Why hair growth vitamins don’t help with Alopecia Areata
For a good part of my daughter’s alopecia journey, especially in the early days, I had come across a number of hair growth vitamins that claim to help promote hair growth. Even though I always had my doubts about the vitamins, I went ahead with one particular hair growth vitamin after searching high and low. I didn’t know of a better choice then, and I thought that anything that had the slightest chance of help was better than none.
In this post, I share my views of and experience with hair growth vitamins, why they do not help with Alopecia, why we have stopped taking these vitamins, and what to eat instead to build your immune system.
First, understanding Alopecia Areata and our immune system
Alopecia Areata is a hair loss condition that is caused by autoimmune disorder. It is commonly and simplistically believed that the immune system turns against their own healthy cells for ‘unknown reasons’, and that there’s nothing that can be done to cure it.
How our immune system works
To understand autoimmune disorder, we need a basic understanding of how our immune system works. I go into detail about autoimmune and the immune system in this post.
To sum it up, our immune system is at the centre of our very survival. Our immune system is extremely complex, consisting of a network of immune cells, organs, lymph nodes, bone marrow, chemical signals, and so much more. This complex system works around the clock to detect and fight off contaminants, pollution, infectious agents, and cancer cells. It knows very intelligently what chemical signals to send, what antibodies to produce, when to initiate an inflammation process, and recognises when threat is over so as to stop the inflammation.
In order to do its job well, our immune system needs to be not only strong, but also in good balance.
How autoimmune disorder occurs
Autoimmune disorder occurs when our immune system is out of balance and malfunctions, causing it to recognise our own cells as a threat that it needs to fight off.
It may set off an unnecessary inflammation process, or start a necessary one but fails to turn it off when fight has ended, turning the attack against our own body.
Alopecia Areata is caused by this imbalance in the immune system, and it is certainly not a condition where hair loss is caused by a lack of basic nutrients.
What are in those hair growth vitamins?
Hair growth vitamins are marketed as supplements to promote growth of hair, skin and nails. They are also perceived as the ‘healthier and more natural ways’ to promote hair growth.
But do these claims for hair growth hold any weight at all?
First, let’s start by taking a look at what actually are in those hair growth vitamins.
Most hair growth vitamins in the market contain nothing more than very basic vitamin and mineral compounds in their isolated, often synthetic forms, and usually in very high doses.
These isolated compounds are not proven to be effective, much less have an impact at all on an extremely complex immune system that requires comprehensive nutrients.
The most common contents in hair growth vitamins are:
1. Biotin in hair growth vitamins
Biotin is necessary to produce keratin, a protein in hair and nails. Our body makes enough biotin on its own through nutrients it gets from our daily diet. Biotin deficiency is very rare, because it is easy to get enough of this nutrient from common, every day foods.
In hair growth vitamins, biotin is added as an isolated compound, and in amounts many times over the daily limits.
Hair growth vitamins containing extremely high doses of biotin are often marketed as extra strength or super strength formula, although there is no evidence that higher dose is helpful for hair growth.
Why high doses of biotin in hair growth vitamins are ineffective
The biotin in these supplements is in its isolated compound, meaning it doesn’t come in a wholesome food package.
As with all isolated vitamins, they are ineffective as they are not absorbed and metabolised by the body the same way it does nutrients in wholesome foods.
There are also risks of overdose and side effects due to its high content. To date, there is no evidence that biotin supplementation helps to promote hair growth.
Risks and side effects of biotin in hair growth vitamins
Recommended daily limits of biotin are between 90-100 micrograms (mcg) from foods, not vitamin pills.
However, hair growth vitamins are packed with 5,000-10,000 mcg of isolated biotin. The scary thing is that this is common in most hair vitamins and supplements in the market, including those that are marketed for young children.
When consumed in its isolated form many times over recommended daily dose, biotin can pose risks of overdose and side effects, such as risks of miscarriage in pregnant women, and interference with several medications.
2. Isolated vitamins and minerals in hair growth vitamins
Most hair growth vitamins also contain other vitamin and mineral compounds in their isolated forms, instead of in their wholesome food package which makes these compounds beneficial for health in the first place.
Isolated compounds are identified as single compounds such as Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin B-6, Zinc, and so on.
Most products use the synthetic versions of these vitamins and minerals. Synthetic vitamins and minerals are created in labs to mimic the compounds found in nature. They are also widely fortified into common daily foods and beverages such as bread, cereal, dairy and plant milks, and orange juice. Almost all multivitamins and vitamin supplements in the market contain synthetics.
One way to easily tell if your supplements are from synthetics or real food sources is by reading the ingredients label.
Synthetic vitamins and minerals will be listed by their chemical names, for example ascorbic acid is the synthetic form of the vitamin C found in foods like orange and lemon. Whole food sources will be listed by their common food names, for example, tomato, broccoli, peas, and so on.
3. Fillers and additives: colouring, preservatives, sugar, and oil in hair growth vitamins
Many hair growth vitamins also contain a bunch of “Other Ingredients” like oils, glycerin, sugar, colouring agents, and preservatives such as sodium citrate and citric acid.
These ingredients add extra burden for your body to process while providing no nutritional values.
A look at what’s in some ‘big brand’ hair growth vitamins
I took a random sample of several hair growth vitamins to take a closer look of what’s inside those pills and gummies.
1. Sample One
Long list of ingredients, but mostly synthetic and dangerously over recommended daily limits
2. Sample Two
This one is from a widely marketed, rather visually appealing hair gummies. Basic vitamins and minerals in their synthetic versions. Biotin content is at least 50 times over recommended daily limit of 90-100 mcg.
3. Sample Three
Another product promoted for hair, skin and nails from a prominent brand. They published this over their Supplement Facts label, presumably to claim that lab test results reveal higher content of these isolated vitamin compounds than what’s advertised. Not a good news really as they were already higher than daily limits. This goes to show that actual content of synthetic supplements can be higher than what’s stated on the labels.
What I found from looking at several samples of hair growth vitamins
There is no shortage of multivitamin and supplement products in the market that claim to promote healthy growth of hair, skin and nails. They also come in a variety of shapes, forms, colours, and dosage. But there is a common theme across all of them:
- They contain mostly, if not all, isolated vitamin and mineral compounds as the primary ingredients.
- These isolated vitamin and mineral compounds are mostly in their synthetic (artificial) versions, which means that they are not from real food sources and are not as beneficial as their natural counterparts.
- Many of the vitamin and mineral compounds are in extremely high dosage. Biotin, especially, is often many times over the recommended daily limits.
- Additives are common across these products, including ingredients such as oil, glycerin, wax, colouring agents, sugar, and preservatives.
Hair growth vitamins marketed for children are no better
I shared in one of my earliest blog posts about using one hair growth vitamin to support Little Claire’s alopecia journey in the very early days. I didn’t make this decision lightly. Instead, I spent plenty of time looking around for alternatives and reviews, and although I had my doubts, I went for it anyway due to not knowing a better option at the time. It was also around the time where Little Claire’s alopecia was at its worst point, so I guess desperation played a role there.
I then updated that same post when we decided to stop taking these supplements and focused on wholesome food sources instead.
This is the back label of the supplement that Little Claire took for a short while. As you can see, the theme is still same between products marketed for adults and those for children: isolated and synthetic vitamins and minerals all across and in amounts over recommended daily limits.
The bottomline about hair growth vitamins for autoimmune Alopecia Areata
When faced with hair loss, it’s easy to be quick to look toward solutions for the hair itself.
Hair growth vitamins would at first glance appear to be a safe, holistic and natural option for most. However, once you have a basic understanding in how autoimmune disorder occurs and how our immune system actually works, you will know that these vitamins don’t have any effect on an inherently complex immune system which requires far too comprehensive nutrients than vitamin pills can offer.
‘Extra Strength Formula’ contains extremely high doses of isolated compounds, especially biotin, and may pose risk of overdose and side effects. It would be misleading to think that the higher the dose, the more effective it must be. In fact, the higher the dose, the higher the risks and side effects might be.
Healthy hair growth is a biological process that does not only involve a few basic nutrients. Instead, it takes our entire body and immune system being in a well nourished, good state of health.
In the case of autoimmune Alopecia Areata, hair loss is certainly not an issue of the hair growth process. Instead, it is an issue with the immune system. Therefore, hair growth vitamins are not helpful and may even be extra, unnecessary burden to your body.
4 reasons why you don’t need to take hair growth vitamins for Alopecia Areata
There are 4 broad reasons to skip hair growth vitamins when you’re looking to build your immune system to overcome autoimmune disorders that cause Alopecia Areata.
1. Isolated vitamins and minerals content is ineffective
Most hair growth vitamins contain isolated vitamins and minerals, meaning they don’t come from wholesome food sources.
When we eat a wholesome fruit or vegetable, we don’t only get several vitamins and minerals from it. Instead, we get hundreds or thousands of other phytochemicals and antioxidants that all work in synergy to benefit our health.
We don’t get the same benefits from consuming single vitamins and minerals that have been isolated from their wholesome food package.
2. Synthetic vitamins and minerals can be a burden for the body
Synthetic vitamins and minerals are relatively cheap to manufacture, hold very stable on the shelf, and its dose can be easily measured. Even though synthetic compounds are chemically identical to their natural counterparts, they are not the same. Our body’s metabolic processes do not respond to synthetic compounds the same way they do to nutrients consumed from wholesome foods.
Packaging wholesome foods as supplements would involve a high scientific and technological expertise and considerable investment, especially in order to produce products that stay fresh and contaminant-free without the use of preservatives. Such products are extremely limited in the market.
3. Risks of overdose and side effects
Consuming isolated vitamins and minerals in amounts many times over recommended daily limits can pose a risk of overdose and side effects.
Biotin, especially, is included in amounts many times over daily limits in these products. You should in fact be cautious about taking synthetic supplements that are over recommended intake.
4. Most hair growth vitamins contain additives and preservatives
Additives like oil, sugar, colouring agents, and preservatives are common in these products, placing extra burden on the body to process.
When you’re trying to build your immune system toward recovery from autoimmune disorders and Alopecia Areata, this extra burden is unnecessary and could be counter productive.
What to eat instead of hair growth vitamins
Instead of isolated, synthetic multivitamins in high doses, consuming a variety of wholesome plant foods is our best bet in order to help nourish the immune system back to a healthy balance.
Why you should eat more wholesome plant foods instead
When we eat a wholesome food, we don’t only consume single isolated nutrients, but a whole range of co-factors, enzymes, phytochemicals and antioxidants, all working together as a package. Synthetically manufactured nutrients simply cannot replicate this.
How we give the immune system the complex nutrients it needs every single day
Although our family has always been on a somewhat healthy and balanced diet, we’ve gotten better and better over time with including even more varieties and colours of fruit and vegetables in our daily diets.
To help achieve this, it starts with being mindful when shopping for food. Pick up a variety of vegetables and fruit and as you shop, and try to include as many colours as you can. At breakfast and snack times, we include a few kinds of fruits and nuts. For lunch and dinners, we make dishes that contain a number of different vegetables, spices and herbs.
A well balanced diet is necessary for everyone in order to maintain good health. But when it come to dealing with autoimmune disorders, it gets a little trickier as we need to give the body way more than what standard healthy diets can offer.
For us personally, we’ve chosen to include a number of Nutritional Immunology formulation products to help with my daughter’ recovery journey.
These are products with wholesome foods that have been formulated to work in synergy with one another, in order to target our immune function and specific areas of our vital body systems. These products include foods that are rare and unique… foods that we cannot get from our daily groceries.
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All information on this website is meant for informational purposes only. It contains my own personal opinions and interpretation of acquired information. The statements on this website have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products and information on this website are not intended to diagnose, cure, treat, or prevent any disease. Readers are advised to do their own research and make decisions in partnership with their health care provider. If you are pregnant, nursing, have a medical condition or are taking any medication, please consult your physician.