Of the many trace elements, zinc is the one mineral that the body cannot produce by itself. While it can be obtained by consuming fish and meat, there are times when it may not be enough. And when zinc deficiency occurs, hair loss – among many other symptoms – could be the result.
Why Zinc is Important for the Body
More than just promoting hair health, zinc is also vital for the following processes:
Though deficiency is uncommon, it can occur. As has been mentioned, a lack of zinc in the body can lead to hair loss, among many other symptoms. It can also result in slow growth, dry and rough skin, irritability, poor sense of taste/smell, loss of appetite, nausea, and diarrhea, to name a few.
In some cases, low levels of zinc can worsen depression, sickle disease, even HIV. It may affect male infertility as well.
Zinc Deficiency and Hair Health
Hair loss is a well-known sign of zinc deficiency, and such was seen in various conditions. Take the study of Kil et al., which explored the zinc and copper levels in people with hair loss conditions. The research involved participants suffering from alopecia areata, an autoimmune condition that results in unpredictable hair loss. It also included subjects suffering from Telogen Effluvium, a disorder that results in temporary hair loss.
Results showed that the people who suffered from the above-mentioned conditions demonstrated lower levels of zinc, compared to those from the 'healthy' group. With these findings, the researchers believe that zinc metabolism disturbances may play a vital role in hair loss.
Low Zinc Levels May Lead to More Severe Hair Loss
Research shows that the lower your zinc levels are, the longer and more severe your hair loss problem ought to be. It might even contribute to treatment failure, as seen in the study of Abdel Fattah et al.
The researchers explored the serum levels of 100 patients diagnosed with alopecia areata. Results showed that zinc levels were inversely related to the duration and severity of the condition. To wit, those with lower zinc levels had worse and lengthier cases of alopecia areata. They were more likely to be resistant to traditional treatment as well.
With that being said, the researchers recommend zinc supplementation as it may help limit the duration and seriousness of the hair loss. Zinc may even help the scalp become ‘more responsive’ to other hair loss therapies as well.
Lack of Zinc in the Body May Lead to Inflammatory Hair Loss
According to Prasad, low levels of zinc can bring about systemic inflammation, a precursor of most diseases. This may bring about certain inflammatory hair loss conditions, such as cicatricial alopecia. This disorder, which is also known as scarring alopecia, is brought about by inflammation that destroys the hair follicles. Since scars take the place of normal hair follicles, new strands fail to grow.
Another hair loss condition that may result from systemic inflammation is folliculitis decalvans or the inflammation of the follicles. As inflammation of the hair follicles occurs, swelling and redness take place. Sadly, this often results in irreversible hair loss.
Since zinc deficiency plays a role in systemic inflammation, supplementation could be recommended. This may help curb the onset of inflammatory hair loss and other related conditions.
Zinc Promotes Better Immunity, and therefore, Better Hair
Zinc is widely known for its ability to improve immune function. It can help shield you from common viral conditions such as the colds and flu.
When your zinc levels are down, you may succumb to infection (and stress too). Unfortunately, these are just some of the triggers that can prod the body to attack its own cells. This action, known as an autoimmune response, can wreak havoc in many parts of the body, including the hair follicles. Such can result in alopecia areata and other immune-related hair loss disorders.
With that being said, a good way to prevent an autoimmune response is to keep your body safe from infections and too much stress. One way to do so is to take zinc supplements, which can help keep the said triggers at bay.
Zinc’s Antioxidant Properties May Help the Hair as Well
Free radicals, which can be obtained from constant UV exposure, smoking, and pollution, can harm the cells in the body. They can damage the hair structure, thereby resulting in the growth of thinner, weaker hair.
In order to fight free radicals, the consumption of antioxidants is recommended. Zinc, as with other vitamins, is a good antioxidant, according to another study by Prasad. As it fights its way through oxidative stress, zinc may help maintain the integrity of the hair strands. Such may result in the growth of thicker, stronger hair.
There is no formal, established dose for zinc supplementation in people with hair loss problems. The dosage used today usually depends on recognized clinical trials.
One of the common references is the study of Park et al., where 9 out of 15 subjects with Alopecia Areata were supplemented with zinc. Results showed that 50 mg zinc – taken for 12 weeks - may be able to promote hair growth in affected individuals.
Since this dose is a little over the recommended dietary allowance of at least 8 mg in females and 11 mg in males, you need to be on the lookout for side effects. They include a metallic taste in the mouth, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
It is important to note that zinc supplements often contain cadmium, a type of metal. This is because both elements naturally occur together. In excessive amounts, zinc supplementation can lead to a build-up of cadmium. In the long run, this can be harmful to the kidney. As such, it is best to take a supplement that contains zinc gluconate, as this has the lowest amount of cadmium out of all the other forms of zinc.
Zinc, an essential trace element, is responsible for several bodily functions. A deficiency in zinc intake can lead to a variety of problems, such as hair loss. Studies show that low levels of zinc may prolong and worsen the case of hair loss. It may even render one resistant to the usual treatments as well. With that being said, zinc supplementation is advisable for people who suffer from common hair loss conditions.