Americans spend a lot of money on supplements and other products they hope will coax the return of a thick and luxurious mane. The question is: Do any of these products work? A study published on Wednesday in JAMA Dermatology suggests certain ones might help improve a little.
A re-analysis of 30 earlier studies suggests that some nutritional supplements, ranging from pumpkin seeds to capsaicin, the component that gives hot peppers their heat, may help spark the growth of new strands. The study looked at both products composed of a single substance and those that blended a host of ingredients, such as biotin, marine collagen and antioxidants.
Natural hair loss supplements: What the study found
“The main thing I would take from this study is that while it’s not a green light for all nutritional supplements, if a person is interested in these supplements, it shows that we do have some data to support their use,” Dr. Arash Mostaghimi, study co-author and director of inpatient consultation in the department of dermatology at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, tells TODAY.com.
Mostaghimi and his colleagues decided to look into supplements because a lot of patients who come to him with hair loss are interested in them. “The question for us was: What kind of data can we put together to serve as a guide for physicians and potentially for their patients?” he explains.
Supplements are appealing precisely because “there are not many good treatments for hair loss,” Mostaghimi says. “For those who want to try supplements, this can be a starting point.”
"Usually (the risks of these nutritional supplements) are fairly benign with gastrointestinal distress and rash as possible side effects," he adds.
It’s estimated that Americans spend some $3.9 billion on hair loss treatments, none of which are guaranteed to regrow hair in all people who use them. Mostaghimi and his colleagues decided to try to determine which of the products claiming to restore at least some of a user’s former crowning glory may actually do so.
The researchers scoured the medical literature for studies that had evaluated the effectiveness of the products. Out of an initial 6,347 studies, Mostaghimi and his colleagues narrowed the list down to 30, which included 17 randomized clinical trials, 11 clinical studies and two case series.
Which natural hair loss supplements actually work?
Some of the branded potions that appeared to have a positive impact in some people were:
Similarly supplements with the following ingredients offered some improvement in some people:
Pumpkin seed oil
Omega 3 with antioxidants
Omega 6 with antioxidants
Based on the information in the studies, it’s not possible to say just how effective the supplements are, Mostaghimi says.
“The studies looked at different types of hair loss,” he adds. “While some had objective measures, they weren’t all the same. Some counted hairs. Some measured hair thickness. Others didn’t have a specific measure.”
Also, Mostaghimi says, you have to take into account that “nearly all of the studies were sponsored by the companies selling these agents. So there aren’t a lot of negative studies out there.”
Mostaghimi and his colleagues concluded that adverse effects from the supplements they evaluated were rare and mild. So, at least people who want to experiment with won’t have to worry about hurting themselves.
Trying natural hair loss supplements? What to know
Dr. Patrick Brunner, associate professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, commends the authors for their careful work.
“It’s very valuable to systematically put together the data on nutritional supplements for treating hair loss,” Brunner tells TODAY.com. “But this does need to be read with caution since the abstract may be promising a little more than the paper delivers. If you compare the supplements to (Food and Drug Administration)-approved drugs, they are all so much weaker.”
Moreover, Brunner says, many of the studies had small effects and small sample sizes. While those studies report improvement, “that doesn’t mean there were cosmetically or visibly improved outcomes.”
The fact that the researchers had to go through thousands of studies to find just 30 that met their requirements says something about the state of research on this topic, Brunner says.
Dr. Olga Bunimovich, assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine tells TODAY.com that she was disappointed that the study did not separate the different types of hair loss, since each requires a different type of therapy.
Nonetheless, she sometimes recommends some supplements to patients. For example, pumpkin seed oil can stand in for finasteride for patients who don’t want to take a prescription medication since the two work in similar ways, she says.
If you're considering trying biotin, which is sometimes suggested to treat hair loss, know that it won’t cause more strands of hair to sprout, Bunimovich says. It might, however, make the individual strands thicker, and thereby improve overall appearance.
Another supplement Bunimovich recommends occasionally is biosil. “It’s not in the study, but I think it’s super well tolerated and it’s great for hair, skin, nails and joints,” she said. “My patients frequently take it twice a day.”
This article was originally published on TODAY.com