Your hair can’t grow without Vitamin D.
Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that affects many parts of the body, particularly the bones, skin, and hair. Known as the “Sunshine Vitamin”, Vitamin D is synthesized by our bodies as our skin is exposed to the sun. It also naturally occurs in some foods, dairy and grain products.
Vitamin D is essential for strong bones. It helps our bodies use calcium to form our bones. Historically, a vitamin D deficiency is associated with a disease known as Rickets where bone tissue doesn’t mineralize properly leading to soft bones and skeletal deformities. Recent research has shown the increasing importance of Vitamin D in protecting against other health problems.
Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to an autoimmune disease known as Alopecia Areata. You’ve probably heard of alopecia before and know it to be hair loss. Yes, this is the case. Alopecia Areata is a type of alopecia, where the body’s immune system fights against its own hair follicles. This causes hair to be lost in patches that often have the shape and size of a quarter. Sometimes these patches join together, and become larger more noticeable bald spots. Research has shown that people with Alopecia Areata have much lower levels of Vitamin D than people who don’t have the disease.*
Female pattern hair loss (FPHL) is the most common cause of alopecia in women. It is characterized by a significant loss of hair in the front, center, and sides of the head and scalp leaving a scarce and thin appearance. In a 2016 case study, the blood vitamin D3 levels of 45 women with female pattern hair loss were compared to 45 women without the condition. The results showed that those with FPHL had lower vitamin D levels in their blood.**
Vitamin D expresses itself through the Vitamin D receptor, VDR. Without the VDR, vitamin D wouldn't have anything to bind to and wouldn't be able to work within our bodies. VDR is largely found in parts of the hair follicle. Vitamin D receptor expression is crucial for the hair growth cycle. Without it, hair has a tough time growing and flourishing.
Vitamin D-dependent rickets type II is a disease where patients have a mutation in the VDR gene. This keeps vitamin D from being expressed. Patients with this disease typically have sparse body hair and usually have total scalp and body alopecia - no hair at all. Basically, without vitamin D receptors, vitamin D can’t be expressed in the body and the hair follicle can not grow nor be maintained, resulting in hair loss.
Low blood vitamin D levels have also been linked to Telogen Effluvium (TE). TE is stress induced hair loss that typically occurs within 3 months of exposure to a triggering event. In TE, hair typically grows back eventually. TE can be caused by stress, drugs, hormone imbalances, nutritional disturbances, etc.
Vitamin D Deficiencies
There are a host of things that could cause a vitamin D deficiency. But first, let’s define a Vitamin D deficiency. Normal vitamin D levels are between 30 to 100 ng/mL. Vitamin D deficiency is used to explain a great decrease in vitamin D levels. Vitamin D deficiency is defined as blood Vitamin D levels anywhere below 20ng/mL.
As mentioned before, with Vitamin D deficiencies comes diseases like Rickets (caused by weak bones) and hair loss. Vitamin D deficiency can also cause fatigue, bone and joint pain, low energy, weight gain, and more frequent illnesses.
What can cause Vitamin D deficiency ?
Limited exposure to sunlight - Vitamin D synthesis begins as our bodies are exposed to sunlight. This gets the ball running and then enzymes in our livers and kidneys convert vitamin D to its active form. If you aren’t getting enough sunlight due to staying indoors regularly, wearing protective clothing, or wearing lots of sunscreen, you may be at risk for vitamin D deficiency.
You aren’t consuming the recommended amount of Vitamin D daily through your diet - it is recommended that we get at least 600 IU (or 15mcg) of vitamin D daily through our diets starting at age 1. This amount can be reached by eating foods high in vitamin D like salmon, mackerel, and other fatty fish. There are also foods fortified with vitamin D like cereals, milk, and orange juice.
Other underlying conditions like Chrohn’s disease or Celiac disease may prevent the body from fully absorbing nutrients this can lead to a Vitamin D deficiency
Vitamin D Deficiency in African Americans and Darker Skin
Low serum vitamin D is more prevalent in African Americans in comparison with European Americans. African Americans actually have a 15-20 fold higher prevalence of vitamin D deficiency than European Americans.***
Vitamin D production begins as our bodies are exposed to sunlight. People with darker pigmented skin, like African Americans, have higher amounts of melanin in their bodies in comparison to whites. The darker one's skin, the more melanin they have. The melanin in our skin partly blocks the sun rays which are necessary for Vitamin D synthesis. So essentially, the darker your skin, the more melanin you have and the less sunlight penetrates the skin less and less vitamin D is produced.
With this being said, us with curly and kinky hair are at a higher risk for Vitamin D deficiency. This may affect our hair health and overall health. We have to be watchful and mindful of this when creating a regimen for ourselves and our hair.
The only way to definitively know if you have a vitamin D deficiency is to get your blood tested. This will give you and your doctors an accurate value of the amount of Vitamin D in your body. Depending on your levels, you may get a prescription from your doctor. If you are deficient, an over the counter Vitamin D supplement may not be enough for you! Be sure to follow your doctors orders.
Multivitamins are always a good idea. These will supplement you with the vitamins that you may be missing in your everyday diet. You may be missing out on some nutrients that could help with your hair health. Check with your doctor to see if this is a good option for you!
Let’s Wrap it Up
Vitamin D is an extremely important vitamin not only for our bone health but also for our hair. The vitamin D receptor is greatly present in our hair follicles, and its expression is crucial for hair growth. Vitamin D deficiencies have been linked to alopecia, female pattern hair loss, and Telogen Effluvium. Vitamin D deficiencies affect those with darker skin much more than those with lighter skin. The melanin present in darker skin prevents our bodies from making enough Vitamin D. Wearing excessive sunscreen, staying indoors, wearing protective clothing, and eating a diet void of Vitamin D are among the causes of vitamin D deficiencies. In order to be diagnosed, a blood test is needed. If you do have a deficiency, supplements should be taken.
Check with your doctor today regarding vitamin D. It may be the thing you are missing to really take your hair to the next level!