Zinc and Healthy Hair
Hair thinning or suffered from a bout of sudden hair loss? Zinc supplements will fix it, that’s according to many nutritionists at least. Yet a stack of studies show that popping too many zinc tablets could trigger hair loss. So what’s the deal?
Zinc and Hair Loss
Zinc plays many roles in the body: helping build cells, keeping hormones in check, assisting with the absorption of various other vitamins and giving the body a helping hand with protein use. All of these actions are essential for hair growth and maintenance.
Yet, many people fear zinc will raise levels of the hair munching hormone DHT. Yes, zinc does boost testosterone levels, which is often linked with increases in DHT levels, but it actually appears to limit DHT production (1). Sadly zinc will have a limited effect if you intend to used it as DHT blocker. The real hair benefit is by regulating hormone levels:
“We conclude that zinc may play an important role in modulating serum testosterone levels in normal men.” (2)
If you can keep hormones balanced then you can reduce the chances of hair loss and keep DHT levels in check.
There are other theories knocking around, such as zinc deficiency causes the increase in a chemical messenger called Tumor Necrosis Factor alpha (TNF-a). TNF-a causes the immune system to attack healthy tissues throughout the body, including hair. Some studies suggest that it is more deadly to hair than DHT. I could go on with other possible theories, but one thing is clear — zinc is a significant piece of the hair loss puzzle.
So, take a load of zinc everyday and there’s no need to worry, right? If only. I was surprised to learn that…
High doses of oral zinc significantly inhibit hair growth by retardation of anagen development. However, oral zinc also significantly retards and prolongs spontaneous, apoptosis-driven HF regression (catagen). Oral zinc can also retard, but not prevent, the onset of CIA in mice. Interestingly, Zn(2+) treatment of cyclophosphamide-damaged HFs also significantly accelerates the re-growth of normally pigmented hair shafts, which reflects a promotion of HF recovery. However, if given for a more extended time period, zinc actually retards hair re-growth. (3)
What’s more is excess zinc can lead to a deficiency in other vital minerals most notably copper, magnesium, iron and manganese. This too could be detrimental to your hair. For example, a lack of copper can prevent new blood vessels being formed, this will cause damage the scalp and limit hair growth.
The bottom line is too little zinc and you lose hair, too much zinc and …you guessed it… you lose hair. Although, you could probably get by on minimal zinc intake without it affecting you hair too much:
There is no evidence to support the popular view that low serum zinc concentrations cause hair loss. (4)
But I would much prefer to get optimal amounts of all nutrients — they are need for more than just hair growth. The key, as with most things in life, is getting the balance.
O Zinc, Where Art Thou?
The food sources richest in zinc include: oysters, red meats, poultry, liver, dried brewers yeast, wheat germ, pumpkin seeds, mussels, shrimps, egg yolks, nuts and various soy products. But even with the best food sources the body only absorbs around thirty percent of the zinc present. So how do you make sure you get ample zinc?
Supplementation is the obvious solution. There are lots of types of zinc, the most popular being zinc sulfate, which ironically is not very easily absorbed either. Smarter choices include zinc acetate, zinc gluconate, zinc arginate, zinc picolinate, zinc aspartate, zinc citrate and last but not least, my personal choice ZMA. ZMA is a combination of zinc monomethionine, magnesium aspartate and vitamin b-6 and is the most easily absorbed type of zinc that I know of.
Enough is Enough
The Recommended Daily Amount (RDA) of zinc is 11mg. Whilst RDA’s often err on the side of caution, for zinc levels at least I believe this amount is spot on for the average person. Dr. Paul Clayton in his excellent “Health Defence” book recommends 10mg a day of zinc, and this is for maximal “slow ageing and optimum health” benefits. There are generally no benefits, health or hair wise of going above this level. But, if you drink or smoke a lot, are suffering from stress, or do rigorous exercise then you will increase you body’s demand for zinc. During times like these you can quite happily double this amount to 20mg for a few weeks (Dr. Clayton states a safe upper limit of 25mg a day).
The Battle for Zinc Absorption
Zinc battles with calcium for absorption which means taking both at the same time isn’t the brightest idea as calcium will hinder the uptake of zinc (5). I was baffled when I wondered into the health shop last month, I noticed a bottle of a zinc supplement with calcium in it — check the label! Of course this also means you shouldn’t take zinc with foods high in calcium, such as milk or cheese. Also don’t take zinc (or any other mineral for that matter) with fibrous food, else it will bind to the fibre and you will end up flushing you supplements down the toilet. Avoiding tea or coffee for an hour or two prior to taking any zinc supplement is a good idea too as this can also stop absorption.
The best time to take zinc is right before bed time with just water. I’ve found that taking zinc before bed makes sleep deeper and dreams more vivid, which is a nice side effect. Granted you won’t wake up with fresh hair suddenly flooding your scalp but it will help keep what hair you do have left as healthy as possible.
1. Stamatiadis D, Bulteau-Portois MC, Mowszowicz I. Inhibition of 5 alpha-reductase activity in human skin by zinc and azalaic acid. Br J Dermat; 119:627632,1988
2. Volume 12, Issue 5, May 1996, Pages 344-348
3. Experientia. 1986 May 15;42(5):551-3. Mulhern SA, Stroube WB Jr, Jacobs RM.
4. Clinical & Experimental Dermatology, Volume 27, Number 5, July 2002, pp. 400-408(9)
5. J Nutr Biochem. 2001 Feb;12(2):66-72.
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