Even though I’m a dermatologist, I also see a lot of patients with complaints of thinning hair – especially in my older patients. Hair loss and thinning can occur as you get older, but it’s not really your age causing it – it’s more often the common nutritional deficiencies that can occur as you get older. And they can be remedied. Let me tell you how…
Hair Loss Culprits: Common Vitamin/Mineral Deficiencies
As you get older, if you’re not getting enough of the correct vitamins and minerals your body needs to stay healthy, one of the first places these deficiencies show up is in your hair, nails and skin. That’s because your hair and nails are an extension of your skin. Your skin houses and feeds the hair follicles and nail beds, via numerous blood capillaries, that your hair and nails grow out of. If the blood that feeds your hair is missing key nutrients, your hair follicle shrinks and becomes weaker, producing a thinner strand of hair or nails that easily peel and break.
In getting older, certain metabolic processes start to slow down. You may not be absorbing nutrients correctly which a probiotic can help. You may also be trying to avoid the weight gain that can come with a slower metabolism so you may have cut down on vitamin/mineral rich foods. If you’re not taking a supplement to replace those nutrients, the result can be hair thinning and/or loss, or weak, dull hair that’s lost its body and sheen and doesn’t grow much.
Add to that, stress and/or other illnesses can also rob the life from your hair and cause it to thin or even fall out. Stress burns hair-essential B vitamins and iron out of your body. It can also shock your hair follicle faster/longer into the shedding phase where it sheds more than it re-grows. Stopping the stress reaction is crucial to restoring a normal cycle.
Untreated thyroid disease can also be a culprit in hair thinning/loss. In fact, vitamin/mineral deficiencies can also contribute to creating both of these conditions as well. Yet, these conditions can be treated and you can halt the attack on your hair. Stress can be managed in a number of ways through exercise, meditation, getting enough magnesium and B12, getting more sleep, and possibly even using prescription relaxants for a short while, if necessary. After getting stress under control, hair can start to regrow normally again, usually within 3-6 months.
Similarly, thyroid disease can be treated by taking replacement thyroid medication and supporting with certain nutrients like selenium and Vitamin D. After getting the condition under control, hair usually starts to become stronger, have a healthier sheen and texture, and grow better.
Restoring certain essential nutrients to your diet can also revitalize your hair – help it grow back stronger and revive its natural body and sheen. To be sure that you’re getting all of the nutrients that support your hair (as well as your nails and skin), I’ve included them here for you:
1. Vitamin A. This powerful antioxidant fights oxidative damage in skin, hair and nails. Older people generally do not even get the daily requirement if they’ve cut out orange/yellow vegetables from their diet or they’re not taking a good vitamin supplement.
2. The B Vitamins. B vitamins drive your metabolism and support your nervous system as well as your hair, nails and skin. Older people typically do not absorb enough B vitamins through their intestines, especially B12, which can add to stress levels and hair loss. I recommend either a B-complex supplement every day, or making sure your multiple vitamin contains the full array of B’s.
3. Vitamin C. Hair, skin and nails need Vitamin C to make collagen – the substance that creates keratin, the protein that your hair, skin and nails need for strength. Without it, the hair strand is weak and thinner in diameter.
4. Vitamin D. Many people are vitamin D deficient – especially if you have stopped drinking fortified dairy or you don’t get out in the sun enough. A simple blood test can tell you. Vitamin D deficiencies can be at the “root” of your hair problems as well as several other health conditions. Many Vitamin D researchers recommend 10,000 IU of D a day, the amount you would normally get in about 10 minutes of high noon summer sun. I think 2,000 IU a day would be beneficial to bring up deficiencies but I also recommend that you continue to follow your levels.
5. Minerals. Calcium, iron, iodine, magnesium, zinc, selenium, copper, manganese, are necessary for the structure and health of your hair – especially zinc, copper and iron. The amount contained in a good vitamin/mineral supplement, in addition to a healthy diet, will help.
6. Protein/Amino acids. If you’re not eating enough quality protein every day, your hair will suffer. You need 0.75 to 1 gram per pound of body weight of protein. Multiply your body weight to get the correct amount. For example, if you weigh 160, you should be eating 120 to 160 grams of protein a day. Protein contains the building blocks necessary to create your hair, skin, nails, muscles and other supporting structures of your body.
7. Other substances. PABA and inositol can help restore the sheen to your hair as well.
Hair thinning, or loss, doesn’t have to be a foregone conclusion of getting older. Eating a nutritionally optimal diet every day, with the correct levels of protein, vitamins and minerals, and doing your best to release stress in your life, can help stop nutrient deficient-hair loss.
Jay Brachfeld, M.D.