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Reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Do you find hair collecting in your shower drain? Are there strands in your bathroom sink? Do you look in the mirror and wonder if your hair looks thinner than it did yesterday?
Most people lose about 50-100 hairs a day, and normally, new hair grows back where the old hair falls out.
However, when hair-shedding outpaces hair growth, the result is alopecia — which is just the medical term for hair loss. While not exactly a welcomed trait, it’s pretty common: alopecia affects 30 percent to 50 percent of men by age fifty.
But regardless of the fact that hair loss in men is typical, when you notice that it’s happening to you, it can be disconcerting. So it’s no wonder that there are plenty of lotions and potions that claim to prevent hair loss, or help hair growth — some more effective than others.
One common inquiry is whether vitamins and mineral supplements can help manage, or even prevent hair loss. While it’s believed that essential vitamins and minerals do play a role in hair follicle development, what exact role they play is not entirely clear.
Still, many nutritional supplements are marketed as hair loss treatments. In fact, a quick google search gives notice to the fact that many companies and products that claim to help with non-scarring alopecia cite vitamin B12 as an ingredient, or mention vitamin B12 deficiency as a cause. But is there any truth to it? Or are they just trying to sell products?
We get to the bottom of whether there is actually a connection between Vitamin B12 deficiency and hair loss — or if it’s all just a hair-brained idea.
It is thought that Vitamin B12 plays a role in cell formation, as well as nerve function. It can’t be made by the body, but it is found naturally in a wide variety of animal foods, like fish, eggs, meat, poultry and dairy products. Some breakfast cereals are also fortified with vitamin B12.
Most people’s everyday diet contains enough B12, but because it’s not produced in plants, strict vegetarians and vegans are at a higher risk of a B12 deficiency.
Additionally, some people have trouble absorbing vitamin B12. In fact, anywhere from 3% to 43% of older adults may have a vitamin B12 deficiency.
Aside from vegetarians, people at risk for a deficiency include those with pernicious anemia, people who have had intestinal surgery such as gastric bypass, those with Crohn’s or celiac disease, and anyone whose stomach does not produce enough hydrochloric acid to absorb the vitamin B12 that’s naturally present in food.
Most people do not need to worry if they are deficient in vitamin B12, but if you are a vegetarian, or have had weight loss surgery, it’s a good idea to have your levels checked.
Vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms include numbness or tingling in the hands, legs, or feet, difficulty walking, anemia, swollen tongue, weakness, fatigue, and cognitive difficulties including memory loss.
Other common symptoms include pale skin, loss of appetite, weight loss, heart palpitations and infertility.
Hair loss is not listed in the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements Vitamin B12 Fact sheet as a symptom of Vitamin B12 deficiency. But since B12 deficiency is associated with vegans and vegetarians, can vegetarian diet cause hair loss?
The vitamin B complex contains eight different kinds of water-soluble vitamin substances, all of which aid in cell metabolism. These eight vitamin substances include thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), vitamin B6, biotin (B7), folate (found in leafy greens), and vitamin B12.
Of those eight, only riboflavin, biotin, folate, and vitamin B12 deficiencies have been associated with hair loss, but there have only been a few studies, and of those, they do not always prove this connection to be true.
For example, one study saw no significant difference in serum folate levels of patients with diffuse hair loss as compared to controls.
Similarly, Vitamin B12, like folate, plays a role in nucleic acid production which may stimulate hair follicle growth. However, in a study evaluating subjects with Vitamin B12 deficiency, it was found that the reduction in vitamin B12 levels had no adverse effects on hair shedding or hair growth.
While no significant link has been found between many of the Vitamin B substances and hair loss/growth, Biotin is a bit different. While biotin deficiency is rare, it may in fact cause alopecia. However, no large-scale clinical trials have proven that taking biotin supplements will help hair grow back.
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The most common cause of hair loss is androgenic alopecia, which is a hereditary condition that happens with aging. It’s more common in men than women, and it happens gradually — usually presenting as a receding hairline or bald spots.
Medical conditions, such as hormonal changes (like menopause in women) and health issues that affect the immune system like alopecia areata may also cause hair loss.
The loss of hair can also be a side effect of some drugs, like those used for cancer, arthritis, depression, gout and high blood pressure.
The good news is that when you start to lose your hair, you’re not at a total…um…loss. There are some medications that will help if you have androgenic alopecia.
Minoxidil or Minoxidil foam is a non-prescription, over-the-counter treatment that can come in the form of shampoo, foam, or liquid. When used regularly, it can help slow the rate of hair loss, and even start hair regrowth. We have a guide to how to apply minoxidil for you.
Another option is Finasteride. This prescription drug for men is taken in the form of a pill, and like minoxidil, it can help slow down hair loss as well as help with hair regrowth. Unfortunately, finasteride may not work as well on men over the age of 60, and there are some possible side effects, like a diminished sex drive and an increased risk of prostate cancer.
Generic for Rogaine®, this FDA-approved over-the-counter version of topical minoxidil is used for regrowth on the crown of the head.
This is the FDA-approved dynamic duo. When used together, men saw better results in clinical trials compared to using either alone.
If you’re looking for something effective but don’t want too many steps in your routine, this once-a-day pill could be right for you.
Clinically proven to regrow hair in 3-6 months, no pills required.
While a Vitamin B12 deficiency is sometimes linked to hair loss, there have been no clinical studies that have proven this to be true. Instead, hair loss — also called alopecia — is generally caused by genetics and age. It can also be caused by medical conditions, hormonal changes, some medicines and stress.
There are many products that claim to help cure hair loss, including products that contain vitamin B12 — just search the internet to see the many options. But don’t always trust what you read. Vitamin B12 is essential for a healthy body — but it’s probably not going to affect your hair. If you want to help manage hair loss and encourage hair growth, stick with what’s tried and true: minoxidil and finasteride are probably your most effective options.
Kristin Hall is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with decades of experience in clinical practice and leadership.
She has an extensive background in Family Medicine as both a front-line healthcare provider and clinical leader through her work as a primary care provider, retail health clinician and as Principal Investigator with the NIH.
Certified through the American Nurses Credentialing Center, she brings her expertise in Family Medicine into your home by helping people improve their health and actively participate in their own healthcare.
Kristin is a St. Louis native and earned her master’s degree in Nursing from St. Louis University, and is also a member of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. You can find Kristin on LinkedIn for more information.