Vitamin D and hair loss

Published on March 1, 2023
Updated on March 1, 2023
'Vitamin D' written on a small blackboard surrounded by milk, cheese, butter, mushrooms, salmon, eggs, and green peas.
Like with other essential nutrients, vitamin D deficiencies can cause and exacerbate hair loss.

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble essential nutrient that’s been associated with multiple types of hair loss. This vitamin, which is usually produced by skin cells when they’re exposed to sun or UV light, influences the hair growth cycle. This means that vitamin D deficiencies can both cause and worsen certain forms of hair loss.

Fixing vitamin D-related hair loss needs to be done through supplementation. Just be aware that supplements alone won’t stop hair loss for most people. You’ll probably need to start using a hair loss treatment or medication, too.

What does vitamin D do in the body?

One of the main functions of vitamin D is to help your body absorb calcium. According to the National Institutes of Health, calcium and vitamin D work together to strengthen your bones and prevent bone diseases, like osteoporosis. Vitamin D also helps the body with a number of other functions, like helping your muscles move, nerves function, and your immune system protects your body from bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens.

Vitamin D is important for hair health as it directly influences the hair growth cycle. According to a study in the Cutis journal, this nutrient is thought to be particularly important in promoting the growth stage (known as the anagen phase) of the hair growth cycle. When vitamin D deficiency occurs, it can trigger hair loss and potentially exacerbate hair loss and regrowth problems.

“Vitamin D and its receptor are intimately involved in hair growth.”

- Joe Graedon, M.S. and Teresa Graedon, Ph.D

as published in the , Houston Chronicle

People generally get vitamin D from sunlight or from foods that contain Vitamin D. However, you can also obtain vitamin D from nutrient supplements. 

If you’re not certain if you’re getting enough vitamin D, a doctor will likely do a blood test to determine the levels of this nutrient in your body. The National Institutes of Health say that a normal vitamin D level is between 50 to 75 nanomoles per liter. Levels of less than 30 nanomoles per liter are indicative of a deficiency that can lead to health problems. Levels around 125-150 nanomoles per liter or higher are likely to lead to vitamin D toxicity. 

Can vitamin D deficiency cause hair loss?

Vitamin D deficiency can cause or worsen several different types of hair loss. According to the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, vitamin D deficiency hair loss has been associated with:

  • Alopecia areata, an autoimmune form of hair loss that can cause circular patches of hair to fall out, or may result in total baldness
  • Androgenic alopecia, commonly known as pattern hair loss
  • Central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia, a form of scarring hair loss
  • Lichen planopilaris, another type of scarring hair loss
  • Telogen effluvium, commonly known as stress-related hair loss 

You should know that multiple nutrient deficiencies have been linked to these different types of hair loss. And importantly, vitamin D deficiency isn’t usually the sole cause of hair loss. For example, alopecia areata is mainly caused by an overactive immune response, causing your immune system to attack your body’s hair follicles. And androgenic alopecia, the most common cause of hair loss, is known to be primarily caused by a mixture of genetic and hormonal factors.

Other vitamin D deficiency problems

According to the National Institutes of Health, vitamin D deficiency causes a number of other health issues. This nutrient deficiency can be linked to bone problems like rickets, osteoporosis, and osteomalacia. 

Vitamin D deficiency symptoms may not be noticeable until they become serious. Severe rickets and osteomalacia can cause issues such as muscle pain and spasms, problems with balance, bone deformities, dental abnormalities, seizures, cardiac arrhythmias, and cardiomyopathy (heart muscle disease).

How much vitamin D per day should you take?

According to the National Institutes of Health, the recommended dietary allowance for vitamin D is 15 micrograms (or 600 international units) per day. However, the recommended daily allowance for older adults (over 70) is slightly higher, at 20 micrograms (800 international units) per day.  

You can obtain vitamin D from a number of sources, including fortified milk, fortified soymilk, fortified cereals, fish, meat, and eggs. However, foods high in vitamin D are somewhat limited. Vitamin D-rich foods include:

  • Trout
  • Salmon
  • Mushrooms (exposed to UV light)
  • Cod liver oil

These foods contain from 46 to 170 percent of your recommended daily dose of vitamin D. If you consume these types of foods on a daily basis or even every other day, you’re likely getting enough vitamin D from the foods you eat

Many other foods contain vitamin D, but in much lower amounts. These include food products like:

  • Fortified milk 
  • Fortified soy milk and other plant-based milk products
  • Cheese
  • Fortified cereal
  • Eggs
  • Sardines
  • Tuna
  • Chicken
  • Beef liver
  • Mushrooms that haven’t been exposed to UV light

Each serving of these foods contains between 1 and 15 percent of your recommended daily dose of vitamin D. Fortified milk and fortified plant-based milk products contain the most vitamin D out of all of these products.

Vitamin D and the sun

Don’t forget that you can also get vitamin D from the sun. A study in the Frontiers in Nutrition journal reported that moderate daily sun exposure (about 30 minutes every day) can help prevent nutrient deficiencies in people not consuming enough vitamin D products.

Sun exposure can significantly make up for deficiencies in subjects who consume insufficient dietary Vitamin D.

- Shou-En Wu, M.D. and Wei-Liang Chen M.D., Ph.D.

as published in , Frontiers in Nutrition

You should know that your ability to get enough vitamin D from the sun depends on a few factors, including the color of your skin and the UV exposure you can get where you live. And the exact amount of sun you need will vary based on the time of year. For example, a person living in Miami or San Diego is more likely to be able to get their vitamin D needs met through sun exposure than someone living in Chicago or Alaska. 

According to Australia’s Cancer Council, just spending a few minutes outside each day on sunny summer days can help you get the vitamin D you need. And the UK’s National Health Service agrees, saying that most people can get enough vitamin D from the sun between the months of April and September. But if you live in a place with limited daylight or long winters, vitamin D supplements may be something you might want to consider.

Vitamin D supplements

If you don’t like eating vitamin D-rich foods or you think you’re not getting enough vitamin D, you can also take a vitamin D supplement. These supplements are typically made from sheep’s wool, yeast, and lichen (which means that vegan and non-vegan alternatives are available). 

Supplements are particularly helpful for people who have a higher risk of vitamin D deficiency, such as individuals who:

  • Have naturally darker skin
  • Cover their skin for religious or cultural reasons
  • Primarily live indoors (like some elderly people or those with chronic illnesses)
  • Live in a place where sunlight is minimal or there are few daylight hours
  • Have conditions that lead to nutrient absorption issues
  • Need to avoid sun exposure due to skin cancer risk or previous skin cancer

Some people may also want to consider supplementing their vitamin D in an alternative way: using a sunlamp. ​​A study in the journal Photodermatology, Photoimmunology, and Photomedicine found that UV lamps can also help people with vitamin D deficiencies. They’re particularly good for people who have malabsorption issues caused by conditions like Crohn’s disease or cystic fibrosis.

Can you take too much vitamin D?

It’s possible to take too much vitamin D if you’re taking supplements. You can’t overdose on vitamin D from the sun or UV lamps, though, because your skin can only synthesize a limited amount.

If you take too much vitamin D over a long period of time, it can cause excess calcium to build up in your body. Excess calcium can actually be bad for your bones and may even cause heart and kidney damage. It can also increase your chance of developing kidney stones and neuropsychiatric problems. 

The National Institutes of Health and UK’s National Health Service say that vitamin D should be limited to 100 micrograms per day (4,000 international units) for all adults. Signs and symptoms of vitamin D toxicity are likely to occur after repeated daily consumption exceeding 250 micrograms per day (10,000 international units). 

Can too much vitamin D cause hair loss?

Research has yet to show that too much vitamin D can cause hair loss. You’re more likely to experience symptoms like nausea, vomiting, muscle weakness, excessive thirst, and frequent urination. As toxicity gets worse, you’re also likely to experience loss of appetite, bone pain, and kidney stones.

How to stop hair loss

If you’ve already started taking supplements to resolve a nutrient deficiency, you’re on the right track to resolving hair loss. But most people experiencing hair loss symptoms also need to start using a hair loss treatment or medication. 

According to StatPearls Publishing, people with pattern hair loss have multiple FDA-approved options available that can help stop symptoms and improve regrowth. If you have androgenic alopecia, FDA-approved options you can choose from include minoxidil, finasteride, and low-level laser therapy treatments.

Minoxidil, a topical hair loss treatment, helps increase blood flow to the scalp and hair follicles. This medication is particularly good for people with vitamin deficiencies as the increased blood flow allows for more nutrients and oxygen to reach follicles, which in turn allows for stronger, healthier hair to grow. The 5 percent solution is thought to be most effective for men.

Low-level laser therapy works a lot like minoxidil, stimulating hair follicles and increasing blood flow at the scalp. But instead of applying a topical solution to your scalp, you’re putting a laser hair therapy device, like a cap or helmet, on your head or running a handheld device, like a comb or headband over your scalp.

Finasteride, a pill you take once a day, is a hormone blocker. It helps stop hair follicles from shrinking and producing thin, weak hairs. 

If you’re experiencing a different type of hair loss, like alopecia areata or a type of scarring alopecia, a doctor will need to prescribe you medication to treat your symptoms. Sometimes minoxidil is used off-label to treat these types of hair loss. But steroidal medications are much more commonly prescribed.

Does vitamin D stop hair loss?

Low levels of vitamin D have been associated with multiple types of hair loss. However, hair loss tends to have multiple causes. It’s rare for vitamin D supplements on their own to help resolve hair loss.  

If you know you’re not getting enough vitamin D, you may want to take supplements. For most people, a daily supplement containing 10 to 50 micrograms of vitamin D is adequate. If your deficiency is particularly serious, a doctor may start you on a high dose of vitamin D supplements for a short period. This will be followed by a lower dose of supplements for several months or until your vitamin D levels get back to normal. Since vitamin D affects the hair growth cycle, you shouldn’t expect to see any improvements in hair regrowth for at least a few months.  

Most people experiencing hair loss tend to have the most common form of hair loss: androgenic alopecia. If you have pattern hair loss, you may also have a vitamin D deficiency. While increasing vitamin D levels will help improve hair health, you’ll also need to use a hair loss treatment like minoxidil or low-level laser therapy in order to stop losing hair. These FDA-approved hair loss treatments will help you regrow hair and prevent your hair loss from getting any worse.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

HAIR LOSS

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