficiency can happen, it’s important to remember that thinning hair is a natural feature of getting older that has little to do with nutrition.
In short, for most people, taking supplements like iron and zinc specifically to try and reverse thinning and hair loss is unlikely to be effective.
What might be causing my hair loss?
Male or female pattern baldness
As we’ve seen severe vitamin deficiency can lead to hair loss and damage. A severe vitamin deficiency is quite rare in the UK. However, in the vast majority of cases hair loss is caused by female or male pattern baldness. This is a genetic condition that causes a distinctive pattern of gradual hair loss, sometimes starting as early as your 20s.
There’s no cure for male or female baldness, and taking vitamins won’t have any effect on this type of hair loss. However, there are some effective treatments that can be used to halt hair loss in the short-term, including minoxidil and for men - finasteride.
In some cases, hair loss that causes widespread thinning may be a sign of telogen effluvium. This is where more hairs than usual move into the “telogen” phase from the “anagen” phase and stop growing.
This type of hair loss is normally triggered by something like injury, illness, or stress. It can also be caused by weight loss, an iron deficiency, or a significant change in diet – in this sense, it can be related to nutrition. The good news is, this type of hair loss is usually temporary.
If your hair loss happens suddenly, or if you develop bald patches or lose hair in clumps, it’s a good idea to speak to your GP.
Prescription treatments for thinning hair in males
If you’re experiencing male pattern baldness, there are some prescription treatments that can help.
At Online Doctor we can prescribe the tablet Propecia, or its generic equivalent Finasteride. This is a tablet designed for men that should be taken daily. It helps to halt hair loss and, in some cases, encourage regrowth. Find out more by visiting our hair loss clinic.