Surely amino acids aka protein have something to do with your hair loss. I mean, more protein is the solution to muscle growth and manliness in general, right? There isn’t much that a giant steak (and whiskey) can’t solve -- just ask Ron Swanson.
Jokes aside, you’re facing a threat to your attractiveness and youth. You feel it and science has confirmed it. You can pretend to shrug it off all you want, but losing your hair is scary. You’re not alone. One-fourth of American men have some hair loss by age 21 and two-thirds by age 35, according to the American Hair Loss Association. Still, we know you’d rather not be a part of this club.
The list of junk science and quackery surrounding hair loss solutions is long. Nutritional supplements, herbs, shampoos, and home remedies that promise fast hair growth are a dime a dozen, and you could waste a lot of time and money testing them all out.
So, where do amino acids and proteins fit in? We’re about to break down the science, but here are the main takeaways:
- Amino acids are present and crucial in nearly all of your tissues, including your hair.
- The chance that your thinning hair is caused by an amino acid or protein deficiency is very, very slim.
- The is no clear, convincing evidence that amino acid supplementation or topical solutions can improve hair growth in men.
- Few hair loss treatments on the market are actually backed by scientifically-sound research. Finasteride and minoxidil are among those few.
What Are Amino Acids?
Proteins are "the building blocks of life!" You’ve heard it before. We all have. Since like junior high biology class. But you may not know that amino acids are the building blocks of proteins -- they are organic compounds that make up the larger protein molecules.
"You can think of a protein as a string of beads, where each bead is an amino acid," explains Khan Academy. The links of the chain: peptide bonds. But, we’re getting too deep.
In all, there are 20 amino acids required by the body. Our bodies produce some naturally. Though they are important, they’re known as "nonessential" amino acids. The others, known as “essential” amino acids, we must get from our diet. Once your body breaks proteins down, the smaller essential and nonessential amino acids are absorbed and go to work doing what they do best.
So, what do they do?
Amino acids play a role in many bodily (and cellular) functions: acting as an energy source, breaking down food, transporting nutrients, removing waste produced by metabolism, repairing and growing body tissue, aiding in immune function, regulating hormones, regulating appetite, and on, and on. Bottomline: they’re vital. Without them, the human body and all of its proteins -- including our hair -- would be impossible.
When it comes to hair growth, amino acids are necessary, but that alone shouldn’t send you out for new supplements.
Amino Acids and Your Hair
"Unlike in the case of the skin, the presence and the role of naturally occurring free amino acids in hair shafts are not known yet," reads a 2007 study in the Journal of Cosmetic Science. Yes, as with most science, what we don’t know about amino acids and hair loss far outweighs what we do.
Like the rest of your body, your hair is loaded with amino acids. There, they’re found naturally in the form of keratin, the type of protein your hair is made of. But amino acids are also created as result of protein degradation caused by environmental damage, for example, not just present in keratin when the hair leaves your scalp. Also, there are several things that can change the chemical makeup of your hair, your hair follicles and your ability to grow hair. Aging, weather damage, chemical processing, genetics and nutritional deficiencies may impact amino acid concentration in the existing hair alone.
Because there are so many factors at play, the solution to hair loss isn’t as simple as, "the sun depletes arginine (an amino acid) in your hair, so take an arginine supplement!" Many websites and snake oil peddlers would love to convince you otherwise, however, as they’re selling solutions backed by oversimplified statements just like this. If only it were so simple.
As a matter of fact, research that definitively ties treatments to
There is concrete evidence that biotin, topical minoxidil, and finasteride can be effective, but when it comes to most nutritional supplements and cosmetic applications, that same clear evidence doesn’t exist.
The Research: Nutrition
Cysteine, an amino acid, makes up about one-fourth of keratin -- the key protein that makes up every strand of what’s left of your hair. It is also useful in protecting your hair and hair root from oxidative stress. A few small studies have linked cysteine supplementation to positive results:
- In a 1998 study, volunteers took 4 pills each day containing cysteine for 50 weeks. They saw a 50% increase in hair growth. However, the entire study only included 48 volunteers, half of which were men. Further, just 12 people total took the supplement.
- Forty women took a supplement including cysteine for a period of 6 months and showed a "significant" change in hair growth compared to the placebo group. However, the supplement included other ingredients, making it difficult to credit the cysteine alone.
Lysine is another amino acid present in your hair, required for the production of collagen (a protein!), and present in hair roots. If you’ve done any amount of research on amino acids and hair loss, there’s a chance you’ve heard of lysine, largely because of this research:
- When paired with iron, there
isevidence women with pattern hair loss may experience a decrease in shedding with lysine supplementation. However, hair loss in women has historically been tied to anemia or iron deficiency, so it can’t be said that the lysine alone is helpful, nor can it be said that the same results would occur in men.
The Research: Topical Applications
Scientists, often funded by the cosmetic industry, have spent quite a bit of time and energy looking at the effects of proteins applied directly to the hair. Because chemical reactions, like those that happen in the sun or when you color your hair, can deplete proteins and amino acids in the hair, the research has largely focused on the effects of hair products on hair health and strength, not hair loss or growth.
For example, in 2005, a study in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, said that 6 different amino acids can be lost during hair "weathering", but that some of these amino acids can be reintroduced to the hair. Cosmetic applications containing amino acids, the researchers said, “had a direct effect on the strength of the hair”.
But unless your hair loss is caused by damage from coloring, heat styling, the environment or other external factors, it’s unlikely this existing research applies to you.
In rare cases, hair thinning and loss can be caused by protein deficiency and malnutrition. In the modern Western world, it’s highly unlikely this is what’s behind your balding -- even if you’re on the trendy vegan train. Protein deficiency in the U.S. is "very rare" and is caused by not enough food, in general, not just a lack of animal-based protein. On the
As the scientists put it:
"While trials of amino acid and protein supplements have been published, they are formulated with a variety of nutrients, and therefore it is unclear what role, if any, is played by amino acid and protein supplementation in the absence of known deficiency."
This article was reviewed by Brendan Levy, MD
Important Safety Information
IMPORTANT SAFETY INFORMATION
Finasteride is for use by MEN ONLY and should NOT be used by women or children.
Read this Patient Information before you start taking Finasteride and each time you get a refill. There may be new information. This information does not take the place of talking with your healthcare provider about your medical condition or treatment.
What is Finasteride?
Finasteride is a prescription medicine used for the treatment of male pattern hair loss (androgenetic alopecia).
It is not known if Finasteride works for a receding hairline on either side of and above your forehead (temporal area).
Finasteride is not for use by women and children.
Who should not take Finasteride?
Do not take Finasteride if you:
- are pregnant or may become pregnant. Finasteride may harm your unborn baby.
- Finasteride tablets are coated and will prevent contact with the medicine during handling, as long as the tablets are not broken or crushed. Females who are pregnant or who may become pregnant should not come in contact with broken or crushed Finasteride tablets.
- If a pregnant woman comes in contact with crushed or broken Finasteride tablets, wash the contact area right away with soap and water. If a woman who is pregnant comes into contact with the active ingredient in Finasteride, a healthcare provider should be consulted. If a woman who is pregnant with a male baby swallows or comes in contact with the medicine in Finasteride, the male baby may be born with sex organs that are not normal.
are allergic to any of the ingredients in Finasteride. See the end of this leaflet for a complete list of ingredients in Finasteride.
What should I tell my healthcare provider before taking Finasteride? Before taking Finasteride, tell your healthcare provider if you:
have any other medical conditions, including problems with your prostate or liver
Tell your healthcare provider about all the medicines you take, including prescription and nonprescription medicines, vitamins, and herbal supplements.
Know the medicines you take. Keep a list of them to show your healthcare provider and pharmacist when you get a new medicine.
How should I take Finasteride?
- Take Finasteride exactly as your healthcare provider tells you to take it.
- You may take Finasteride with or without food.
If you forget to take Finasteride, do not take an extra tablet. Just take the next tablet as usual.
Finasteride will not work faster or better if you take it more than once a day.
What are the possible side effects of Finasteride?
decrease in your blood Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) levels. Finasteride can affect a blood test called PSA (Prostate-Specific Antigen) for the screening of prostate cancer. If you have a PSA test done you should tell your healthcare provider that you are taking Finasteride because Finasteride decreases PSA levels. Changes in PSA levels will need to be evaluated by your healthcare provider. Any increase in follow-up PSA levels from their lowest point may signal the presence of prostate cancer and should be evaluated, even if the test results are still within the normal range for men not taking Finasteride. You should also tell your healthcare provider if you have not been taking Finasteride as prescribed because this may affect the PSA test results. For more information, talk to your healthcare provider.
There may be an increased risk of a more serious form of prostate cancer in men taking finasteride at 5 times the dose of Finasteride.
The most common side effects of Finasteride include:
- decrease in sex drive
- trouble getting or keeping an erection
a decrease in the amount of semen
The following have been reported in general use with Finasteride:
- breast tenderness and enlargement. Tell your healthcare provider about any changes in your breasts such as lumps, pain or nipple discharge.
- decrease in sex drive that continued after stopping the medication;
- allergic reactions including rash, itching, hives and swelling of the lips, tongue, throat, and face;
- problems with ejaculation that continued after stopping medication;
- testicular pain;
- difficulty in achieving an erection that continued after stopping the medication;
- male infertility and/or poor quality of semen.
in rare cases, male breast cancer.
Tell your healthcare provider if you have any side effect that bothers you or that does not go away.
These are not all the possible side effects of Finasteride. For more information, ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist. Call your doctor for medical advice about side effects. You may report side effects to FDA at 1-800-FDA1088.
How should I store Finasteride?
- Store Finasteride at room temperature between 59˚F to 86˚F (15˚C to 30˚C).
Keep Finasteride in a closed container and keep Finasteride tablets dry (protect from moisture).
Keep Finasteride and all medicines out of the reach of children.
General information about the safe and effective use of Finasteride.
Medicines are sometimes prescribed for purposes other than those listed in this Patient Information. Do not use Finasteride for a condition for which it was not prescribed. Do not give Finasteride to other people, even if they have the same symptoms you have. It may harm them.