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Hair Loss and Supplements: A Good Treatment Alternative?

October 2011

“Natural” May Not Mean “Safe”

For almost every malady--from memory loss to weight gain--a supplement or herbal remedy promises a cure. Many of us try them, with the belief that because they’re natural, they are safe and effective.

However, before you begin taking supplements, you may want to do some research and even consult with your doctor, according to Paul T. Rose, MD, JD, and member of the Hair Foundation Board of Trustees.

This could include reading articles from reputable sources, speaking with your doctor or other health care professionals or visiting health food stores and asking questions.

“Just because something is natural doesn’t mean it’s good for you,” said Rose. “Potassium is a natural product that we need to survive but too much of it can be lethal.”

Rose urges caution when taking supplement, especially because many of them are untested when it comes to providing any actual benefits.

Hair Loss Treatments

Currently there are only two products in the United States proven to limit hair loss and promote hair growth: Propecia® (Finasteride) and Rogaine® (Minoxidil). They have completed rigorous testing and clinical trials to earn FDAapproval.

The supplement palmetto is advertised and sold as a hair loss treatment without providing any evidence of its effectiveness. Supplements may show some effectiveness in a test tube; Rose noted that an individual would need to consume enormous quantities to achieve similar results.

Effective supplements to fight hair loss

Supplements may be useful for a particular vitamin deficiency or a trace element. If a person experiences hair loss from an iron-deficiency, iron supplements can help restore their health and associated hair loss.

“Certain supplements may be helpful, but you have to diagnose the problem first,” Rose said.

Regulation: Supplements vs. Drugs

Have you wondered wonder why supplements and drugs are treated differently?

One difference is herbal supplements are FDA-regulated but fall under a separate category of drugs sold without FDA approval.

“Under the supplement statutes, companies are allowed to promote products that areconsidered to be safe because they’re natural and they don’t have to go through rigorous testing to prove that they actually work,” Rose explained. “Through product advertising, its disclaimer says its effectiveness has not been proven, including FDA approval. As long as companies include this, they can legallymake almost any health benefit claims.”

Pharmaceutical drugs are strictly regulated by the FDA and require solid scientific proof substantiated by rigorous testing and clinical trials.

Under these regulations, drugs are available by a doctor’s prescription and only from licensed pharmacies. Clear instructions and lists of possible side effects are mandatory whereas herbs and supplements may be bought almost anywhere.

Users are uncertain of their safety and its advertised claims are generally unproven and unregulated.

Matt Leavitt, DO, and President of the Hair Foundation, noted, “For a treatment to make a claim, it has to be validated by a scientific study that can be repeated with the same results in an unbiased and separate location. I am skeptical of the validity of any claim if the proper scientific research is not required or has not been conducted.”

Leavitt added, “One should look with suspicion at the cost disparities of an herbal supplement that claims to grow hair versus a product that has come to market under more stringent FDA requirements for testing and research.”

Of greater concern is a potential FDA plan to approve products based on the approval of a similar product.

“These companies don’t actually have to show studies that their product does what it says it’s going to do as long as it’s accepted as reasonably similar to what has been previously marketed,” Rose said.

Hair loss Treatments

Consumers see many hair loss remedies claiming to be natural, safe and effective including saw palmetto, zinc and nettle root. While antioxidants, biotin, vitamin B, zinc and other supplements may improve overall health with stronger, shinier, healthier-looking hair, there is no scientific evidence these products are effective treatments for either male or female pattern hair loss.

“If you opt for “natural” hair-loss remedies, you are almost certainly wasting your money, and you could potentially damage your overall health, said Rose. “The bottom line is that no supplement can do what a pharmaceutical drug can do for hair loss and hair growth.”

What’s Rose’s advice? See a doctor.

“Patients, especially women, should have a proper evaluation by a physician to first understand what’s causing their hair loss, and once that’s understood, then appropriate therapy can be initiated,” said Rose.

At the Hair Foundation, we recommend safe hair health. Please review our Seal of Recommendation program verifying hair product claims.