For years, dermatologists have quietly prescribed a B vitamin — biotin — for hair loss, despite a lack of studies showing its benefit.
Why? Because it works.
Biotin is used primarily for alopecia (hair loss) in men or women. “It improves hair growth and helps with inflammation. The hair follicle, the skin and the nails all benefit,” says Dr. Bergfeld.
Hair loss has multiple causes, many of them systemic. “If your hair is falling out at the roots, often something is going wrong in your body or in your life situation,” she says. For example, great stress can cause hair loss.
But one of the most common causes of hair loss may surprise you — diet. “So many diets today are restricted — they’re mainly avoidance diets — and there is great variation in what’s considered healthy,” says Dr. Bergfeld.
“When we look at what our patients eat, we find they are often low in protein and essential vitamins. Also, you need a little carbohydrate to make hormones, and your brain needs fat.”
Dr. Bergfeld says dermatologists play detective when seeking the cause of hair loss. They start with a thorough physical exam. Then they look at your personal medical history and your family history.
They consider not just your diet, but your exercise habits as well. Then they review your medications, because some can cause hair loss.
The most common medical conditions linked to hair loss are endocrine disorders. This includes problems with your pituitary, parathyroid or adrenal glands, or your ovaries or testes. “For example, menopausal women who bleed excessively may be losing iron. Anemia causes hair loss,” says Dr. Bergfeld.
Bariatric procedures also call for supplementation, as a smaller gut can’t absorb as many nutrients. “Anything that disrupts your GI tract can affect hair growth. Once you lose 20 pounds, you start shedding hair,” says Dr. Bergfeld.
For biotin supplementation, Cleveland Clinic dermatologists favor a mega-B vitamin combination that includes:
“Occasionally, the mega B-vitamin combination gives some patients minor gastric trouble, but switching them to biotin alone relieves it,” Dr. Bergfeld notes.
And if you can’t find the mega B-vitamin combination, you can buy biotin, zinc and vitamin C separately, she says.