In the alphabet of vitamins, you may have missed vitamin H, but you probably recognize its common name, biotin.
It is a B vitamin with a growing reputation.
Dermatologists, hair dressers and manicurists often recommend a biotin supplement because of the role it plays in forming keratin, the main protein for hair and nail growth.
You find biotin as an ingredient in shampoos and conditioners, and in supplement form as a single ingredient, or included in specific formulas supplying a variety of nutrients to support the hair.
Hair growth may be affected by a surprising number of medications, often because they interfere with absorption of B vitamins and minerals: antacids, antibiotics, antidepressants, arthritis and blood pressure drugs, birth control pills and diuretics.
Hormonal imbalances during pregnancy and menopause, high doses of the hormone DHEA and thyroid irregularities may also cause hair to thin or fall out. Normally, we lose up to 200 hairs a day, but if you seem to be losing an unusual amount of hair, it may be time to consult your dermatologist.
Hair loss may also be an after-effect of surgery or serious illness, chronic dieting or stress resulting from personal trauma.
During times of stress, hair production shuts down; re-growth may not start again for three to six months. Stress affects water-soluble B vitamins, flushing out biotin and other important nutrients your hair needs in order to grow.
Iron or protein deficiencies, especially in vegetarians, may result in hair loss. For people who do not consume animal protein, Mark Stengler of the California Institute of Natural Health recommends supplementing with chlorella spirulina, nutritious algae, to provide the full spectrum of amino acids and other valuable nutrients that may be lacking in the diet.
Although soy is a popular protein source, it is believed to interfere with thyroid function and thus may contribute to hair thinning. Whey protein might then be a better choice. It is also more easily digested and readily bio-available.
Incidentally, if you are taking Synthroid to regulate your thyroid, be certain not to take either calcium or iron supplements at the same time as your medication, since these two minerals may block the absorption of Synthroid. Changing the timing of your dosage might correct thinning hair caused by thyroid imbalance.
Wet hair is especially fragile and tends to break more easily. Try to avoid vigorous shampooing and brushing. Instead of using a blow dryer on wet hair, let your hair dry naturally or wait until it is dry to comb it. Tight ponytails, curlers and caps cut off circulation to the scalp. To improve blood flow to the hair follicles, massage the scalp or lie on a slant board for 15 minutes, if health allows.
Chemical treatments, such as dyes, straighteners and frequent perms can weaken your hair, making it more susceptible to breakage.
Nourishing your body and your hair from the inside out may speed up the process of re-growth. A supplemental cocktail might include extra biotin, plus the entire B complex; essential fatty acids (flax, fish and evening primrose oils); trace minerals, especially silica and zinc; and vitamin C for collagen and connective tissue growth.
Food sources of biotin include Brewer's yeast, brown rice, bulgur wheat, green peas, lentils, nuts, soybeans, sunflower seeds and walnuts.
By putting biotin in your body, you might be putting more hair on your head.
The information in this article is for educational purposes. Consult your physician if you have a medical condition.
Margot Bennett is a licensed nutritionist at Mother Nature's Pantry, located in the Garden Square Shoppes, 4513 PGA Blvd. in Palm Beach Gardens. Call her at (561) 626-4461.