Nutraceuticals, a fusion of ‘nutrition’ and ‘pharmaceuticals,’ are derived from food sources that claim to offer additional health benefits beyond their basic nutritional value. This term, coined by Dr. Stephen DeFelice in 1989, includes dietary supplements, isolated nutrients, and herbal products. They are increasingly recognized for their role in various health areas, including the prevention and treatment of hair loss.


Marketed for their potential in promoting hair growth and preventing hair loss, these products often contain ingredients like biotin, zinc, and herbal extracts such as saw palmetto. While some studies suggest benefits for hair health, it’s essential to critically assess these claims.

The use of specific herbal preparations clinically proven to reduce dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a key factor in male pattern baldness, was first noted in Spencer David Kobren’s “The Bald Truth” in the late 1990s.  The standardized extracts mentioned for their effectiveness in lowering DHT include:

  • Saw Palmetto (Serenoa repens): Typically used in hair loss treatments, this standardized extract should contain about 85-95% fatty acids and sterols and is believed to inhibit the enzyme 5-alpha-reductase, responsible for converting testosterone into DHT.
  • Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica): The root extract, used for its standardized content of polysaccharides and lignans, is thought to hinder the binding of DHT to hair follicle receptors.
  • Pygeum Africanum: Extracted from the bark of the African cherry tree, this standardized extract usually contains phytosterols such as beta-sitosterol, believed to help reduce the conversion of testosterone to DHT and alleviate inflammation in the prostate.

It should be noted that many of today’s advertised natural DHT blockers do not meet the basic criteria originally studied and noted by Kobren.

Examining Nutraceutical Claims

The oversight of nutraceuticals is minimal, virtually non-existent, especially when compared to the stringent regulations applied to traditional pharmaceuticals. This lack of regulatory scrutiny means that the efficacy and safety of many nutraceutical products are not thoroughly tested. Consequently, consumers are advised to be particularly discerning, seeking out products that have undergone some form of clinical testing and have been reviewed by The American Hair Loss Association to help ensure a greater degree of manufacturer reliability.


Understanding Risks and Limitations

Risks and Side Effects Despite their ‘natural’ label, nutraceuticals can pose risks and potential side effects, especially when interacting with other medications. It’s vital to consult healthcare professionals before starting any nutraceutical regimen, especially for individuals with pre-existing conditions or those on medication.

Limitations in Treatment Nutraceuticals should not be regarded as a panacea for hair loss, which can be a complex issue with various underlying causes, potentially requiring a more comprehensive medical treatment approach.


Making Informed Decisions

Seeking Professional Advice When considering nutraceuticals for hair loss, seeking advice from healthcare professionals is crucial. Be cautious of products promoted by dermatologists based on questionable data, and verify product quality with The American Hair Loss Association.

Evaluating the Evidence Truly independent peer-reviewed studies on nutraceuticals may be scarce, but some ingredients have been tested for other indications, such as lowering DHT, a direct cause of androgenic alopecia. Be wary of products lacking transparent information about their formulation and clinical testing, and approach celebrity endorsements with skepticism, as these may indicate a focus on perception rather than quality and stringent manufacturing practices.



Navigating Nutraceuticals with Caution In summary, nutraceuticals offer potential benefits for hair health, but navigating this field requires caution. Balancing optimism with critical evaluation, understanding their limitations, and acknowledging the need for professional guidance are key to making informed decisions for managing hair loss effectively.