Eighty percent of “typical” hair loss, also known as androgenetic alopecia (AGA), is genetic. For the other 20% of the equation, medications like minoxidil, spironolactone, or finasteride are prescriptions that have a long-standing track record of efficacy. Not every patient is a good candidate for these medications. However, everyone can take advantage of the findings drawn from a growing body of research on the environmental and dietary factors that influence hair loss and regrowth. Since we cannot control our genes but can control what we eat and do, let’s take a look at “what works and what hurts.”
In a randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study, 76 men with male pattern baldness received either 2-3 pumpkin seeds’ worth (400 mg) of pumpkin seed oil a day in capsules or placebo capsules. After 24 weeks of treatment, those taking the pumpkin seed oil had a 40% increase in hair counts vs. 10% in the placebo group. Additionally, in 2009 a South Korean study found that randomizing men with benign prostate hypertrophy (BPH)—enlarged prostate glands—to just 320 mg of pumpkin seed oil a day improved urinary flow rates while it continued to decline in the control group. Because it appears pumpkin seeds are exerting a strong anti-androgen effect to improve both BPH and hair loss, investigators in the male pattern baldness study reviewed the before and after index of erectile disfunction and found no evidence of adverse sexual side effects.
Takeaway: Eat 3-6 raw pumpkin seeds a day.
Fresh Herbs and Vegetables
In a population study of the Mediterranean diet, after researchers controlled for age, education, body mass index and family history of AGA, they found high consumption (≥ 3 times weekly) of raw vegetables reduced the risk for hair loss by 57% and high consumption of fresh herbs (also ≥ 3 times weekly) reduced the likelihood for hair loss by 56%.
Takeaway: Eat herbs and veggies daily.
Soy and Hot Peppers
A study done in Taiwan showed at least weekly consumption of a soy beverage reduced the odds of experiencing androgenetic alopecia by 62%. A randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of compounds in hot peppers and soy showed significantly higher promotion of hair growth in the study group vs. those on the placebo.
Takeaway (daily consumption):
¼ fresh jalapeno (6mg of capsaicin, i.e., the active compound in hot peppers)
¾ of a cup of tempeh or edamame (75 milligrams of isoflavones).
Studies on identical twins revealed that the twin experiencing more stress had greater hair loss.,
Takeaway: Stress management is a key factor for hair regrowth.
Having more children
Having more kids is associated with more hair loss according to studies performed on identical twin sisters. This phenomenon may be due to the many hormonal and physiological stresses the body undergoes during pregnancy and childbirth.6 Additionally, it may be a marker for the increased stress involved in raising children as a similar study of identical twin men also found the twin with more children experienced more hair loss.7
Takeaway: Kids actually do make your hair fall out.
Genotoxic compounds in cigarettes may damage the DNA in hair follicles as well as the fine vessels that supply the hair with nutrients so that it can no longer support hair growth.6, 7
Takeaway: Stop smoking.
Mercury is found to be concentrated up to 250 times higher in the hair follicle than it is in the blood. In the United States, mercury exposure is primarily through seafood consumption. In cases where dietary mercury is the culprit, removing fish from the diet allows mercury levels to normalize and regrowth to occur.
Takeaway: Stop eating fish.
1 Cho YH, Lee SY, Jeong DW, Choi EJ, Kim YJ, Lee JG, Yi YH, Cha HS. Effect of pumpkin seed oil on hair growth in men with androgenetic alopecia: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2014;2014:549721.
2 Hong H, Kim CS, Maeng S. Effects of pumpkin seed oil and saw palmetto oil in Korean men with symptomatic benign prostatic hyperplasia. Nutr Res Pract. 2009 Winter;3(4):323-7.
3 Fortes C, Mastroeni S, Mannooranparampil T, Abeni D, Panebianco A. Mediterranean diet: fresh herbs and fresh vegetables decrease the risk of Androgenetic Alopecia in males. Arch Dermatol Res. 2018 Jan;310(1):71-76.
4 Lai CH, Chu NF, Chang CW, Wang SL, Yang HC, Chu CM, Chang CT, Lin MH, Chien WC, Su SL, Chou YC, Chen KH, Wang WM, Liou SH. Androgenic alopecia is associated with less dietary soy, lower [corrected] blood vanadium and rs1160312 1 polymorphism in Taiwanese communities. PLoS One. 2013 Dec 30;8(12):e79789.
5 Harada N, Okajima K, Arai M, Kurihara H, Nakagata N. Administration of capsaicin and isoflavone promotes hair growth by increasing insulin-like growth factor-I production in mice and in humans with alopecia. Growth Horm IGF Res. 2007 Oct;17(5):408-15.
6 Gatherwright J, Liu MT, Gliniak C, Totonchi A, Guyuron B. The contribution of endogenous and exogenous factors to female alopecia: a study of identical twins. Plast Reconstr Surg. 2012 Dec;130(6):1219-1226.
7 Gatherwright J, Liu MT, Amirlak B, Gliniak C, Totonchi A, Guyuron B. The contribution of endogenous and exogenous factors to male alopecia: a study of identical twins. Plast Reconstr Surg. 2013 May;131(5):794e-801e.
8 Peters JB, Warren MP. Reversible alopecia associated with high blood mercury levels and early menopause: a report of two cases. Menopause. 2019 Aug;26(8):915-918.