In this article, you are going to learn how you can start using niacin for hair growth, and the importance of a six-month human trial study which showed the effectiveness of niacin use as a treatment for alopecia.
You will also learn of the four positive effects which niacin has been scientifically proven to produce and how these effects may have an impact on hair growth.
What is Niacin?
Niacin, also commonly referred to as vitamin B3 and nicotinic acid, is an organic compound and an essential human nutrient. Interestingly, niacin is historically referred to as Vitamin PP.
This is because the lack of niacin leads to a fatal disease known as pellagra, and niacin is the only known treatment for the condition. Thus, Vitamin Pellagra-Preventative.
In the medical community, niacin is known for more than just its pellagra-fighting abilities. Recent research has begun to uncover the multitude of benefits associated with niacin supplementation, including its use as a treatment for hair loss.
How Niacin Works to Promote Hair Growth
Here is a closer look at the research-backed ways in which niacin may promote hair growth.
1. Niacin Improves Blood Circulation to the Scalp
An important aspect of hair loss treatment research is not only the testing of possible medications and natural remedies for its treatment, but also research on possible causes related to hair loss. One such research study was performed by Klemp, Peters, and Hansted at the University of Copenhagen (1).
With a total of 28 volunteers — 14 of which suffered from early male-pattern baldness and 14 of which were similarly aged and had normal hair growth and fullness — researchers measured subcutaneous blood flow to determine if such was a factor in alopecia.
The results of this study showed a significant pattern. On average, subcutaneous blood flow was 2.6 times lower in men with early MPB than with their healthy, similar-aged counterparts.
As the study was only concerned with current blood flow levels, there are still a few unanswered questions. Most significantly, researchers were unable to determine whether the lowered blood flow was the cause of male-pattern baldness, or whether it was a side effect.
However we now know that reduced blood flow likely precedes AGA. This is because botulinum toxin injected into the scalp improves AGA (2). The most likely mechanism is by reducing scalp tension, and consequently, improving blood flow.
No matter the answer, however, blood circulation is vital to the overall health of the scalp and hair follicles. After all, blood delivers oxygen and other necessary nutrients to the hair follicles, and this is needed for the growth of hair to continue uninterrupted.
So, what can be done to increase blood flow to the scalp? One treatment possibility is niacin.
A common side effect of niacin supplementation is flushing (3). This side effect occurs as a direct result of niacin’s ability to dilate dermal blood vessels and increase the flow of blood throughout the body.
Further, niacin has been shown to reduce the viscosity, or thickness, of blood (4). This only further improves niacin’s abilities to increase circulation, including to the scalp and hair follicles.
2. Niacin Reduces Scalp Inflammation
DHT is a known inflammatory, and a 2006 study proved that DHT actually led to the inhibition of wound healing (5).
For individuals with alopecia, DHT can lead to unnecessary inflammation and impede the process of hair growth.
The majority of studies which discuss niacin’s anti-inflammatory abilities are focused on its role in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases. These studies, however, are still useful here as they show niacin’s ability to reduce certain whole-body inflammation markers.
One such study was performed by Thoenes et al, and it showed promising results for those looking to reduce the levels of high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP) within the body (6). In fact, the volunteers treated with niacin in this 52-week study saw a 20% decrease in this inflammatory marker.
In another study, this time done by Karacaglar et al, the difference in levels of hs-CRP between the group who received niacin treatment and the placebo group were significant (7).
As stated, these studies were focused on niacin’s role in cardiovascular disease prevention. Remember, however, that hs-CRP is a marker for inflammation anywhere in this body. This means that high levels of hs-CRP can certainly indicate an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, but they could also indicate uncontrolled inflammation in other areas of the body, such as the scalp.
The fact that niacin reduces the levels of hs-CRP within the body is an important takeaway for hair loss sufferers. This means that niacin has anti-inflammatory properties which can also benefit those looking to reduce the inflammation and irritation present within the scalps of those sensitive to DHT.
3. Niacin Rebuilds Keratin
Perhaps one of niacin’s most direct hair growth benefits is its keratin-inducing effects.
Keratin is a fibrous structural protein, and it is responsible for protecting epithelial cells (the tightly packed cells found on the surface of the skin) from damage. Keratin is also present in the hair and nails and is significant part of their make up.
Niacin or, more specifically, niacinamide has been shown to increase the synthesis of keratin (8).
This particular study also found that niacinamide reduces water loss and improves moisturization in the horny layers of the skin.
While not entirely similar to niacin, niacinamide is a derivative of niacin with the addition of an amino group.
During the anagen phase, a process called keratinization occurs. This process involves the movement of keratin proteins from under the skin to the surface. As hair is composed almost entirely of keratin, so it makes sense that lack of keratin movement can lead to weaker, thinner strands of hair.
This niacin-derivative, however, induces the production of keratin to ensure the process of keratinization may occur within the hair follicles. This is vital for the growth of strong, long hair.
4. Niacin Repairs Damaged DNA
Within the body, niacin is converted to a coenzyme involved in various metabolic processes known as NAD. In simplest terms, the role of NAD in its various forms is to convert compounds, such as glucose and fatty acids, to energy.
This is a biological process known, in the larger sense, as oxidative phosphorylation, and it has been linked to the repair of damaged DNA (9).
There are various reasons why DNA gets damaged. From natural aging to free radicals, damaged DNA can play a role in the progression of hair loss. One example of this was seen in a recent study by Matsumura et al (10).
Researchers found that the aging of hair follicle stem cells responsible for the induction of hair growth inadvertently led to the reduction of COL17A1, an important protein in the adhesion of the epidermal skin cells.
What this means is, over time, adhesion between the intracellular and extracellular components of the epidermis weaken. This leads to the shedding of keratinocytes, the key protein involved in the production of keratin.
As this occurs, the hair follicle begins to shrink and leads to hair loss. As an aid in the process of oxidative phosphorylation, however, niacin can fight back against DNA damage and improve the overall quality of your skin and hair.
Niacin and Hair Growth: A Trial Study in Human Subjects
In 2005, Draelos et al explored the use of niacin derivatives as a possible treatment for female-pattern alopecia (11).
Using 60 female participants, researchers split the group into 40 receiving niacin derivative treatment and 20 receiving a placebo treatment.
Those in the active group received a topical application of vehicle containing 0.5% octyl nicotinate and 5.0% myristylnicotinate for six months, while those in the control group received a non-active vehicle for the same length of time.
The participants were photographed at the beginning of the study, as well as at the three-month and six-month marks to determine an increase in hair fullness, if any.
Unfortunately, research is lacking when it comes to the treatment of female alopecia. While this study did show promise for the use of niacin derivatives in the treatment of female hair loss, the exact mechanism was unknown.
Researchers, however, did speculate as to two possible causes for the success.
The first possible cause is the increase in density of hair follicles. The second is the increase in the quality of already present hair shafts.
As niacin has been shown to improve blood circulation, decrease inflammation, and rebuild keratin, the two suggested causes above are certainly plausible, though further research is required for a definitive answer.
How to Add Niacin to Your Regular Hair Care Routine
Here are just a few ways you may be able to gain benefits from this vital nutrient.
Add Niacin to Your Diet
Vitamin B3 is a naturally-occurring vitamin, found in high quantities in certain foods. Such foods include:
- Sunflower Seeds
- Green Peas
With the variety above, there are numerous ways you can go about adding niacin to your diet within the use of a supplement.
Of course, supplementation is possible. However, keep in mind that an over-supply of niacin within the body can cause a number of side effects. This makes it a necessity to seek out professional medical help prior to taking a vitamin B3 supplement.
Apply a Niacin-rich Hair Mask
Containing 13 to 18 percent of your daily recommended Niacin value, avocado is an excellent source to add to your hair care arsenal.
Avocado and Honey Hair Mask
- Ripe avocado (½)
- Avocado oil (2 tablespoons)
- Honey (1 tablespoon)
In a glass bowl, warm the avocado oil for 15 to 20 seconds.
Remove the bowl from the microwave, adding the honey to the oil and mixing thoroughly.
If not combining, heat the honey and oil combination for an additional 10 seconds.
Cut the ripened avocado in half, and place in the bowl with the honey and oil. Mash until thoroughly blended.
Apply to dry hair and scalp, using a comb to thoroughly spread the moisturizing mixture throughout your hair. Place a shower cap over your scalp, and leave it in place for 30 to 60 minutes.
Aside from the hydrating and soothing effects from the avocado and avocado oil, the honey adds an antimicrobial component which will aid in cleansing your scalp and removing any harmful buildup.
Performing this mask treatment on a weekly benefit will ensure your hair is tangle-free and your scalp is healthy and free from inflammation and irritation.
Are There Side Effects Associated with Niacin Supplementation?
Niacin found naturally in foods does not cause any negative health effects (12). It is possible, however, to experience side effects as a result of over supplementing with vitamin B3.
The supplement may be prescribed to individuals with high cholesterol as a way to reduce risk of heart disease. Dosing in this instance is often much higher than that of regular supplementation, so be sure to speak with your doctor extensively about side effects.
Consumption of alcohol in addition to a niacin supplement can exacerbate the side effect known as flushing, so avoidance of alcohol is advised.
Women who are pregnant or nursing should speak with their obstetrician prior to supplementation, though are advised to reach their daily recommended niacin values through foods as opposed to the use of a supplement.
Can Too Much Niacin Cause Hair Loss?
As mentioned above, too much niacin can have ill effects on the body. These can range from mild (stomach upset, flushing) to severe (liver dysfunction, glucose intolerance).
But did you know that niacin overdose may lead to hair loss?
Niacin overdose is the term used for those who are taking too much niacin for their bodily needs (15). It is next to impossible to do this with diet alone, but it is entirely possible to do if you take supplements containing niacin.
The good news is that any hair loss that is a result of niacin overdose can be reversed. This is because the cause is likely telogen effluvium.
So, how can you avoid overdoing it on niacin?
It is best if you speak with your doctor before you begin taking a niacin supplement. They can advise you on recommended daily doses, and they can also inform you if any of your current medications will interact with the vitamin.
If you experience any symptoms of niacin overdose, it is important that you stop taking niacin immediately. The long-term effects, especially liver dysfunction, can be devastating to your overall health.
While further research is required, preliminary studies done on humans have shown great promise for the use of this vital nutrient in hair loss reversal.
If you are looking for a quick hair loss treatment, however, niacin is not it.
Its various abilities can certainly be beneficial, and there are a wide array of therapeutic uses for niacin, but the majority of its benefits associated with hair growth are indirect.
If you would like to add niacin to your usual routine, you should prioritize adding niacin-rich foods to your diet. You can also apply it as a hair mask, or even add different ingredients, such as avocado and sunflower seeds, to your shampoo.