We usually want what we can’t have.
When I was living in India, I detested the hot, sunny weather. I would constantly complain about the heat. And I would look forward to the short and fleeting winters.
Then I moved to the UK. And my weather liking took a 180-degree turn. I was seeking sun – which usually remains hidden behind the clouds. Also, I was missing the natural brightness that comes with the sun. And another thing that I was missing was a very important nutrient: vitamin D.
Vitamin D is essential for building strong bones and teeth. It also boosts our immune system and helps fight infection. As well as it promotes hair growth and reduces hair loss. The problem is that many of us are lacking in vitamin D. That’s because we live and work indoors or use sunscreen or live far north or south where the sun doesn’t have enough UVB rays, especially in winters, for us to produce vitamin D.
Vitamin D: The Sunshine Vitamin
When the sun’s rays hit our skin, it makes us warm. But there’s more going on there. Our skin is the primary manufacturing site for Vitamin D. The cholesterol in the skin gets converted into pre-vitamin D3 and enters the body. However, it’s not an active form, and our body cannot use it. The pre-vitamin D3 has to undergo a few more processes in the liver and kidneys to be finally transformed into an active form of D that our cells can utilise.
The sun emits two types of ultraviolet rays, UVA and UVB – which reach the earth. For making vitamin D, the skin needs UVB. Out of the two rays, UVB is hard to catch. The clouds cover in the sky reduce the UVB rays. But so does window glass, meaning you can’t reap sun benefits sitting indoors. There are a lot of factors that need to be right to make vitamin D.
The sun must be high up and hot. That is why those of us living far north from the equator hardly make vitamin D between October and March when the sun is low in the sky and therefore lack UVB rays. (And if you live far south, it will be your winter months.)
But despite all the criteria needed to create vitamin D, it’s a vital nutrient for our body, and it must be supplied. Either by spending time in the sun or by supplementing. We will look more at how to get vitamin D through the sun and pill later. Let’s first find out what happens when you don’t have enough vitamin D in your body.
Why is Vitamin D So Important?
The bones in our body are not passive, skeletal structures. They are undergoing constant repair and renewal. The function of vitamin D is to help our bodies absorb calcium from the foods we eat. Plus, vitamin D, along with calcium, aids in mineralising and building strong, healthy bones. Therefore one of the early signs of vitamin D deficiency is bone pain. Also, over time it can cause the bones to become soft, weak and prone to breaking.
But vitamin D’s role is much more than preserving our skeletal health. There’s growing evidence that vitamin D helps to regulate our immune system – which is our body’s defence mechanism against infection causing viruses and bacteria (1, 2).
Besides, getting enough vitamin D may also protect us against several chronic conditions. These include: heart disease, breast cancer, bowel cancer, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and autoimmune problems (3).
You see, vitamin D is pretty essential for our overall health. The trouble is that many of us are lacking in it. And to add to the injury, if you don’t have enough vitamin D, its signs and symptoms are vague and subtle, meaning it’s hard to know what’s causing them. And that’s why vitamin D deficiency often goes unnoticed for a long time.
Signs and Symptoms of low Vitamin D can vary from person to person. These include:
- Aches and pain in the bones
- Feeling weak and tired in general
- Muscle weakness that may cause difficulty climbing stair or getting up from low chair
- Stress fractures
- Getting sick often
- Mood changes
Apparently, vitamin D is also required for hair follicle growth, so if you have D deficiency, you may get hair loss and thinning. Let’s delve more into the hair topic…
Vitamin D and Hair Loss: Why Does D Matter
The exact role of vitamin D on hair growth is not clear. But it appears that it helps in creating new hair. Vitamin D mediates its action via vitamin D receptors or docking sites in the hair follicles. Hair follicles are the tiny pockets from which the hair grows.
Vitamin D binds to the vitamin D receptors and stimulates the hair cycle (4). The hair cycle consists of the growing or anagen phase – during which the hair grows actively for a few years. The next comes the resting or catagen phase – during which time the hair is just sitting in the hair follicle before falling out. Then the new hair cycle begins again.
The need for vitamin D arises during the late anagen and catagen phase of the hair cycle. There’s an increase in the expression of vitamin D receptors in the hair follicles. Data suggests that vitamin D bring about the growth and maturation of hair follicles in preparation for a new hair cycle, specifically anagen initiation.
If there’s not enough vitamin D in supply, there will be a break in the normal hair cycle, and no new hair will grow to replace the old ones.
Low Vitamin D Levels have links to Female Pattern Hair Loss
Female pattern hair loss (FPHL) is seen as a thinning over the top or crown of the head. It’s one of the most common types of hair loss in women. There’s no one cause of FPHL. The role of genetics, androgens as well as nutrient deficiencies are proposed.
Recent studies done on women with FPHL suggest that there’s a possible link with vitamin D deficiency (5, 6, 7, 8). Notably, most of the participating women with FPHL had considerably low levels of vitamin D compared to those who did not have hair loss. Hence, the findings lead researchers to recommend the screening for vitamin D levels. And if they were low, then D should be given to correct the deficiency and that may possibly help with hair regrowth.
Vitamin D deficiency may also be a factor in causing Alopecia Areata (AA).
AA appears as small bald patch or patches on the scalp, each about the size of a coin. Since vitamin D helps in regulating immune system, its lack can cause autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, thyroiditis, lupus as well as alopecia areata. In autoimmune condition, your own immune cells, which are supposed to protect you, attack the healthy cells.
In case of alopecia, immune cells attack hair follicles, causing inflammation and eventually hair loss.
In 2018 Lee and colleagues conducted a review of several studies to find association between alopecia areata and vitamin D (9). The authors analysed 14 studies that involved 1255 patients with alopecia areata vs. controls (people with no alopecia). The mean vitamin D levels were quite low (below 20ng/ml) in the people with alopecia areata.
The good news is that hair loss due to vitamin D deficiency is reversible and hair regrowth can happen.
The use of vitamin D cream on alopecia patches was investigated in 3 studies. Interestingly, hair regrowth was seen in more than 60 percent of the participants after 3 month of applying vitamin D cream. Also, those with lower vitamin D levels has faster hair regrowth (11).
And there’s one more… A case study done on a woman living in Sudan prescribed vitamin D and saw her through for 3 months (10). She had diffused hair loss (from all over the scalp) along with general tiredness and low mood. Within a month of vitamin D supplementation, her hair loss reduced. And by the end of 3 months, the hair was regrowing normally. Also her symptoms of tiredness and low mood got better.
You see, there’s ample evidence to suggest that hair loss, especially alopecia and FPHL may have links with vitamin D deficiency. So if you are losing hair, vitamin D deficiency is something you must rule out. It only takes a blood test to get D tested. And who knows, after correcting the deficiency, your hair might start to regrow again.
That was hair and health benefits of vitamin D. Let’s do a recap of what we have seen so far:
- Vitamin D is one of the vital nutrients for the body. It’s needed to build strong bones, boost immunity and improve overall health.
- Vitamin D is also essential for the hair growth cycle. Low levels can cause alopecia areata and female pattern hair loss.
- The good news is, when you correct the deficiency, there are fair chances of hair regrowth.
The desire to seek what is missing may not end very soon. But by keeping your nutrition in check, you may soon end your hair loss misery. Along with the vitamins do not forget a healthy diet of vegetables, fruits, beans, lentils, whole grains and quality meat and fish. Because real food cannot be replaced with any pills.
Next time we will look at how to get vitamin D through the sun and pill.
I would like to hear from you…Have you experienced hair loss due to vitamin D deficiency? What other symptoms you had due to a lack of D?