In this article I’ll answer the question: Can flaxseed oil be used to effectively treat hair loss?
The short answer, which you’ll read about below, is that there is some very encouraging evidence on flaxseed oil being an effective hair growth agent. On balance, given what is presently known, flaxseed oil could be a useful addition to one’s haircare routine.
But first, I’ll review what flaxseed is and why it’s good for overall health.
Then we’ll review the relevant research as it relates to flaxseed oil for hair growth.
Finally, you’ll learn the three most effective ways to start using it today to improve your hair health.
What is Flaxseed Oil?
Flaxseed oil is extracted from whole flax seeds (also known as linseed) and is used in a variety of ways.
This mildly nutty oil is packed with omega-3 fatty acids and lignans (more than any other food source), and is considered one of the more nutrient-dense oils on the market.
Aside from its delicious taste and nutritious contents, the flax plant is also used for its fibrous stem, and flax fiber can be commonly found in linens, twine, tea bags, and even banknotes.
Fun Fact: Usitatissimum, the species into which flax was assigned, literally means “most useful.”
Flax is largely produced in the Americas (with Canada being the leading country of production), but can also be found in Asia, Africa, Europe, and Oceania.
Flax has been widely used throughout the world, and throughout history, and is highly esteemed for its many medicinal and industrial uses.
Flaxseed Oil and Wellbeing
It’s no wonder that flaxseeds are the natural supplement of choice for health enthusiasts! This small crop packs some serious punch when it comes to nutrition and overall health benefits.
Take a look at some of the more common benefits associated with flaxseed oil below.
Flaxseed oil is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids and, more specifically, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).
This particular type of omega-3 fatty acid has been shown to reduce inflammation, and it can be a helpful supplement for those with chronic, inflammatory conditions.
If you want to prevent cell damage and aging, then antioxidants should form a regular part of your diet.
Flaxseed oil is a particularly powerful source of antioxidants: it is rich in molecules called phenols, flavonoids and lignans, all of which are powerful antioxidants.
And remember the ALA that we were just discussing? Well, that’s a powerful antioxidant too.
Learn more about tocopherol (a form of vitamin E and how it improves hair count here.)
There is at this point a substantial body of research (summarized here) on the cardioprotective effects of flaxseed oil (and, more specifically, the ALA found within it).
A number of major studies have found that ALA levels are inversely correlated with adverse cardiac events like heart attack. Inverse correlation means that the lower the levels of ALA, the higher the risk of adverse cardiac events and vice versa.
Regular supplementation with ALA has also been shown to decrease the risk of heart attacks.
There is also some evidence (though not as strong) that ALA levels are inversely related to the incidence of stroke.
In addition to the omega-3 fatty acids found in flax, which can help to reduce inflammation throughout the body, including in the digestive tract, flax is an excellent source of fiber.
Fiber is essential to gastrointestinal health, and adequate consumption can help increase the regularity of bowel movements and prevent the development of conditions, such as diverticulitis.
Note, however, that while the actual flax itself is rich in fiber, its oil is devoid of fiber.
What About Hair Loss? Flaxseed Oil and DHT
In men with Androgenetic Alopecia (AGA), also known as male-pattern baldness, it’s believed that increased susceptibility to the androgen (male hormone) DHT plays a key role.
DHT attacks the hair follicle, leading to the progressive shortening of the follicle growth phase, during which the hair actually grows. Eventually the follicle shrinks, and its growth phase is shortened so much that the hair doesn’t even have time to grow through the scalp.
This is called hair follicle miniaturization, and is the hallmark of androgenetic alopecia.
Apart from hair follicles, DHT also attacks the male prostate, leading to an enlargement of this organ and all sorts of unwelcome symptoms, like problems with urination.
This is why drugs like finasteride or dutasteride that target prostate enlargement also work against hair loss (though at the cost of potentially nasty side effects)
There are some very encouraging animal studies, however, to suggest that flaxseed oil has potent anti-DHT properties, without any of the side effects associated with prescription meds.
A 2013 research project on rats tested the antiandrogenic properties of various plant foods, including flaxseed. The researchers found that flaxseed showed significant antiandrogenic properties, resulting in a significant decrease in the size of the prostate, which is a tell-tale sign of anti-DHT activity.
Though levels of DHT in this study were not directly measured, the consumption of flax resulted in a significant reduction in testosterone levels, the precursor androgen out of which DHT is synthesized.
The researchers attributed these antiandrogenic properties to the presence of fatty acids, as well as the lignans and flavonoids that are so abundant in flaxseed.
A similar study in 2015 found very similar results. The rats in this study were treated with testosterone to induce abnormal growth of the prostate. But some of the rats were also given a diet of milled flaxseed, while others were treated with finasteride, the most common anti-DHT prescription medication.
The researchers found that flaxseed in the animals’ diet induced similar effects to finasteride, namely a reduction in markers of prostatic growth like prostatic vascular endothelial growth factor (VGEF). As its name suggests, VGEF is a protein that stimulates the formation of blood vessels and in sometimes implicated in abnormal tissue enlargement.
The findings of these two studies were further corroborated by a 2017 paper published out of Brazil. Rats in this study were again treated with testosterone to induce artificial enlargement of the prostate. But the prostates of rats who were concurrently fed with a diet rich in flaxseed were largely protected compared to control rats who were fed a diet rich in milk protein.
Interesting as these animal studies are, the question naturally arises: what about humans? Is there any evidence that flaxseed can block DHT in humans?
Yes, there is.
A small 2004 study found that daily flaxseed supplementation, in combination with a low-fat diet, resulted in substantial PSA reductions in a group of 15 men with enlarged prostates who were at high risk for prostate cancer.
PSA is a protein produced in the prostate gland, and high levels signal increased risk of prostate malignancy.
The PSA in 2 of these men was reduced to the extent that they did not need to undergo a scheduled repeat prostate biopsy after 6 months. But the 13 men who did undergo the scheduled biopsy showed a significant decreased rate of cell proliferation in the prostate epithelium.
Finally, a much larger, placebo-controlled study was published in 2008 on 78 men with benign prostate enlargement. The researchers found that four months of daily supplementation with a flaxseed extract resulted in statistically significant and clinically meaningful improvements in a range of symptoms.
Impressively, the authors of this study compared the magnitude of the clinical improvement witnessed in their study to that reported in other studies via the use of prescription anti-DHT medications (like finasteride).
The finding? The improvements in the severity of symptoms and overall quality of life were comparable!
Furthermore, according to these authors, the only known mechanism by which flaxseed could obtain these results is via the inhibition of 5-alpha-reductase. This is an enzyme necessary to convert testosterone to DHT, and prescription medications like finasteride and dutasteride work by inhibiting this enzyme. This in turn prevents testosterone from being converted to DHT.
In summary, flaxseed does seem to possess potent anti-DHT activity, at least as evidenced by all the published research that agrees on its effectiveness as a protective agent of the prostate.
In principle, therefore, this food looks very promising as a possible hair loss treatment, either alone or in combination with other natural supplements.
Direct scientific studies on hair growth
So we looked at the evidence regarding flaxseed and DHT. What about the direct research on flaxseed and hair growth?
In 2014, a 3-month research study was performed on a group of 16 rabbits. The rabbits were split into two groups of eight. One group was given regular feed (control), while the other group was given regular feed in addition to crushed flax (test).
Each month, a 10x10cm patch of hair was shaved from the back of each rabbit. Prior to this shave, however, measurements were taken to determine how well the hair had grown in the same shaven patch.
At the end of the study, the results were clear: the supplementation of flax had a positive effect on both the length of the hair (with a 26% increase seen in the third month), as well as the width and weight.
CTLi (Control); LSI (Test)
So, what does this mean? As researchers concluded, there’s no doubt that the use of flax aided in the growth of hair.
And, while this study was only 3 months long, even that short period of time was enough to for researchers to see positive results.
Are There Any Side Effects Associated with Flaxseed Oil Supplementation?
Prior to starting a new supplement, it’s best to speak with your physician about any concerns.
While flaxseed oil is a safe and healthy supplement for the majority of individuals, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Large, daily doses of flaxseed oil (30 grams and higher) can cause bloating, loose stools and diarrhea, so this is certainly something to take into consideration when supplementing with the oil.
Women who are pregnant should consult with their doctor prior to supplementation, as flaxseed oil may be linked to pre-term labor. And, as there is not enough research available at this time, women who are breastfeeding should also avoid supplementation.
If you experience symptoms of an allergic reaction after ingesting or topically applying flaxseed oil, such as shortness of breath, hives, or nausea and vomiting, it’s best to stop supplementation immediately and seek medical attention.
Though the chances of this happening are very rare, in theory any food can cause an allergy. So there will be some people out there who will be allergic to flaxseed and its oil.
How To Add Flaxseed Oil to Your Hair Care Routine
If the health benefits and accompanying research have convinced you, you’re probably excited to give flaxseed oil a try.
For those suffering from male-pattern baldness, there are three ways you can use flaxseed oil to give your hair growth a boost.
Pick one, use all three, or mix and match to create a flaxseed oil hair care routine that’s right for you.
Apply Directly to Your Scalp
One of the simplest ways to include flaxseed oil into your regular hair care routine is to apply it directly to the scalp.
Pour the oil into your palm, and rub your hands together to warm the oil and evenly distribute. Massage the oil into your scalp, being sure to move your fingertips in a gentle, circular motion.
You can leave the oil in overnight and rinse with water in the morning, or apply the oil in the morning for use as an all-day moisturizer.
Another advantage of flaxseed oil, as is the case with many plant oils, is that it can fill the gap between the cuticles of the hair and seal them. This can leave your hair looking shiny while preventing breakup and frizz.
For this reason, in addition to applying to the scalp, it is worth working the flaxseed oil all the way down your hair.
Add It To Your Diet
This versatile (and delicious!) oil is easily added to any and all of your favorite recipes and meals.
Add a bit of honey and lemon to 1 tablespoon of flaxseed oil and enjoy it as a dressing or use it to stir fry your favorite blend of vegetables.
Now despite all its nutrients, flaxseed isn’t the most easily absorbed food. That’s why it’s recommended to either consume the oil, or if you prefer the solid form for the added fiber, to grind it into a powder first.
My favorite way to get more flaxseed in my diet is by adding ground flaxseed (mixed with other nuts and seeds) into my morning smoothie. It only adds to the taste and texture of the smoothie.
For those with low-fiber diets, it’s best to start out with smaller doses of milled flaxseed, and slowly work your way up. This will prevent the majority of gastrointestinal upset.
Make Your Own Flaxseed Oil Conditioner
Homemade conditioners are simple, affordable, and best of all, tailored to fit your exact needs.
One of the easiest and most cost-effective methods for making your flaxseed oil conditioner involves only two ingredients: flaxseeds and distilled water.
Add a quarter cup of whole flax seed to 2 cups of distilled water, and boil. After boil, lower the heat and stir for 5 to 10 minutes.
At this point be on the lookout for the mixture to thicken. When you notice it sticking to the spoon it means it’s ready.
Pour it through a strainer (some recommend a nut milk bag) and you have your gel. Optionally you can also add in some drops of essential oils for the smell and to extend the gel’s life.
You are probably not going to use all of it one go, so refrigeration is very important to prevent it from going bad.
After you have refrigerated it, the gel is good to use for another 1 to 2 weeks, until you notice the smell going off. Store in an airtight container.
As for applying the gel, you can apply it to damp hair and leave them to dry naturally. It will leave your hair looking shiny, healthy, and overall amazing.
So what are the takeaways from what we have covered in this article?
The bottom line is, there is strong evidence, both on animal studies and in humans, that flaxseed is a potent antiandrogen that inhibits DHT.
In line with this, there is some preliminary evidence supporting its role as a hair growth agonist.
In addition, it’s a very rich source of nutrients in the form of phenols, flavonoids and lignans.
So, is flaxseed oil for hair growth right for you?
If you’re unsure of the benefits, it never hurts to give it a try! Flaxseed oil, whether applied directly, ingested, or used as a conditioner, is an easy-to-use supplement and may offer you more benefits than you know.
And to cap it all off, it has no serious side effects and is a very cost-effective treatment.
*This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Debra Rose Wilson.