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Vitamin B Deficiency & Hair Loss

This water-soluble vitamin (also called cobalamin) is important for proper red blood cell formation, neurological function, and DNA synthesis. The primary dietary sources of vitamin B12 are animal-based foods, such as milk, eggs, meat, and fish, although there are a limited number plant-based foods that contain high amounts. This vitamin is bound to amino acids found in protein foods and only released when certain enzymes and stomach acids are present. Some people don’t obtain enough B12 from food, while others consume adequate amounts, but have difficulty absorbing it. Vitamin B12 deficiency is fairly common, affecting 1.5-15% of the general population. A 2014 study indicated 20% of U.S. adults aged 60 and older were deficient in this vitamin. A number of factors in addition to age can lead to a deficiency.

  • Pernicious anemia

  • Use of acid reflux medication

  • Intestinal disorders

  • Gastric surgery

  • Heavy alcohol intake and chronic alcoholism

  • Vegetarian or vegan diet

  • Prolonged or heavy menstrual periods

A Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause a range of symptoms including fatigue, weakness, loss of appetite, a sore tongue or mouth, constipation, and weight loss. Neurological and cognitive changes may include numbness and tingling in the hands and feet, balance problems, depression, confusion, and memory problems.

Vitamin B12 Hair Loss

Although it is not as well documented or supported in research studies, a deficiency in this vitamin has been linked to hair loss. Hair requires a mixture of both vitamins and minerals to grow, and vitamin B12 is one of the essential vitamins. Its vital role in cell division, red blood cell production, and metabolism explains why a B12 deficiency impacts hair quality. The vitamin is required to produce new hair cells and promote hair growth.

During menopause, you may experience hair loss – in fact, this affects an estimated 40% of menopausal women. For most women, hair shedding is relatively mild, such as thinning around the temples. Many women have increased menstrual blood flow leading up to and during menopause, due to cycle changes and mid-cycle or heavy bleeding. This can lead to an increased risk of B12 or iron deficiency, both of which are known to contribute to hair loss. Moreover, some menopausal women struggle with weight gain, resulting in making dietary changes that can lead to a B12 deficiency.

Vitamin B12 in Foods

It is preferable to obtain B12 in food, rather than supplements, however, a limited number of foods are rich in this vitamin. Moreover, dietary restrictions, illness, stress, and eating too many processed foods can lead to inadequate intake or malabsorption. The following foods are rich in B12.

  • Clams

  • Beef liver

  • Grass-fed beef

  • Fortified breakfast cereals

  • Rainbow trout (wild)

  • Sockeye salmon

  • Rainbow trout (farmed)

  • Canned tuna fish

  • Tip sirloin beef

  • Low-fat milk, low-fat

  • Low-fat yogurt

  • Fortified soy milk

  • Nutritional yeast

  • Swiss cheese

Vitamin B12 Supplementation

A person’s ability to absorb vitamin B12 from dietary supplements is largely limited by the capacity of the intrinsic factor. For example, only about 10 mcg of a 500 mcg oral supplement is actually absorbed in healthy people. In addition to oral supplements, vitamin B12 is available in sublingual tablets or lozenges that dissolve in the mouth. Although they are frequently touted as being superior, evidence suggests no difference in efficacy between oral and sublingual forms. Vitamin B12 is water soluble, so any excess should be flushed from the body and not pose too much of a health risk.

Vitamin B12 Injections

Vitamin B12 shots are normally available by prescription only and are administered into the muscle tissue about once monthly, although dosage varies depending on age and medical history. In recent years, B12 injections have become a fad of sorts, available without a prescription and marketed exclusively for weight loss and fitness, rather than other health benefits. No studies have been done on the efficacy of these injections for hair loss, but there is some evidence they can improve fatigue and boost the metabolism. There is the absorption issue and high doses can interact with some medications. The injections are not inexpensive and if you’re not deficient in vitamin B12 or other underlying reasons are responsible for hair loss, the injections won’t do much to improve this.

Differential Diagnoses

Hair loss has many underlying causes and can result from a combination of factors. Folate needs to be high-normal for B12 to be fully utilized by the body. If you are suffering from hair loss, it’s important to be tested for B12, folate, and have all thyroid levels checked. Depending on test results, you may be advised to take B12 supplements and/or thyroid replacement therapy if your thyroid function is low (hypothyroidism).



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