Antioxidants are a trend that have been in the forefront of the health and wellness community for years. They have been shown beneficial in a variety of studies, but what about in combating hair loss?
In this article, I’ll discuss antioxidants and the role they play in human health. I’ll then introduce the various studies that support the use of antioxidants for hair loss.
Most importantly, I’ll highlight 27+ foods, herbs, spices, and supplements that are full of antixodants and, therefore, may benefit the health of your hair.
An Introduction to Antioxidants
Antioxidants are compounds found in foods and tissues that benefit the body (and its many organs and systems) by inhibiting oxidation (1).
Oxidation is a chemical reaction that can produce free radicals, which then may go on to damage cells.
Their Role in Fighting Free Radicals
Free radicals are created during oxidation. But what are they exactly, and how might they contribute to hair loss?
Cells are a basic biological component which make up all living organisms, but even smaller than cells are molecules. These are groups of atoms bonded together.
Free radicals are molecules that are incomplete. More specifically, they’re missing an electron and, as such, are uncharged and highly reactive.
However, free radicals are not content to just survive. Instead, they seek to take electrons from other molecules found throughout the body.
If left unchecked, this can lead to a breakdown of cells and the tissues and organs that they support.
It is well known that free radicals contribute to premature aging, and as such they can be considered one of the mechanisms through which hair loss can take place (2).
As mentioned, free radicals steal electrons from surrounding structures. In the scalp, this includes the hair follicle.
Can Antioxidants Prevent Hair Loss?
If free radicals are molecules with an unpaired electron, then the only way to stop them from damaging bodily tissues is to provide them with another one. This is exactly what antioxidants do.
In short, antioxidants are free radical scavengers. They track down free radicals throughout the body, and then pair them with an electron so as to reduce cellular damage.
This can reduce signs of aging often associated with oxidative stress, including wrinkles, graying hair, and hair loss (3).
So, is there proof?
Study: Oxidative Stress in Ageing of Hair (2009)
A 2009 review study examined the most current research as it related to oxidative stress and aging of hair (4).
As stated by the researchers, “the hair follicle is subject to intrinsic and extrinsic aging” just like the skin.
Intrinsic factors are those things that are beyond our control: genetics (cellular) and epigenetic mechanisms. Extrinsic factors are those that are often within our control, including diet, smoking, and prolonged exposure to Ultraviolet Radiation (UVR).
However, oxidative stress may also contribute to both the extrinsic and intrinsic factors related to aging.
If this is the case, then antioxidants may provide a new treatment pathway that had previously not been considered. And scientists are already studying this particular pathway.
Study: Effects of Tocotrienol Supplementation on Hair Growth in Human Volunteers (2010)
In 2010, researchers from Malaysia tested the effects of tocotrienol supplementation on hair growth (5).
Tocotrienols are members of the vitamin E family and potent antioxidants.
The researchers recruited 38 volunteers with hair loss. Twenty one volunteers were assigned to receive 100 mg of mixed tocotrienols (oral) daily, while 17 volunteers were assigned to receive placebo capsules (oral).
The two mechanisms by which researchers measured results were:
- The number of hairs in a predetermined scalp area
- The weight of 20 strands of 1 cm length hair clippings at zero, four, and eight months.
By the eighth month (the end of the study), the volunteers in the tocotrienol supplementation group saw a significant increase in number of hairs (34.5%) when compared to the placebo group who saw a 0.1% decrease.
The weight of 20 strands between baseline and the end of the study did not increase in either groups.
What does this mean?
As concluded by researchers:
This observed effect was most likely to be due to the antioxidant activity of tocotrienols that helped to reduce lipid peroxidation and oxidative stress in the scalp, which are reported to be associated with alopecia.
This does not mean that antioxidants are the answer to hair loss, but they certainly may help.
How Can You Increase Antioxidants in Your Diet?
There are foods in almost all food groups that contain antioxidants. However, if you want to get the most from your diet than plant-based is the way to go.
On average, plant-based foods contain 11.57 mmol/100 grams of antioxidants compared to animal-based foods (0.18 mmol/100 grams) (6).
Of these foods, the ones to contain the most antioxidants include:
- Herbs and spices (29.02 mmol/100 grams)
- Berries (9.86 mmol/100 grams)
- Beverages, such as coffees and teas (8.30 mmol/100 grams)
- Chocolates and sweets (4.93 mmol/100 grams)
- Nuts and seeds (4.57 mmol/100 grams)
As such, the foods I highly recommend to anyone who is looking to increase their dietary intake of antioxidants are:
- Spices: cloves, vanilla, turmeric, cinnamon, sage, etc.
- Berries: goji, acai, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, strawberries, etc.
- Nuts: almonds, walnuts, brazil nuts, pistachio, hazelnuts, etc.
- Dried fruit: raisins, prunes, figs, dates, apricots, etc.
- Beans and legumes: black beans, kidney beans, lentils, pinto, etc.
- Fresh fruits and veggies: the more colorful, the better.
A note on nuts and seeds: Remember to pre-soak nuts and seeds 8 hours before you eat them.
Antioxidant Supplements: An Option?
There are many nutritional supplements on the market that include high levels of antioxidant contents. These include multivitamins, as well as more specific formulations (such as Vitamin E and Vitamin C).
If you can get antioxidants in your diet, though, should supplements be an option?
It’s well known that supplements – and antioxidants, in this case – are better absorbed when consumed naturally. However, supplements can play a crucial role in filling in the gaps (7).
So, which supplements are best?
If you choose to use supplementation, it’s best to speak with your physician. While rare, contraindications may exist between your prescriptions/medical conditions and general supplements.
Antioxidants are a popular health food trend, and this popularity has spread to the hair loss community. But are they helpful?
While there isn’t as much research on the topic as I would like, I can say that the research I’ve reviewed does seem promising. This doesn’t mean that antioxidants are the be-all-end-all of your hair growth journey.
However, increasing antioxidant intake may be beneficial in the long run and, as such, should be considered.
If you have questions about the information in this article, leave a comment below.