The Zinc and Hair Loss Connection
Suffering from hair loss? You might think your hair thinning is due to hypothyroidism, a hormonal imbalance, or even dihydrotestosterone (DHT)… But what you may not know is that hair loss can also be a sign of a nutrient deficiency – specifically, zinc.
Zinc is an essential trace metal our bodies need to regulate hormones and even stave off conditions from infertility to macular degeneration
The curiosity of zinc in the hair loss community is on the rise. Before we get into how much you should consume, let's first discuss what role zinc plays in regards to hair health.
Zinc helps fight against hair loss in four major ways.
- It improves thyroid hormone synthesis.
- It fuels the transcription factors required for hair shaft development.
- It's an anti-inflammatory.
- It helps reduce the hormone DHT(driving factor for genetic hair loss)
1)Hypothyroidism, Zinc, And Hair Loss
Widespread hair loss is often a symptom of low thyroid hormone levels (hypothyroidism). And our thyroids are also in charge of regulating our bodies’ hormones. As a result, hormonal imbalance, hypothyroidism, and hair loss often go hand-in-hand.
Interestingly, studies show that zinc is necessary for thyroid hormone synthesis.
The bottom line: without zinc, your thyroid can’t function properly. And without a properly functioning thyroid, your chances of hormonal imbalances and hair loss increase substantially.
2) Zinc Fuels Transcription Factors Critical For Hair Growth
Transcription factors are sets of proteins that tell our cells which genes to turn on and off. In other words, transcription factors change our cells’ gene expression – telling each cell what to become and which functions to perform.
Interestingly, new research reveals that gene expression might be more critical than we think for disease development. In fact, gene expression might also be the critical factor for the development of hair loss.
Certain transcription factors are required to activate the genes our bodies need to use to develop hair shafts. For instance, the KROX20 transcription factor is essential for the development of a hair shaft. Without the KROX20 transcription factor, hair cannot grow.
Interestingly, KROX20 doesn’t just show up all on its own. It needs to be activated by certain inputs. Specifically, zinc.
KROX20 is what’s known as a zinc-finger transcription factor – meaning that it requires zinc to be activated. And given KROX20’s importance for hair follicle development, it’s in our best interest to avoid a zinc deficiency so that KROX20 can keep doing its job of maintaining our hair.
3)Zinc Is Anti-Inflammatory
One of the key causes of pattern hair loss is chronic inflammation in the scalp.
Chronic inflammation leads to fibrosis (scarring) and calcification of scalp tissues and the blood vessels supporting the hair follicles. The end-result is reduced blood, nutrient, and oxygen supply flow to our hair, which over a series of years, results in hair miniaturization (and eventually hair loss).
One way zinc may prevent hair loss and improve hair growth is by reducing inflammation.
In fact, studies show that chronic zinc deficiency is associated with increased inflammation and the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines — or proteins responsible for sending more inflammatory cells to damaged tissues.
The net: if we’re inflamed and zinc deficient, our bodies are going to overreact to the inflammation. And when it comes to hair loss, this overreaction is something we absolutely want to avoid.
So, keep your zinc levels optimized. Otherwise, you’re setting yourself up for an inflammatory cascade (and potentially a further progression of hair loss).4) Zinc Decreases DHT (Dihydrotestosterone)
Dihydrotestosterone (DHT) is a sex hormone closely linked to pattern hair loss. In fact, DHT is elevated in balding scalp tissues, men who can’t produce any DHT don’t go bald, and men deficient in the enzyme which converts testosterone into DHT never go bald.
And while there’s still debate over whether DHT is the root cause of hair loss – or merely just one of many causes – it goes without saying that if we want to keep our hair, it might be in our best interest to at least balance our scalp tissue DHT levels between balding and non-balding sites.
Enter zinc: a natural and potent DHT inhibitor.
So if you're suffering from hair loss or hair thinning a zinc deficiency may be linked to it, so, before you run and stock up on Zinc supplements…Not so fast…
How To Supplement With Zinc
Zinc is absorbed in the small intestine. And about 20%-40% of the zinc you ingest actually gets absorbed. Once absorbed, the majority of that zinc gets stored in your bones and muscles.
I believe that the best way to take zinc is by naturally incorporating it into your diet.
Getting zinc from natural food sources ensures two important things:
- You make overdosing really hard – since you’re not eating a food concentrate, but rather a real food.
- You also consume zinc’s adjunct nutrients – like selenium (since zinc-containing foods often contain these nutrients as well).
Most meats and seafoods (like oysters) are great sources of zinc. Nuts and lentils might look like great sources of zinc, but the bioavailability of zinc from plant sources is debated. So if you want to maximize your absorption, you’ll probably want to go with animal foods.
Testing Serum Zinc Levels
When looking at any blood work keep in mind there is a medical(the body) range and then there is a trichological (hair) range. Having “normal” results are too vague when dealing with hair loss you must know your numbers.
First you should test your Zinc serum levels, medical normal blood serum zinc levels range from 66-144 mcg/dl, however your hair level should range between 90-150 mcg/dl
There's a risk of over consuming Zinc, so you want to safely supplement.
This is important: don't overdose on zinc! Doing so might deplete your copper stores and even cause difficult-to-reverse neurological problems.
I'm not a doctor, so I can't give you medical advice or tell you what's going to work for you. But I can convey educational information…
The good news is a little zinc goes a long way, typically 15-30 mg per day is sufficient, however…
you're going to need to experiment. If you're hypothyroid and suffering from hair loss, you'll probably benefit from relatively higher doses of zinc. If you're inactive and have a small body frame you probably don't need as much zinc.
Above all else, if you do high doses of zinc, you'll probably need to start supplementing (or at least consuming) more of other trace elements... at least after a certain amount of time.
Once you've supplemented with zinc for a month or two, you're going to want to consider also adding in copper to the mix. This will protect against a copper deficiency, which can be just as problematic as a zinc deficiency (if left unchecked).
Are you at risk?
There's a lot of debate around specialty diets such as vegan and vegetarian being beneficial, but it turns out limiting yourself from animal based foods increases your risk of deficiencies, zinc being one of them. Studies show compared to omnivores, vegans and vegetarians have significantly lower zinc levels.
Another shocker 90% of athletes may be zinc deficient too. But WHY? Their exercise habits cause their body to require far more nutrients than inactive individuals.
The bottom line: if we want to get zinc levels back to optimal, supplementation might be necessary.
So we have to do it safely!
Why? Because some zinc supplements contain high levels of cadmium - a metal that we don't want to over-consume -- especially for our hair health.
In addition, long-term zinc supplementation can also deplete other essential trace elements -- like copper -- from our bodies. This can lead to neurological impairments and even worsen hair loss. So you've got to be careful with zinc...
Absorption Matters! Avoid These Foods While Supplementing
Zinc supplementation is only worth it if you're actually absorbing the zinc you ingest. With that in mind, here are a list of things that inhibit or decrease zinc absorption:
- Caffeine (from coffee or tea)
- Phytic acid (from legumes or whole grains)
- Alcohol (in fact, alcoholics are at a high risk for zinc deficiency)
- Calcium (especially if taken in high doses - for instance, from dairy)
So avoid the coffee, booze, grains, and glasses of milk for a few hours before and after taking a zinc supplement. Better yet, consider cutting these things out of your diet for a while. Your health and your hair will thank you.
Summary: Zinc for Hair loss
Zinc is an essential trace element that supports the thyroid and is critical for over 300 enzymatic processes inside our bodies. It’s also needed for thyroid hormone synthesis, quelling inflammation, and even decreasing the conversion of testosterone into DHT. In fact, zinc is also necessary for the expression of transcription factors that control hair shaft development and maintain hair growth. All of these mechanisms help support our hair!
Case studies have shown that zinc supplementation can improve hypothyroidism and even lead to complete hair recovery in those who are unresponsive to thyroid medications and suffering from suppressed thyroid function.
Athletes, vegans, and vegetarians are at the highest risk for zinc deficiencies. But the reality is that anyone suffering from hair loss might benefit from increasing their consumption of zinc — either through natural foods, or a zinc supplement.
But if you’re going to supplement, you have to do it safely! Stay smart, get informed, and don’t buy the first zinc supplement you find online or in the grocery store. Get you zinc levels checked first.
Hope this helps, Happy Hair.