Hair loss supplements that actually work

By Naveed Saleh, MD, MS | Fact-checked by Hale Goetz
Published June 24, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • Conventional treatments for hair loss are effective in only 50% to 60% of patients.

  • Data suggest that hydrolyzed fish-origin collagen, taurine, cysteine, methionine, iron, and selenium may help curb hair loss.

  • Supplementation combined with conventional treatments, such as minoxidil, oral finasteride, and procedures using platelet-rich plasma (PRP), are most effective for combating hair loss.

Vitamin and mineral supplementation to counter thinning hair is a burgeoning area of clinical interest. Patients often ask about such interventions, and physicians can direct them in an evidence-based fashion.

Hair-loss treatments like finasteride or minoxidil yield satisfactory hair regrowth in only between 50% and 60% of patients, thus adjuvant measures like supplements are also applied to improve response.[]

These supplements are effective

In a recent RCT (n=83), Italian researchers found an oral supplement consisting of hydrolyzed fish-origin collagen, taurine, cysteine, methionine, iron, and selenium enhanced the clinical efficacy of specific anti-hair loss treatments in participants with androgenic alopecia or telogen effluvium.[]

Results of a systematic review published in JAMA Dermatology found highest-quality evidence supporting the potential benefit of capsaicin, isoflavone, Viviscal, Nourkrin, Nutrafol, Lamdapil, and Pantogar.[] On the other hand, the use of kimchi and cheonggukjang, vitamin D3, and Forti5 to treat hair loss was supported by low-quality evidence.

In patients with androgenic alopecia or telogen effluvium and low iron levels, supplementation with iron and vitamin C may improve symptoms.[] Experts have debated the link between hair loss and low serum ferritin levels for a long time, including whether low serum ferritin levels should be used as a biomarker for nutritional deficiency triggering hair loss.

Potential mechanisms

“There are several reasons to suspect a role for micronutrients in non-scarring alopecia,” wrote authors publishing in Dermatology and Therapy. “The most noteworthy of these is that micronutrients are major elements in the normal hair follicle cycle, playing a role in the cellular turnover of the matrix cells in the follicle bulb that are rapidly dividing.”[]

The three most common types of non-scarring alopecia are androgenetic alopecia, telogen effluvium, and alopecia areata.

Hydrolyzed collagen (HC) oral supplementation ameliorates nail and skin health and might help with hair growth.[]

Some findings indicate that HC can increase hair thickness and follicle cell proliferation, as well as minimize hair dryness and dullness. Fish-derived HC may be particularly useful due to its improved absorption, low toxicity, low inflammatory responses, environmental friendliness, and fewer regulatory and quality control issues.

Methionine is an essential amino acid that constitutes keratin, which is a chief protein found in hair. Studies show that it upregulates β-catenin, with the wnt/β-catenin signaling pathway mediating hair follicle induction.

Taurine is a product of methionine and cysteine metabolism and moderates in vitro hair survival and thwarts the deleterious effects of transforming growth factor, which inhibits hair growth at the level of the hair follicle.

The impact of iron on the hair cycle requires further elucidation. One hypothesis is iron may upregulate genes located in the bulge region of the hair follicle.[]

Other treatment options

Topical minoxidil and oral finasteride are indicated to treat androgenic alopecia and have been combined with supplements to treat hair loss in studies.[]

Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) consists of a small volume of plasma with higher levels of platelets vs peripheral blood. It was initially used as a transfusion product for thrombocytopenia. This rich mix of growth factors and cytokines may help with hair growth, according to several studies.[]

Activated platelets in PRP release growth factors and cytokines from their alpha granules. These stimulate hair growth via cell proliferation, differentiation, and angiogenesis and include transforming growth factor β (TGF-β), platelet-derived endothelial growth factor (PDGF), insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), fibroblast growth factor-2 (FGF-2), vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), epidermal growth factor (EGF), and glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF).

What this means for you

The research on the use of supplements to combat hair loss is emerging, although there is evidence that they may only be effective in certain cases. Supplements can be used as an adjuvant treatment when prescribing drugs like finasteride or minoxidil. Iron supplementation may be effective in women with iron deficiency.

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