It shouldn’t be surprising to realize that your diet, and the nutrients you get, can have a significant impact on your hair. Complete nutrition is incredibly important for maintaining good hair.
Vitamins, important micronutrients you need, but only in small amounts and concentrations, are a big part of your overall nutrition. Macronutrients, like fats, proteins, and carbs, may be the primary calorie and energy drivers, but micronutrients keep your cells healthy and functioning properly.
- What Is Vitamin B12
- How B12 Impacts your Hair
- Presentation of B12 Related Hair Loss
- The Science
- Risk Factors and Getting Tested
- Treatments for Vitamin B12 Deficiency
- How Will You Know If It’s Working?
What Is Vitamin B12
Also known as cobalamin, vitamin b12 is one of the essential vitamins.
It is a water-soluble vitamin, which usually means that excess levels of the vitamin would be flushed by your kidneys over the course of a day.
Vitamin B12 is a slight exception to that rule. While it is a water-soluble vitamin, both your kidneys and your liver store a small amount of the vitamin. They can store B12 for years at a time, which is part of why it can take so long for b12 deficiency to develop.
B12 is a vitamin primarily produced by bacteria. While at one point it would have been possible to get a significant amount of B12 from grains and vegetables, modern agricultural practices have made it incredibly difficult for plants to get a significant amount of B12 from the soil.
That means that the best sources for vitamin B are animal proteins, dairy, eggs, and some vitamin b12 fortified grains. Some plant-based kinds of milk may also have vitamin B12, either naturally or from fortification.
How B12 Impacts your Hair
The direct connection between B12 and hair is not fully understood. However, we do know that B12 is used in every single cell in your body.
B12 is important for circulatory function. Without B12 your body won’t be able to produce as many healthy red blood cells, which can lead to pernicious anemia and other complications of the deficiency.
Since proper circulation is key to healthy hair growth, and it’s easy for your hair follicles not to get enough oxygen and other nutrients if you are anemic, this is one possible connection.
But B12 is also important in cell division. Since your hair follicle bulb, the bottom of the follicle, is one of the most rapidly dividing cell types in your body, this is another possible connection.
The rapid division from your hair follicles is one of the reasons most people experience hair loss if they undergo chemo. Since chemo targets rapidly dividing cells, hair cells are among the first affected by the treatment.
It makes sense that a vitamin deficiency affecting cell division would have a significant impact on hair follicle cell division as well.
Other important functions of vitamin B12 are neurological function, both in the nerves through your body and in your brain, metabolic function, and mental health and energy levels.
One common sign of vitamin b12 deficiency is chronic fatigue and listlessness, especially if combined with depression, anxiety, anemia, or tingling sensations in your fingers and toes.
While it’s less well understood whether those other functions of B12 have a direct impact on hair growth or hair loss, it’s still clear that this is an important vitamin for your hair.
Presentation of B12 Related Hair Loss
One of the first signs that you should consider vitamin B12 as a possible culprit of your hair loss, is if your hair loss doesn’t seem to follow a standard hair loss pattern.
To determine whether your hairloss matches a specific pattern look at the Norwood scale for men, or the Ludwig or Savin scales for women.
Another common form of hair loss that isn’t represented on either scale, but isn’t likely to be caused by a vitamin deficiency, is traction alopecia. Traction alopecia is usually the result of harsh styling methods or constant tight hairstyles.
If you notice that your hair loss is concentrated on the edges of your hair, or in the parts of your style, it’s likely that you’re experiencing traction alopecia. Fortunately, if you catch it early, this form of hair loss is reversible. Consult a dermatologist or stylist for hairstyle and routine changes to restore your hair.
But if none of what we just talked about sounds like you, it’s possible that an underlying medical condition or vitamin deficiency may be at play.
Note: If your hair loss is sudden, extreme, very patchy, or involves body hair as well as the hair on your head, that is cause for immediate concern.
Make an appointment with your doctor to determine what is causing your hair loss right away, because those types of hair loss are usually the result of an underlying medical condition.
A common sign of a vitamin deficiency being at the bottom of your hair loss is if you get what’s called diffuse hair loss. Diffuse hair loss is more common in women, and in women may be a normal presentation of hair loss.
But in men, diffuse hair loss is rare. Diffuse hair loss means that your hair loss is mostly even across your whole head. Some places may see more intense hair loss than others, especially at the top of your forehead, but usually, no one location thins completely without the rest of your hair.
If you notice abnormal hair loss patterns that aren’t diffuse, but also don’t match androgenic alopecia’s typical patterns from above, like hair loss concentrated on the sides or the back of your head instead of the top, that can also be a good indicator that your hair loss isn’t genetic.
Even genetic hair loss, that does match typical hair loss patterns, can be aggravated or triggered by stress and nutritional deficiencies. So even if you have male pattern baldness, taking a B12 supplement may help slow or reverse your hair loss.
We’ve already mentioned that scientific research has yet to clearly connected vitamin b12 deficiency with hair loss, but we can tell you what we do know about vitamin B12 deficiency and hair.
Correlation or Causation?
We do know that there is a correlation between hair loss and vitamin B12 deficiency. It’s particularly common for there to be a correlation between these two conditions if the hair loss is diffuse, or otherwise fails to follow the common pattern of androgenic alopecia (male or female pattern baldness).
We can’t say that correlation is the same as causation, but it’s certainly an area worth further exploration.
B12 Deficiency and Pre-Mature Graying
One connection between B12 deficiency and hair health that is clearly defined is the connection to premature graying.
While there are other causes of pre-mature gray hair, so silvery locks are not a definitive symptom of B12 deficiency, B12 deficiency can cause graying.
If you started to go gray in your 20’s, or even earlier, you should make an appointment with your doctor to discuss blood tests for vitamin B12 deficiency as well as several other possible causes of the graying.
Fortunately, if it does turn out that your graying is the result of a B12 deficiency, you can likely reverse the process. Taking a daily vitamin B12 supplement, a multivitamin, or getting weekly vitamin B12 injections will reverse the deficiency and bring back your hair’s natural color.
You should be prepared for it to take several months of treatment before you start seeing results, however, since each strand of hair on your head is the result of years of growth. It takes a while for new, healthier, colorful, strands to begin growing in and replacing your old gray hairs.
Vitamin D Deficiency and Hair Loss
One vitamin that is strongly connected to hair loss is vitamin D. We thought it was worth mentioning in this article since vitamins often must be available at the same time, and at a certain concentration, before they can be fully utilized by your body.
For instance, your body cannot fully utilize B12 without a normal or high-normal concentration of folate. Vitamin D is critical for calcium absorption, and magnesium is critical for vitamin D absorption.
If you’re concerned about the levels of either vitamin, it’s worth asking your doctor to test for both. And it’s a good idea to invest in a multivitamin even if you’re taking individual supplements as well since the multi will help you get more benefits from the individual supplements.
Risk Factors and Getting Tested
Your doctor may suspect, or even diagnose, vitamin deficiencies without a blood test. However, there is no substitute for getting proper testing done since testing can point to multiple vitamin deficiencies at once.
Testing may also help you identify if you have a dietary deficiency or a malabsorption problem.
Malabsorption simply means that your body cannot, for whatever reason, properly access and use a particular vitamin or nutrient.
It’s a surprisingly common problem. With vitamin B12, if you have an auto-immune or inflammatory disease, you’re more likely to also have vitamin B12 malabsorption. That is particularly true of inflammatory auto-immune diseases of the digestive tract like Chron’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis.
But you may also have a dietary deficiency if you are a strict vegetarian, vegan, or have a low-protein or low-calorie diet.
Sometimes the two problems can be combined, as with some types of weight loss surgery. The surgery itself interferes with your body’s ability to pull B12 from your food.
But weight loss surgery also commonly results in a significantly reduced calorie intact per day. Not only is it harder for your body to get to vitamin B12, but it’s likely not receiving as much B12 in your diet.
If you have one of the common risk factors we’ve outlined above, you may already receive regular vitamin B12 testing as part of your regular check-ups.
If your doctor routinely orders blood tests, annually or bi-annually, ask them if they are already testing for vitamin B12.
If you don’t normally receive blood tests, or don’t know if your doctor tests for vitamin deficiencies, it’s worth making an appointment to bring up your concerns and ask for testing.
Testing for vitamin B12 concentrations always involved getting blood drawn. Usually, doctors won’t order this test without also ordering several others.
If you’re concerned about thyroid problems, another common cause of hair loss, or any other condition, your doctor may order a more complete (More blood, more tests) blood test.
Otherwise, they might order a conservative set of specialized tests designed to rule out a small number of uncommon conditions.
If you’re over 50, it’s likely your doctor tests for vitamin B12 even if you don’t have an underlying condition or concern that would cause them to do so. Aging is, itself, a risk factor for vitamin B12 deficiency.
Treatments for Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Fortunately, like all vitamin deficiencies, B12 deficiency is highly treatable.
Most people can successfully treat vitamin B12 simply by adding a good daily multivitamin. If you already take a multivitamin or have a severe deficiency, your doctor may recommend that you start taking a B-complex supplement (with all 8 B vitamins) or a B12 supplement.
Supplements are available as pills, lozenges, sprays, gummy candies, and even as powders, you add to a drink or your food.
Your doctor may recommend a specific brand or style of supplement, but few studies are showing any one type of supplement to be more effective than another.
Even simpler, your doctor may recommend adding more lean red meat, eggs, or dairy products to your diet. A daily serving of yogurt, cheese, or scrambled eggs can go a long way toward correcting a vitamin B12 deficiency.
Foods High in Vitamin B12
You’ll notice that there is an awful lot of fish on that list. Increasing your intake of fish can increase your overall B12 consumption.
Plus, since the benefits aren’t limited to deep-sea fish, it’s a good excuse to go fishing at the local lake or river.
While most of the options on this list aren’t vegan-friendly, and only some are vegetarian-friendly, it is possible to incorporate more vitamin B12 into your vegan diet without supplementation. Nutritional yeast, which many people report tastes a bit like cheese and add umami flavor to most foods, is a good option.
You can also specifically look for fortified cereals, including breads and pastries, to make sure you’re getting a bit more B12 from your grains.
Even with those additional foods though, your doctor may recommend supplementation if your B12 levels are particularly low. You may also get a supplement recommendation if you make dietary changes but your B12 isn’t recovering as quickly as your doctor would prefer.
Of course, you can add a supplement proactively if you’re concerned about B12 hair loss or are transitioning to a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle.
As with any supplement, it’s important to do your research and look for a brand that has been successful for other users. Since the supplement industry isn’t well regulated, the actual contents of each supplement are largely on an honor system.
If you find a brand with a good reputation, that clients and doctors report as being reasonably successful in raising vitamin levels, chances are that’s a good bet for your own supplements.
How Will You Know If It’s Working?
Since hair loss is a slow process to reverse, it’s important to find some markers for whether your supplement routine is helping. Whether you’re using a multivitamin, and B12 supplement, a vitamin D supplement, or all three, you want to know that your money is being spent effectively.
Hair loss reversal takes about 6 months for most people. You may start seeing some progress as early as 3-4 months. Most people will continue to re-grow hair for 12-18 months after beginning any hair loss treatment, and vitamins and supplements are no exception.
So, rather than waiting the whole time to see if your supplement or diet changes are making a difference, look out for these signs of proper B12 levels.
Have Your Doctor Monitor Your Levels
The easiest and surest way to make sure you’re getting the benefit of lifestyle change and adding B12 into your life is to have your doctor occasionally check.
Usually, this is done months apart at a time. The long testing period helps your body heal between blood draws, and also gives your body a chance to utilize the vitamin and have higher serum levels.
Your doctor will be able to tell you how often you should be checked, and for how long, depending on your start point and goals.
It can take quite a while to raise your vitamin B12 levels back to normal if you have a deficiency. Fortunately, you’ll start to receive benefits from the supplement even before you’re back to truly normal levels.
Pay Attention to Your Energy Level and Focus
Another common sign of benefit from B12 and the other B vitamins is higher energy levels and greater focus.
Fatigue, even after a good night’s sleep, is a common symptom of B12 deficiency. Since every cell in your body needs B12, there are widespread systemic effects from not having enough.
If you notice that you get a boost of energy shortly after taking a vitamin B supplement, or a gradual increase in energy over time, that can be a good indicator that you’re starting to get some benefits from the vitamin.
Healthier Looking Skin
Vitamin B12 is beneficial for your skin much like it’s beneficial for your hair. Since skin is also a rapidly dividing cell type, and the living layers of your skin are highly dependent on reliable, good, circulation, B12 can make a big difference.
But your skin grows and sheds significantly faster than the hair on your head.
So, you’ll notice changes in your skin long before you’ll be able to see the changes in your hair.
Vitamin B12 can reduce acne, help with scar healing, and just generally give your skin better color and luster.
Vitamin B12 can also help restore collagen levels in your skin. Collagen is the most important protein in your skin and is responsible for its firmness and texture.
B12 supplements can help reverse some of the first and earliest signs of aging. How much difference the vitamin makes does depend on a lot of other factors though, so don’t count on it as an effect. Just know, if you notice it, that the B12 is working.
Improved Hair Color
Even with as slowly as hair grows and changes, you are likely to notice changes in your hair color before you’ll notice significant regrowth of lost hair.
Hair color is most noticeable if you’ve started to go gray, especially if you’re young enough that gray hairs are surprising.
B12 will likely restore color to the areas that have gone gray. It may not be the same color you used to have, hair color can change over time, but it will be more vibrant than gray hairs.
Even if you don’t have significant gray hairs, you might notice that your hair color has gotten brighter, darker, or more vibrant.
If your hair color could be described as lifeless, a pale brown, dishwater blonde, or a flat matte black, you’ll likely notice bright shine and increased color within a couple of months of starting a B12 supplement.
Short Hairs Growing In
You may also notice that you’re starting to get small thin, short hairs, growing in along the edges of your hairline after a couple of months of taking vitamin B12 supplements.
While this is unlikely to be the final hair growth, since thinner smaller hairs are likely to be a different type of hair than the ones that grow long, it’s still a sign that your hair follicles are recovering.
Plus, these smaller vellus hairs can help fill in the appearance of your hair, and boost volume at the roots. So, these smaller hairs can make a big difference even before you get your final results.
While the science is still less than conclusive that there is a connection between vitamin B12 deficiency and hair loss, there are lots of other reasons to correct a B12 deficiency. Many people have experienced great hair benefits in addition to seeing an increase in their energy levels, metabolism, and overall health.
Plus, B12 can make your hair and skin appear younger.
So, if you think you might be low on B12, it’s worth investing in a doctor’s appointment, a supplement, and dietary changes to get the most out of your food, your hair, and your life.
- What Is Vitamin B12
- How B12 Impacts your Hair
- The Science
- Risk Factors and Getting Tested
- Treatments for Vitamin B12 Deficiency
- How Will You Know If It’s Working?