Vitamin D is an important regulator of many functions in the body. But it’s only recently that a link between vitamin D and male pattern hair loss has been suggested. Mice with mutated vitamin D receptors don’t grow hair. Men and women with androgenetic alopecia have been shown to have lower levels of vitamin D receptors. So is vitamin D the key to curing hair loss?
What is vitamin D?
Vitamin D is the name given to a group of vitamins that help the body absorb zinc, iron, magnesium, and calcium.
In humans, the most important of these vitamins are D2 (ergocalciferol) and D3 (cholecalciferol).
But very few foods actually contain vitamin D. Instead, vitamin D is synthesized in the skin in response to sunlight exposure. Hence, vitamin D is often referred to as the sunshine vitamin.
Weirdly, though, vitamin D isn’t really a vitamin at all.
Instead, its role in the body is more akin to a hormone. The body creates around 90% of its supply of vitamin D by itself, which then binds to vitamin D receptors.
And the role of vitamin D as a regulator of many functions in the body – including hair follicle cycling – has only recently emerged.
Vitamin D and male pattern hair loss
The vitamin D receptor plays an important role in hair cycling. In particular, it is responsible for initiating anagen hair growth.
And studies on mice have shown that mice lacking vitamin D receptors develop alopecia.
But what does this have to do with androgenetic alopecia (male pattern hair loss)?
After all, science currently tells us that it’s the hormone dihydrotestosterone (DHT) that causes hair loss, not a lack of vitamin D.
And it definitely plays a role. Drugs that lower DHT levels – like finasteride and dutasteride – are very effective male pattern hair loss treatments.
“Serum and tissue VDR [Vitamin D receptor] levels were lower in AA [alopecia areata] as well as AGA [androgenetic alopecia] patients when compared to controls (P = 0.000). Serum and tissue VDR were positively correlated in each group. Tissue VDR was significantly lower in female patients with AA than males (P = 0.046) although serum and tissue VDR levels were significantly higher in female AGA patients than males (P = 0.004). […] This study suggests an important role for VDR in the pathogenesis of AA and AGA through documenting lower serum and tissue VDR levels in AA and AGA patients in comparison with controls.”
So, people with androgenetic alopecia have lower vitamin D receptor levels.
It’s even been suggested that androgenetic alopecia actually evolved to increase vitamin D levels. Sun exposure is reported to reduce the risk of advanced prostate cancer, and a bald head will mean more sunlight hits the skin.
Whether this is true of not, there does seem to be a link between vitamin D and male pattern hair loss. It must be more than simply a coincidence that those with androgenetic alopecia and alopecia areata have lower levels of vitamin D receptors.
Will a vitamin D supplement reverse hair loss?
Unless you have a vitamin D deficiency, probably not.
After all, the problem appears to be with the vitamin D receptors, not a lack of vitamin D itself.
But the link between vitamin D receptors and male pattern hair loss is being explored. A research team from San Francisco, for example, recently found a molecule – MED – that suppresses the vitamin D receptor. In mice, blocking the MED molecule meant they grew more hair.
Another research team – this time from Harvard Medical School – have found a molecule that activates the vitamin D receptor. However, the team were unable to use the molecule to grow new hair.
The most promising research, though, uses vitamin D in combination with stem cell therapy.
A team from Japan recently used vitamin D to stimulate stem cells into becoming hair follicles (in rats). Dermal papilla cells grew thicker hair that lasted longer when treated with vitamin D. It is hoped that this finding could be used to make hair cloning a viable hair loss treatment in the near future.
But a vitamin D supplement won’t reverse male pattern hair loss.
However, research shows that as many as one in five adults suffers from vitamin D deficiency. So if you’re not getting much sunlight where you are, give it a go – just let us know if your hair improves!