in JAMA Dermatology in November 2022.
Drake and colleagues evaluated the safety and efficacy of nutritional supplements for treating hair loss. In a systematic database review from inception to Oct. 20, 2021, they evaluated and compiled the findings of all dietary and nutritional interventions for treatment of hair loss among individuals without a known baseline nutritional deficiency. Thirty articles were included, including 17 randomized clinical trials, 11 clinical trials, and 2 case series.
They found the highest-quality evidence showing the most potential benefit were for 12 of the 20 nutritional interventions in their review: Pumpkin seed oil capsules, omega-3 and -6 combined with antioxidants, tocotrienol, Pantogar, capsaicin and isoflavone, Viviscal (multiple formulations), Nourkrin, Nutrafol, apple nutraceutical, Lambdapil, total glucosides of paeony and compound glycyrrhizin tablets, and zinc. Vitamin D3, kimchi and cheonggukjang, and Forti5 had lower-quality evidence for disease course improvement. Adverse effects associated with the supplements were described as mild and rare.
In practice, for patients with nonscarring alopecia, I typically check screening labs for hair loss, in addition to the clinical exam, before starting treatment (including supplements), as addressing the underlying reason, if found, is always paramount. These labs are best performed when the patient is not taking biotin, as biotin has been shown numerous times to potentially be associated with endocrine lab abnormalities, most commonly thyroid-stimulating hormone, especially at higher doses, as well as troponin levels. Some over-the-counter hair supplements will contain much higher doses than the recommended 30 micrograms per day.
Separately, if ferritin levels are within normal range, but below 50 mcg/L, supplementation with Slow Fe or another slow-release iron supplement may also result in improved hair growth. Ferritin levels are typically rechecked 6 months after supplementation to see if levels of 50 mcg/L or above have been achieved.
Another point to consider before beginning supplementation is to educate patients about potential effects of supplementation, including increased hair growth in other areas besides the scalp. For some patients who are self-conscious about potential hirsutism, this could be an issue, whereas for others, this risk does not outweigh the benefit. Unwanted hair growth, should it occur, may also be addressed with hair removal methods including shaving, waxing, plucking, threading, depilatories, prescription eflornithine cream (Vaniqa), or laser hair removal if desired.
Our armamentarium for treating hair loss includes: addressing underlying systemic causes; topical treatments including topical minoxidil; oral supplements; platelet-rich plasma injections; prescription oral medications including finasteride in men or postmenopausal women or off-label oral minoxidil; and hair transplant surgery if warranted. Having this thorough review of the most common hair supplements currently available is extremely helpful and valuable in our specialty.
Dr. Wesley and Lily Talakoub, MD, are cocontributors to this column. Dr. Wesley practices dermatology in Beverly Hills, Calif. Dr. Talakoub is in private practice in McLean, Va. Write to them at email@example.com. This month’s column is by Dr. Wesley. She had no relevant disclosures.