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Treating Hair Loss Naturally

Experts say vitamins, herbs, even diet can help women cope with hair loss

WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Charlotte Grayson

It's been called the "ultimate bad hair day" -- the moment a woman realizes that her sink contains a lot more than just the few strands she's used to seeing following a shampoo or even a vigorous brushing. The problem is hair loss, and whether the result of the aging process or a true medical or genetic condition, the number of women affected appears to be on the rise.

While there are certainly a number of specific medical treatments that offer great results, depending on the cause of the hair loss , and the extent, experts say there are a variety of natural treatments that can yield important benefits for anyone concerned about the health of their hair. Among the first natural lines of defense: Eating a healthy, nutritious diet.

Eating for Hair Health

"The same foods that are good for your body and your health overall are good for your hair, including foods that are high in protein, low in carbohydrates and have a reduced fat content," says dermatologist Michael Reed, MD, an expert in female hair loss at New York University Medical Center in New York City. Reed says that what you put on your plate may not put hair on your head, but it can help the hair you do have remain healthier longer.

Another important dietary need are essential fatty acids, found in foods like walnuts, canola oil, fish, and soy.

"This is just an observation, but I believe there are many people who may have a sub-clinical lack of omega 3 fatty acids -- these are 'good' fats, which have anti-inflammatory properties and may actually play a role in healthy hair," says Samantha Heller, MS, RD, a nutritionist at NYU Medical Center.

Heller also warns women that another potential deficiency -- a lack of iron that often occurs during the reproductive years -- can lead to anemia, a reduction of red blood cells that is often an undiagnosed cause of hair loss in women.

"The deficiency may be so slight you barely notice it, but it can play a role in female hair loss," says Heller. Adding more iron-rich foods to your diet -- like broccoli or brewer's yeast -- may actually help reverse some forms of hair loss, she says.

Also important to healthy hair growth are foods containing vitamin B12 -- including eggs, meat, and poultry. According to dermatologist and hair loss expert Ted Daly, MD, it's a nutrient hair just can't live without, and women can easily develop a deficiency.

"In my office it's not uncommon to find a B12 deficiency in women who come in seeking treatment for hair loss," says Daly, a clinical professor of dermatology at Nassau University Medical Center. Often, he says, supplements are necessary to restore levels, which in turn, can sometimes improve hair loss.

And while you're reaching for that bottle of B12, don't shortchange yourself on the other B vitamins, particularly biotin. According to experts, this nutrient is also essential for hair growth. It's so important that biotin supplements are often prescribed right alongside medical hair loss treatments such as Propecia, Proscar, or minoxidil (Rogaine, Ronoxidil).

"Biotin is a major component in the natural hair manufacturing process -- it is essential to not only grow new hair, but it also plays a major role in the overall health of skin and nails," says Andrew Lessman, clinical researcher and creator of Your Vitamins, an all-natural supplement line manufactured in Henderson, Nevada.

While Lessman says we can get biotin from our diet -- it's present in foods like liver and egg yolks -- we would have to consume thousands of calories daily to get what our hair needs. That's one reason why he and so many dermatologists suggest biotin supplements.

Indeed, Daly says he routinely recommends up to 3 mg of biotin daily for his hair loss patients, while Lessman developed a healthy hair, skin, and nails product containing 2 mg of biotin per daily dosage, which he believes is the minimum for healthy hair.

The recommended daily intake (RDI) of biotin is a scant 300 mcg -- and even the healthiest diets usually contain no more than 30 to 50 mcg, says Lessman.

Both Daly and Reed also recommend zinc supplements -- normally about 80 mg daily -- because studies show this nutrient may affect the levels of androgens, the hormones involved in some forms of genetic hair loss.

Lessman and Heller, however, are more cautious, advising against the use of zinc supplementation in levels any higher than what might be in a multivitamin.

"It's imperative that zinc and copper remain in the proper ratio. And unless you also supplement copper you don't want to dramatically increase zinc intake," says Lessman. What's more, since both metals are pro-oxidants (meaning they contribute to unhealthy free radical formation) Lessman says supplementation in any significant amount would require careful health monitoring by a doctor.