Hair loss can be caused by multiple factors from hormones and stress to nutrient deficiencies and autoimmune diseases. And hair loss can be hereditary. Our nutritionists explain what causes hair loss and hair thinning, and the best foods and vitamins to support your hair against thinning and falling out.
What causes hair loss?
This is the most common cause of hair loss and occurs with age, and is often called 'male-pattern baldness' or 'female-pattern baldness'. Although these forms are hereditary, they are often due to a change in hormones as we age.
Stress can cause hair loss. This type of hair loss typically occurs after a traumatic event and can last several months. Once the stress or trauma has been dealt with however, hair will often grow back.
The decrease in female sex hormones after the menopause increases the ratio of testosterone to female hormones oestrogen and progesterone, triggering hair loss.
During pregnancy, the increase in progesterone causes the body to hold onto hairs longer. When the progesterone drops after birth, all of the hairs that would have normally fallen out during the pregnancy come out, making it look like you have excessive hair loss.
Some medications can interrupt the hair growth cycle, leading to baldness or hair thinning. The most well known are chemotherapy drugs, but other medications can also cause hair loss or thinning, including some blood thinning medications (anticoagulants), cholesterol lowering and blood pressure medications, and others.
Some autoimmune conditions against the skin and hair follicles can cause hair loss. The most common condition is called 'autoimmune alopecia'.
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What causes hair thinning?
There are two main causes of hair thinning:
Testosterone in both men and women can contribute towards hair thinning. There are a few forms of testosterone in the body, and the form most likely to affect hair thinning is called Dihydrotestosterone (DHT). DHT is a derivative of testosterone and interferes with our hair's growth - our hair follicles are sensitive to DHT, leading to shrinking or shortening of hair, making it more likely to fall out and more difficult to grow back.
Deficiencies in key nutrients including Iron, B Vitamins and Protein can contribute towards hair thinning. If your body does not have enough nutrients to run itself, your hair is one of the first things to be sacrificed!
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Who is most likely to suffer hair loss & thinning?
There are a number of groups of people most likely to suffer hair loss and hair thinning.
Ageing comes to us all and as we grow older, there's an in increased likelihood of losing hair or hair thinning. This can be due to blood flow to the scalp decreasing, an increase in DHT (dihydrotestosterone), and nutrient deficiencies that can also contribute towards the problem.
The drop in female hormones during perimenopause and menopause increases the ratio of testosterone in women, and this change and the fluctuations in hormones can contribute towards poor hair growth.
Due to the naturally higher testosterone levels in men, there is a higher chance of having more DHT which leads to hair loss.
Consuming the right foods with the right nutrients for hair growth is essential - it really does help! Likewise, anyone with a poor diet, or poor gut health and poor nutrient absorption, is more prone to hair loss and thinning.
Difference between hair loss in men and women
Although the causes of hair loss are similar in men and women, they do manifest themselves differently - men tend to lose hair in central patches, while women tend to lose their hair evenly across the scalp.
Can you stop hair loss?
Yes! There are several ways to encourage the growth and thickness of hair, even in previously bald patches. Eating a healthy, balanced diet is the best place to start. Exercise should be incorporated into your daily routine as it increases blood flow to all parts of the body, including your scalp, which then transports more nutrients to the hair follicles for better growth. De-stressing is also an essential lifestyle change for better hair growth, because stress can negatively impact hair growth.
Best foods for hair loss
The are a number of super-foods that can really support the strength and health of your hair.
Pumpkins seeds contain good levels of zinc which helps to decrease the conversion of testosterone into its toxic form that affects the hair follicles. Zinc also balances female hormones in women which promotes fuller and healthier hair growth. Zinc is also needed directly for the cellular growth of new hair, and if you're deficient in zinc, hair growth can be impaired.
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Tofu provides lots of protein which is also essential to the growth of new hair. However, the amino acids in tofu also contribute towards the production of collagen which helps maintain the health of blood vessels and therefore blood circulation and nutrient supply to the scalp and hair follicles.
Wholegrains contain biotin which is needed for a few reasons, including for the utilisation of protein within our cells that is necessary for hair growth.
Kiwis contain high levels of Vitamin C which is needed for the production of collagen, essential for the health of blood vessels and nutrient transportation to the scalp which encourages healthy hair growth.
Best vitamins for hair loss and thinning
B vitamins are needed for hair growth as they are biologically important for the replication of fast-growing cells. Biotin, which is found in a B complex supplement, is especially important and numerous studies have linked biotin to better hair growth. B vitamins are also needed for the proper blood circulation to the scalp and hair follicles.
In addition to being involved in the synthesis of hair proteins, Vitamin C also helps to combat free-radical damage which can hinder the blood supply to the scalp and hair follicles, and slow down growth.
Vitamin A is needed for the production of 'sebum' which helps to keep the scalp and hair healthy. When taken in the right amounts, Vitamin A also helps with the replication of fast-growing cells, including hair cells.
Vitamin D is an immune regulator and should be taken by individuals who have conditions related to the immune system. This includes conditions such as autoimmune alopecia and dermatitis on the scalp.
Learn more in 'How do I know if I'm deficient in Vitamin D?'.
Vitamin E also helps to protect against oxidative damage to the hair follicles and the blood vessels that supply them with nutrients. One study demonstrated that Vitamin E supplementation can significantly improve the rate of hair growth.
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