Our hair is commonly referred to as our “crowning glory”. But for most men (and even women) the glory days tend to come to an end. When we get older, it gets increasingly hard for the body to grow hair, and as a result, most 80-year-olds have thinner and less hair than most 20-year-olds.
However, nowadays, we tend to experience hair loss at a much younger age. Why? Mostly due to our hectic lifestyles, poor diets, and stress levels that are often off the charts. Hair loss may not be a life-threatening condition (even though it can indicate an underlying health issue), but it can affect our self-esteem, happiness levels, and overall well-being. As such, it is of utmost importance to understand the most common reasons for hair loss, learn how to help our hair to grow, and thus prevent hair loss or even reverse it.
The most common causes of hair loss
Hair loss can be triggered by many different things. The most common causes of hair thinning and hair loss include the following.
Probably the most common reason for premature hair loss is stress. Due to our stressful modern lifestyle, we tend to be in a constant fight or flight mode. This mode is great if you are chased by a dangerous predator, as it makes you run faster, fight harder, etc. However, as it also shuts down many other important body functions, including the immune system, cell replacement, digestion, and healing, prolonged periods of stress are harmful in countless different ways. After all, growing hair is the last thing your body will care about when in fight or flight.
Stress can even put the hair into a resting phase called Telogen Effluvium. Hair shedding only begins three months after a severely stressful event, such as a divorce, loss of a loved one, sudden unemployment, and childbirth, and the body starts regrowing hair only after three additional months.
Stress also downregulates the genes and thus triggers genetic hair loss.
Stress management and prevention are a vital part of the battle against hair loss.
Various health issues can also inhibit hair growth and cause our hair follicles to die off. Hair loss may be caused by damaged blood vessel linings, as they stop producing endothelium-derived relaxing factor or nitric oxide, both of which promote muscle relaxation. Studies have shown a correlation between heart disease and hair loss and researchers have also proven that diabetics have a higher risk of experiencing hair loss.
Another common health-related cause of hair loss is scalp inflammation, usually caused by bacteria and fungus. Some of the most common hair loss-triggering inflammations include eczema, ringworm, psoriasis, and alopecia areata.
Skin disorders and auto-immune diseases often result in hair loss and both illness and surgery are also known to trigger excessive hair fall. While researchers are still trying to fully understand the correlation between certain health issues and hair loss, the common belief is that when a certain area is affected, the body deems it as more important and sends more nutrients toward that area to help it recover quicker.
Androgenic Alopecia or male (or female) pattern baldness is the most common form of hair loss. It is responsible for 95% of hair loss cases and is characterized by a receding hairline and circular bald spots in men. According to various studies, the condition is caused by increased levels of the DHT (dihydrotestosterone) hormone, which may be triggered by a dysfunction in the immune system, poor diet, medication, and inadequate lifestyle.
Hair loss is mostly caused by increased amounts of the androgen hormone called dihydrotestosterone (DHT). To stop, prevent, or even reverse hair loss (especially male/female pattern baldness), we must balance the levels of DHT.
Men with increased levels of testosterone tend to grow lots of facial and body hair, yet the hair on their heads often starts to fall out prematurely. Bodybuilders and anabolic steroids users, which tend to deliberately boost their testosterone levels to build muscle are a great example.
Women, on the other hand, go through extreme hormonal changes during menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause. Either of those changes may trigger hair loss. Hormone-sensitive women may also experience hair loss due to birth control pills, which have a severe effect on our hormones.
Borage oil, green tea, apple peel, black cohosh, licorice broccoli, and other cruciferous vegetables high in sulforaphane are known for preventing hair loss by regulating hormones.
The health of any body part depends largely on our diet and the hair is no exception. If we ingest an adequate amount of vitamins and minerals, our bodies and hair follicles will be healthy and strong. If the hair follicles don’t receive the sufficient amount of required nutrients, they will be fragile and may die off prematurely.
Bad hair habits cause stress to hair follicles and may cause them to break. Bad hair habits include constantly wearing tight ponytails, turbans, and using aggressive hair products. Chemicals in hair colors and styling products are particularly harmful and have been found to contribute to hair loss.
In addition to contraceptive pills, which have a major impact on hormone levels, other medications can also trigger hair loss. The prescription drugs that list hair loss as one of their possible side effects include anti-depressants, blood thinners, anti-inflammatory drugs, cholesterol-lowering drugs, beta-blockers, acne medications, seizure medications, ulcer medications, and gout medications. Radiation therapy (chemotherapy), steroidal treatment, and diuretics also trigger hair loss.
Hair loss is hereditary. In fact, approximately 98% of men (and 50% of women) with pattern baldness have inherited it. However, scientists now agree that there are many other lifestyle factors that can either downregulate or upregulate our genes. As such, eating the right foods, managing stress, and leading a healthy lifestyle can prevent hair loss, even if you have the wrong kind of genes.
Best foods and ingredients to prevent hair loss
Health comes from within and hair health is no exception. As such, the most important step in combating hair loss is to take a look at all the vitamins, minerals, and superfoods that play a major role in preventing hair loss.
Vitamin B6 and Biotin
B complex vitamins, especially vitamin B6 and Biotin (also known as vitamin B7 or vitamin H), have been found to have a huge impact on our hair and scalp health.
Vitamin B6 is responsible for balancing the production of sebum. Increased amounts of this natural oil can cause clogged pores and hinder hair growth. Vitamin B6 can calm the production of sebum and thus promote hair growth. A 2007 study by the British Journal of Dermatology found that the combination of vitamin B6, azelaic acid, and zinc can reduce the harmful effects of testosterone, which forms DHT and triggers hair loss, for 90%.
Vitamin B6 can be found in fish, shrimp, poultry, beef, dairy, beans, lentils, spinach, tomato juice, carrots, bananas, peanut butter, sunflower seeds, and whole-grain products.
Biotin also plays a major role in the prevention of hair loss. Biotin deficiency may result in hair thinning, breakage, and loss. In a 2015 study, a group of women with thinning hair took an MPS (marine protein supplement) with high amounts of biotin, while the other group of affected women took a placebo pill. Both groups took their pills twice a day for 90 days. The women who took the MPS supplement experienced a significant improvement in hair growth and a decrease in shedding.
Biotin can be found in nuts (especially almonds, walnuts, and peanuts), legumes, soybeans, sunflower seeds, whole grains (oats, brown rice, bulgur), bananas, cauliflowers, mushrooms, egg yolks, and organ meats.
Magnesium and Zinc
Magnesium is responsible for over 700 metabolic functions in our bodies, including the ones that affect hair growth. Magnesium prevents calcium buildup on your scalp, which may clog hair follicles and result in hair loss. It promotes blood circulation and thus supplies follicles with nutrients. In addition, magnesium helps with protein synthesis, which balances hair cycles, makes hair stronger, and creates melanin, which prevents hair graying.
Magnesium can be found in black beans, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, brazil nuts, rice bran, dried coriander, dark chocolate, and cooked spinach.
Hair loss may also be a symptom of zinc deficiency. Zinc promotes hair tissue growth and repair and maintains the health of the oil glands around the follicles. According to a study on zinc therapy, taking zinc supplements may reduce hair loss. However, as excessively large amounts of zinc can have the opposite effect and actually result in hair loss, it is better to get zinc from whole foods.
Foods high in zinc are spinach, wheat germ, lentils, pumpkin seeds, soybeans, oysters, shrimps, red meat, poultry, and egg yolks.
Protein and Iron
Hair is mostly composed of proteins and the lack of protein may cause reduced hair growth and fragile hair.
Iron, on the other hand, is responsible for transporting oxygen to our cells. As hair growth depends on the amount of oxygen in our hair cells, iron is another crucial mineral for hair growth. A 2009 study has found that iron deficiency is a common cause of hair loss, especially for women.
Both protein and iron can be found in beans, peas, and lentils, shellfish, and beef.
Vitamins A, C, D, E
Vitamin A is required for any cell to grow, including hair cells. It promotes sebum production to keep the scalp and hair moisturized and healthy. As too much vitamin A can cause hair loss, it’s best to get it from food.
Foods that contain vitamin A include cod liver oil, spinach, kale, sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkins, eggs, and some dairy products.
Vitamin C is a great antioxidant. As such, it protects the body and the hair against free radicals, which can trigger hair loss and aging. This vitamin is also needed for the production of collagen and the absorption of iron.
Vitamin C can be found in numerous fruits and vegetables, including peppers, lemons and other citrus fruits, strawberries, and guavas.
Hair loss is also linked to vitamin D deficiency. This vitamin has been shown to contribute to the creation of new follicles and hair production.
The best way to get vitamin D is with regular yet moderate sun exposure. Dietary sources of this vitamin include fatty fish, certain kinds of mushrooms, fortified foods, and cod liver oil.
Lastly, vitamin E has also been shown to promote hair growth. It does so by preventing oxidative stress. In a 2010 study people suffering from hair loss have experienced a 34.5% increase in hair growth after taking increased amounts of vitamin E for 8 months.
Great sources of vitamin E include sunflower seeds, almonds, avocados, and spinach.
Overall, a great way to get the right amount of vitamins (as well as minerals and antioxidants) is to ingest lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. Make sure to eat 5 to 6 portions of fresh fruits and veggies daily. Select the ones that grow locally, eat seasonally, and make sure to opt for different varieties.
Fish oil and Omega 3 & 6
Omega fatty acids play a major role in hair health and growth. They are full of proteins and other important nutrients. Fish oil and other sources of omega 3 and 6 promote proper cell function, hair hydration, and boost immunity. Taking omega supplements with an increased amount of antioxidants has also been shown to enhance hair density and diameter and reduce hair loss.
Dietary sources of omega fatty acids include fatty fish, fish oil, chia seeds and other seeds, walnuts and other nuts, seafood, olive oil, hemp oil, sunflower oil, and other plant oils.
Flaxseeds also contain large amounts of B vitamins, magnesium, manganese, copper, and selenium, therefore they are especially beneficial in combating hair loss.
Ginseng is a herb that has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for ages. It contains ginsenosides and gintonin – two important compounds that provide several health benefits, including decreased inflammation and tiredness, increased levels of energy, improved brain function, erectile dysfunction, and immunity, lower blood sugar, and anticancerous effect. A study conducted in 2015 has also found that ginseng supplements stimulate hair follicles and thus promote hair growth.
In case you decide to take ginseng supplements, make sure to follow the provided instructions and do not exceed the recommended daily intake.
Amla or Indian Gooseberry is a berry containing an incredibly large amount of vitamin C, gallic acid, and ellagic acid. All of these compounds are very powerful antioxidants, which help the body get rid of free radicals that damage the hair in several different ways.
Amla berries can be ingested daily. You can eat fresh or dried amla every day. You can also dissolve 1 teaspoon of amla powder in a glass of water drink it every morning.
In addition, you can use amla juice topically. Simply mix it with coconut oil or amla oil and either use it as a hair mask or to massage your scalp.
Saw Palmetto is a red fruit that grows in warmer climates. It has been used by native Americans to treat enlarged prostate and other urinary and genital disorders for hundreds of years and it remains many herbalists’ favorite natural remedy for male (or female) pattern baldness. It blocks the production of dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which is the main cause of this condition. In one study, men with moderate male pattern baldness have been taking oral supplements of Saw Palmetto twice a day for a few months. 6 out of 10 participants have experienced incredibly positive results.
It is usually advised to take 160 milligrams of Saw Palmetto twice a day (320 mg a day). As this fruit is very powerful, make sure to take the supplement along with other foods, otherwise, you can experience stomachache or headache. Pregnant women should not use this supplement, neither can children.
It can be also used topically – as a shampoo, tonic, cream, massage oil (diluted), or hair mask.
Lifestyle changes to prevent hair loss
While the right diet is imperative in preventing hair loss, there are also some other lifestyle choices that are equally important and that should by no means be disregarded.
Prevent and manage stress
As stress may be the biggest culprit of modern-day hair loss, stress prevention strategies are vital in preventing hair loss.
Some of the most effective ways to manage stress include meditation, exercise, breathing techniques, sleep, laughter, music, etc. Make sure to organize your time, avoid multitasking, and avoid the things that always stress you out.
Most importantly, maintain a healthy mindset. Love and accept yourself with all your imperfections and believe that you can prevent, reduce, or even reverse hair loss. Visualize your head full of hair every day and feel gratitude by believing it is already so. Repeat supportive affirmations (e.g. “My hair is healthy and it is growing fast”) daily and send healing energy and love to your scalp. Stay positive and happy.
In addition to shedding stress, regular physical activity also boosts blood circulation and thus supplies the hair follicles with oxygen and other important nutrients.
There are two types of workout – the ones that increase the levels of free testosterone in the body (which may have a negative impact on hair growth) and the ones that lower the amount of free testosterone in the body (which promote hair growth). As such it is better to refrain from testosterone-boosting workouts, like bodybuilding, heavyweight training, and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and opt for testosterone-lowering exercises, such as aerobic training instead. You can go for a walk, hike, run, cycle, dance, swim, or play sports, as long as you get your body moving.
Yoga is also a great way to reduce hair loss. Beneficial poses include downward-facing dog, fish pose, and standing forward bend.
Try to incorporate at least 30 minutes of exercise into your daily routine.
Get enough sleep
Sleep is essential for maintaining a healthy body. Numerous studies have shown that lack of sleep makes the hair fall off, therefore it is crucial to get a good night’s sleep every day. Researchers at the Belgrade Institute have conducted a three-month study, during which one group of people was only allowed to sleep 5 hours a day and the second group was given 8.5 hours of daily sleep. After the three months, the sleep-deprived group had a severely impaired average rate of hair growth and an increased rate of complete follicle loss.
In case you have trouble falling or staying asleep, make sure to create a sleep-promoting environment. Turn off all the lights, keep the room cool (somewhere between 68 and 72 degrees F), embrace total silence, and remove all electronic devices. Make sure not to drink coffee or alcohol, smoke, eat, or exercise at least a few hours before bedtime. De-stress before going to bed. Invest in a quality mattress and pillow, follow a fixed sleep routine, and most importantly, prioritize your sleep. Do your best to sleep at least 7 hours a day.
Massage your scalp
Gentle scalp massages (especially stretching moves) can help prevent hair loss and restore hair growth simply by boosting circulation, relieving tension, and stimulating the scalp. Moreover, if you massage some healing herbs, oils, and masks into your skin, the beneficial effect doubles.
Some of the most effective herbs, oils, and masks that have been shown to have the best results in preventing hair loss, include the following.
- Aloe Vera
- Coconut oil
- Gingko Biloba
- Onion juice
- Rosemary oil
- Geranium oil
- Castor oil
- Olive oil
- Almond oil
- Nettle root
- Lemon and lemon oil
- Green tea plus ginger
Other effective hacks
Taking supplements can be very effective in combating hair loss. In addition to vitamin A, B complex, C, D, E, magnesium, iron, omega 3&6, and other supplements mentioned above, there are also some other supplements designed especially to promote hair growth.
One of the most efficient hair growth supplements seems to be Viviscal. It contains AminoMar C, a marine complex full of vitamins, minerals, as well as shark and mollusk powder. The supplement is designed to boost cell regeneration and strengthening. It is available as a supplement that can be taken twice a day for 6 months or as a shampoo and conditioner.
It is also important to take good care of your hair. Make sure to replace toxic store-bought products full of harmful chemicals, like SLS, parabens, isopropyl alcohol, propylene glycol, phthalates, artificial colors, and fragrances, with natural hair products and opt for natural henna-based hair dyes. Wash your hair with warm water (not hot) and gently apply a moderate amount of shampoo. Use the shampoo that is right for your hair to keep your scalp adequately moisturized at all times. Do not rub your hair dry with a towel. Instead, pat it gently. Also, make sure not to comb your hair until it is approximately 80 or more percent dry. When it comes to styling and combing your hair, use a wide-tooth wood comb without any sharp plastic teeth. Avoid wearing tight ponytails and refrain from using heat appliances, such as blow dryers and hair straighteners, and vigorous styling methods. Too much sun exposure is also bad news for your hair, as it tends to dry it out.
Perhaps the most important thing is to create a plan and stick to it. Consistency is key. And stay patient, as it will take a few months to see some noticeable results. Practice self-care and above all, stay positive.