Those who suffer from hair loss do not have abnormally high levels of DHT. Their hair follicles (and the dermal papilla) are simply more sensitive to the effects of DHT.
This is why blocking DHT entirely is not recommended.
Vitamins work by promoting overall scalp and follicle health. This can then lead to lower DHT sensitivity. We will discuss how below.
If you prefer watching rather than reading, check out our video below:
How DHT Blockers Work
To understand the benefit of the vitamins listed below, you need to understand how DHT blockers typically work.
DHT, or Dihydrotestosterone, is a hormone present in men and women (1). Our body produces it from testosterone, via the enzyme 5α-reductase.
The main role of DHT is in the development of secondary sexual characteristics in men. These include facial hair, pubic hair, increased muscle mass, and a deeper voice.
As DHT flows throughout the body, it can attach to hormone receptors in various organs and structures, like the skin, hair follicles, and brain.
In men predisposed to pattern baldness, their hair follicles are particularly sensitive to DHT and its effects (2). Scientists do not understand the exact mechanism by which DHT leads to baldness. However, in one way or another, once it attaches to the receptors on the surface of the hair follicle cells, DHT triggers a slow and gradual process of hair follicle miniaturization.
The majority of DHT blockers work to inhibit the enzyme 5α-reductase. This then limits the production of DHT. So they are not so much blocking the action of DHT, as they are limiting its production.
Just as too much DHT can have negative effects, so can too little DHT (3). The adverse reactions from DHT blockers can include symptoms such as loss of libido, inability to get or maintain an erection, and low ejaculatory volume (4).
Can Vitamins and Minerals Block DHT?
The most famous DHT blocker is the hair loss drug Propecia (finasteride). This drug inhibits 5α-reductase, lowering DHT levels by up to 70%.
Vitamins and minerals don’t work like that.
The vast majority of vitamins and minerals for hair growth are more like Rogaine (minoxidil) than Propecia. That is, they create a healthier environment for hair growth in spite of DHT. This has a few benefits over DHT blockers.
For one, vitamins and minerals are a natural and essential part of your health. The vitamins listed here are necessary for many bodily functions other than hair growth. Ensuring their proper levels will benefit your body outside your scalp (5).
The other very important benefit is the reduced risk of adverse side effects. Unlike DHT blockers, vitamins and minerals will not put your sexual health at risk when you use them as directed.
The Best Vitamins for Hair Growth
Here is a closer look at the best vitamins for hair growth.
Niacin – Vitamin B3
Niacin (vitamin B3) is an essential human nutrient. Various foods contain it in high quantities. Its main claim when it comes to fighting hair loss is its ability to increase blood circulation in the scalp (6).
There are many factors to hair loss, but a major one is your hair’s access to sufficient blood flow. When blood flow is restricted, the follicles will not receive all the oxygen and nutrients they require to carry out their regular hair growth cycle. This can also aggravate the effects of DHT: reduced blood flow makes it more difficult for chemicals (including DHT) to be removed from the follicle.
In support of this, research has found that men with early Male-Pattern Baldness (MPB) have subcutaneous blood flow that is 2.6 times less than their healthy counterparts (7). Also, balding parts of their scalp have less blood flow compared to healthy parts (the back and sides of the head). Healthy men without hair loss show no such differences.
All of this to say, blood flow is critical to hair health and niacin can help.
A common side effect of niacin supplementation is flushing. This occurs because niacin dilates the blood vessels, and this increases blood flow to the face. Niacin can even reduce the viscosity of blood, so it flows more easily through your body (8).
How can you get more niacin into your diet? Include these foods:
You can also take a daily niacin supplement, but it is best to speak with your doctor first (11).
Biotin – Vitamin B7
Biotin, also known as vitamin B7, plays a major role in the metabolism of food. It is a very popular supplement for hair, skin, and nails. Biotin functions as a protein synthesizer (12). As the protein keratin is the predominant building block within these three structures, it makes sense that biotin is important.
To name just a few of the symptoms of biotin deficiency, they are:
- Nail weakness;
- Dermatitis; and
- Hair loss
How can you be sure you’re getting an appropriate amount of biotin in your diet? Include foods such as:
You can also find biotin in a variety of multivitamins, especially those aimed at hair, nail, and skin health.
Zinc and Selenium
Zinc and selenium are two trace elements that are often discussed together and for good reason. Manufacturers often include both in many cosmetic formulations, such as face wash. They both play a critical role in the human body.
As antioxidants, zinc and selenium are vital in the fight against free radicals. They protect the skin and other organs from aging and keep many cellular processes functioning properly as a result. Interestingly, both zinc and selenium also play a role in the keratinization process (14, 15).
As outlined above, keratin is a protein. In fact, it is the main protein that makes up the hair.
However, proteins aren’t just naturally present within the body. Instead, they must be synthesized. This is done through various processes, and protein synthesizers such as zinc and selenium help make this happen.
It is not necessary to take these vitamins daily. An overabundance of zinc can actually lead to thinning and hair loss. You should speak with your doctor about your nutrient levels, and they can order the appropriate blood tests. They can also prescribe a course of supplementation if the results show a zinc or selenium deficiency.
A better course of action is to ingest foods rich in these vitamins. These include:
- Red meats
- Pumpkin seeds
- Wheat germ
- Egg yolks
- Soy products
You can easily add many of these ingredients to a delicious smoothie, or make a bone broth that will satisfy your hunger and nutritional needs.
As a major regulator of biochemical processes within the body, magnesium is a crucial nutrient (16). It also plays an important role in hair health and growth.
Magnesium is sometimes linked to calcium, and for good reason: magnesium is often used to ‘regulate’ calcium’s presence.
This is because too much free calcium within the body can lead to calcium deposits. In people with hair loss, this can even lead to calcification of the scalp. If not treated, this can result in irreversible baldness.
Calcium is found in many foods, and you may even be getting an oversupply from your own water supply.
You can take a magnesium supplement if you are deficient, though not daily. You should speak with your doctor if you suspect a deficiency. Together you can find the best treatment plan for you.
Antioxidants play a vital role within the body by fighting free radicals. These are molecules that essentially break down the body over time, as they steal electrons from surrounding molecules. Perhaps one of the best-known antioxidants is Vitamin E.
Vitamin E is actually a generic name for a group of compounds with powerful antioxidant properties. This group can be further broken down into two: tocopherols, and tocotrienols.
Tocotrienols in particular have proven beneficial for hair growth. Just eight months of supplementation led to a 34.5% hair count increase in the studied area (17).
Vitamin E, especially tocotrienols, is found in a few common foods (18). These include:
- Wheat germ
- Palm oil
- Rice bran
- Olive oil
- Sunflower seed oil
You can also take vitamin E as a supplement every day, but it is better to look for foods that have high quantities of it. Our body absorbs these more readily.
Folic Acid – Vitamin B9
Folic acid, also known as Vitamin B9, is commonly considered a prenatal vitamin. However, it is an important nutrient even for men and non-pregnant women.
Many people confuse folic acid and folate. Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate. In other words, it is created in a lab. On the other hand, folate occurs naturally in foods and our body absorbs it much better. That is not to say that you cannot use folic acid though, as it is methylated in the liver and then used throughout the body (19).
What role do folate and folic acid play?
It is essential for the synthesis and repair of DNA (the cell’s genetic material) while also ensuring it functions as it should. This is important for a wide variety of biochemical processes, including hair growth.
It is best to consume foods high in Vitamin B9, as the majority of this is folate (unless it was intentionally added, in which case it is folic acid). Foods that have naturally high quantities of vitamin B9 include:
- Brussels Sprouts
- Collard Greens
- Turnip Greens
- Mustard Greens
- Romaine Lettuce
- Pinto Beans
- Garbanzo Beans
- Black Beans
- Kidney Beans
- Green Peas
- Green Beans
NOTE! It is possible to have excessive levels of folate within the body, and this can increase the risk of cognitive decline (20). If you suspect you suffer from Vitamin B9 deficiency, or to learn more about the proper supplement dosage, consult with your doctor.
Although not strictly a vitamin or a mineral, this herb is a natural remedy in the ayurvedic tradition. It has anti-aging and anti-inflammatory properties (21). While these properties alone can be beneficial in the treatment of hair loss, including AGA, they may also block DHT directly.
Bhringaraaja, known by its Latin names Eclipta alba and Eclipta prostrata, is one ingredient in a commonly used Chinese medication to treat AGA. It is called BeauTop, and it has been shown to block DHT and stimulate hair follicle activity (22).
While further research is still needed, especially on Bhringaraaja alone, its other properties can make it a beneficial addition to your hair care routine.
Speak With Your Doctor Before Supplementing
As always, you should speak with your doctor before you begin supplementing with any of the above.
It is important that you understand daily recommended amounts of each vitamin, and that you know your current vitamin levels.
While rare, there may also be adverse effects to supplementing with the above vitamins. This can be the case especially if you are taking medications or suffering from specific medical conditions.
Keep in mind that the FDA does not monitor vitamins for quality, quantity, or purity. Do your homework on brands. Choose supplements that are voluntarily meeting the industry standards.
If you are wary of DHT blocker drugs like finasteride and dutasteride, you are not alone. The use of such hair loss medications can have negative side effects in some men, and they are not recommended for use by women.
So what is the alternative?
There are other medications, like minoxidil. This works by enabling hair growth, even in the presence of DHT.
There are also natural supplements that work in a similar way. These include vitamins that our body naturally requires to function. The benefits of these vitamins will therefore extend beyond healthy hair.