Imagine you are driving along a scenic road… Besides you is a perfect company and slow music playing in the background. Just when you think it can’t get any better, low fuel light starts flashing on your car. Now the first thing you look for is the next exit so you can find the nearest petrol pump and re-fill your tank.
But sadly, our body has no such indicator. When it runs low on essential vitamins and mineral, it doesn’t flash any red lights. What it does is cuts the nutrient supply to our hair and nails – as they are the non-essential parts of our body to focus on more important areas such as the brain, heart and other organs.
Zinc is one such vital mineral. It’s not only required for our overall health, but it’s also very essential for the growth of healthy hair, and when its levels get low, your hair takes the blow first.
Before we dig deeper into why zinc is important for your hair, let’s take a brief look at zinc in general.
Most of us have heard of zinc – it’s an essential mineral for our body. ‘Essential’ meaning our body does not produce it and thus we need to get it from the foods we eat. Apparently, zinc deficiency is getting more and more common these days. It’s not just people in poor countries that are affected, even those living in countries with food surplus can be low on zinc.
It’s seen more commonly in people with a vegetarian diet, but not always. If you have a weak digestive system and are not able to absorb nutrients well, then you will likely have the zinc deficiency. Also, people with chronic illness and diabetics too can be low on zinc.
You need this bluish-grey shiny metal for division and growth of every cell in our body (including hair cells). It’s also necessary for a healthy immune system, and people with low levels of zinc have a higher rate of cough and cold. And their wound, cuts and infections take a longer time to heal. This is because zinc plays a role in repair and healing of injuries.
Moreover, zinc is important for creating DNA, the genetic blueprint of your cells. It’s also required for activity of 300 + enzymes, thyroid function… I can go on and on about zinc’s role in our body. But now you get the idea how very important zinc is.
And other most common signs include:
I know the signs and symptoms are pretty vague. And for that reason don’t self-guess whether you are low on zinc or not, get the help of a medical professional to decipher the language.
And what about the language of hair?? If you are losing and losing hair and not growing any back, then continue reading, and you might find the answer to your hair-loss-misery.
Hair cells are one of the fastest growing cells in our body. So they need a lot of nutrients and energy to keep up with their activity and growth.
The role of zinc is not as simple as attaching to hair follicles and propelling the growth. It’s multifaceted. Because zinc serves wide variety of roles such as: helping with growth and division of every cell, creating DNA, synthesis of protein as well as production of hormones, including thyroid hormone, a disruption in any of these important process can result in hair loss.
Zinc is also a powerful antioxidant. Usually vitamin C, A and E get all the limelight as potent antioxidants, and zinc takes a back seat. But it’s in fact pretty amazing and robust antioxidant, which saves your hair cells from onslaught of free radicals (1).
Besides, zinc helps with sebum production, our hair’s natural oils. And these oils keeps the scalp adequately moisture and also wards of unwanted microbes and flakes – if left unchecked both of these can hinder hair growth.
It all sounds good, but What is the Evidence?
The exact mechanism how zinc helps with hair loss is not clearly understood. Nevertheless, the evidence is more or less in favor of zinc. Take a look:
1. Research is pretty solid in people with alopecia areata. There are several reports stating that zinc levels in the blood are lower in those alopecia areata compared to normal subjects (2,3,4). Also more severe the alopecia, lower the zinc levels .
The good news is that a few studies saw improvements in hair growth with zinc supplementation. In the Annals of Dermatology researchers wrote, ‘zinc supplementation can become a possible adjuvant therapy for alopecia areata patients with a low serum zinc levels’ (6).
2. But what if you have androgenic alopecia or male/female pattern baldness?? Similar to the alopecia areata, studies on pattern baldness too have found low zinc levels in the blood as well as hair samples (5).
Plus, zinc is known to acts as a 5-alpha reductase inhibitor (8). This means it inhibits the synthesis of DHT (or dihydrotestosterone), a hormone that causes shrinkage of hair follicles and pattern baldness.
3. And if you are a woman suffering from hair loss due to PCOS and hypothyroidism, zinc could be your hair savior. In this 2013 case study, researchers found that the hair loss of a hypothyroid woman was only improved when zinc was added to her treatment regime (9).
Another study in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) showed that zinc supplementation had beneficial effects on hair loss (of course not helping with hair loss, but rather reversing it) (10).
You see, zinc is superb for our hair as well as overall well-being, but the number of people deficient in this mineral is mind boggling.
You will be astonished to hear that 25% of world’s population (about 2 billion people) could be zinc deficient (11). The reason of this is that our soils are running out of essential minerals (due to intensive farming and excess use of pesticides??). So the reliable food sources are not reliable anymore.
But those at greater risks are people with digestive disorder who are not able to absorb the zinc. Even people who are elderly or with chronic illness such as diabetes, malignancy or liver disease may be low on zinc.
Zinc supplement are generally advised for vegetarians, athletes and pregnant women due to the increase risk of deficiency.
Obviously, by eating foods rich in zinc. And although we only need very small amounts to meet our daily requirement, it is possible to get low on zinc. This is because our body doesn’t keep a stockpile of zinc, so a steady supply is needed. The good thing is zinc is found in many common foods.
Best Vegan/Vegetarian Sources of Zinc:
Best Omnivorous Sources of Zinc:
The catch is vegetarian food sources also contain phytates – these are anti-nutrients and they hinder the absorption of zinc and other micro nutrients.
Does this mean a vegetarian has no chance of dealing with this? Actually they do. By soaking nuts and beans and lentils in water overnight and then throwing away that water (you can also leave them to sprout). Doing this will get rid of most of anti-nutrients and you can also enjoy added nutritional benefits along with a high dose of zinc.
Nonetheless, you have zinc supplement to leans on to…
But before I answer that, I want to tell you that supplements are only supplements and they cannot replace eating fresh fruits, vegetables, lentils, nuts and other ‘real foods’.
If you think you are not getting enough zinc from your diet or you are at increased risk, you can take the pills. They are available in capsule or tablet form.
The amount of zinc you need is about:
This is the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for zinc in the United States(12). For the UK is also very similar: 9.5mg for men and 7mg for women (14).
Many forms of zinc supplements are available, including zinc gluconate, zinc sulfate, and zinc acetate, zinc citrate and zinc picolinate. They all are believed to work in very similar way, so one type is not thought to be better than the other. But if you ask me, I prefer the last two.
It’s available every where. In pharmacy, supermarkets, health food stores and online here.
It’s so easy to overdose if you find out you are zinc deficient. But for love of your hair don’t do it. Why?? Because like too little zinc can cause hair loss, too much also can cause hair loss. Yikes!! yes and you don’t want that, right? So stick to the recommended dose (unless your doctor suggests otherwise).
And there are other side effects that tell you you are eating too much zinc. Anything above 40 mg is said to cause unpleasing effects such as such as nausea, vomiting and stomach cramps. Plus, high levels of zinc can impair copper and iron absorption.
Zinc supplement also interferes with medication such as antibiotics and diuretic. And it can lower blood sugar levels.
Please Note: I would generally do ‘any pill-popping’ in collaboration with the doctor as he/she knows what other medications you are taking and how a vitamin/mineral supplement has an impact.
That is all about zinc for now, before we end let’s recap:
In your quest to beautiful hair, it may seem like all red lights are flashing, but once you learn to listen to your body’s and hair’s needs, you will get your answers to growing healthy hair (and living a healthy life).
Until next time…
Do you take Zinc for hair growth? How has it helped?
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