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Do Hair Growth Supplements Really Work?: Viviscal, Biotin, L-Arginine Tried and Compared

Long Beautiful Hair  by ReceiveTruth
Dear Nicki, I've heard a lot about skin care supplements like Viviscal recently. Is there any proof that they work? -Hairless
Dear Hairless, There are currently several different hair supplements on the market in the U.S., which can be broken down into four main groups: marine protein, biotin, Chinese medical treatments, and L-arginine. I will discuss the efficacy of each below: Marine Protein: Best Overall Viviscal, a marine protein supplement, is the reportedly the best-selling supplement worldwide (Amazon.com, 2011). Although it has been around for years, it recently gained popularity as Hollywood stylists started using it on celebrities like Kate Hudson (In Style Makeover, 2011). Viviscal has shown to treat alopecia areata and androgen-related hair loss in a 1992 study in the Journal of International Medical Research. A similar product from Scandanavia, Nourkin, also features marine protein and has also been found in clinical studies to have solid efficacy in treating hair loss (The Hair Loss Cure: A Self Help Guide, 2009). Changes in dietary protein have been found to create corresponding changes in the level of protein within the hair within six to twelve months of the dietary adjustments (American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 1999). The mechanism by which marine protein works is not known. However, due to the fact that Vivida®, a fish protein extract, resulted in similarly improved hair growth, it has been suggested marine protein may provide missing amino acids to the hair follicle that aid in hair growth (Journal of International Medical Research, 1992). It has also been suggested the silica compound component of Viviscal® may be important, as silica supplements have been associated with increased hair growth, though there are few studies to substantiate this (Hair Savers for Women, 2000).

The Vitamin Biotin: Best if You Have a Lousy Diet

While biotin has no documented benefits for the skin, it is still a dermatologist’s friend because of its tremendous benefits for the hair and nails. According to Dr. Audrey Kunin, board-certified Kansas City dermatologist and founder of DERMADoctor.com, biotin deficiencies lead to hair loss and fragility. It's difficult to determine if you are biotin-deficient; there is not a good laboratory test to determine a deficiency. Therefore, if you are not eating much spinach, salad, brewer’s yeast, corn, barley, soybeans, walnuts, peanuts, molasses, cauliflower, milk, egg yolks, and fortified cereals, you may want to consider taking a biotin supplement. Two great products that contain biotin are DermaVite Dietary Supplement ($19.75 for 60-day supply of 600 mg/day,DermaDoctor.com) and GNC Hair, Skin, and Nails Formula with biotin and lutein for the skin ($17.99 for 60-day supply of 300 mg/day, Drugstore.com). Another bonus of taking biotin? It has also been found daily supplementation of 2.5 mg biotin leads to 25% thicker nails over the course of 15 months (Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 2005).

Shen Min and L-arginine: May improve greying hair (Shen min), or be used as a natural alternative to Rogaine (L-arginine)

Shen min is used in Chinese medicine because it contains fu ti, an herb believed to stimulate hair follicles and reduce the graying of hair since the Tonjj dynasty. Despite its long-standing use in eastern medicine, I cannot find the proposed mechanism of action or any studies supporting this claim. (I do, however, welcome anyone who has such information to please pass it along to me at nicki[at]futurederm[dot]com)! L-arginine supplements increase nitric oxide levels, causing a relaxation of the hair follicle that has been called a natural Rogaine (Better Nutrition, 2003). Nitric oxide and minoxidil (the active ingredient in Rogaine) both open potassium channels, and is therefore believed to be the reason why L-arginine is associated with hair growth. Unfortunately, I could not find any studies comparing the efficacy of L-arginine supplements to minoxidil topical hair treatments. It is my educated guess that minoxidil treatments are still superior because they act directly on the hair follicle, and do not require a chemical reaction for their effect, while L-arginine must stimulate nitric oxide production physiologically. Still, so long as your doctor gives you the go-ahead, L-arginine appears to be a solid option. L-arginine is commonly found in dairy, beef, poultry, fish and nuts, though supplements are also common.

Bottom Line

There is currently the greatest scientific evidence to support supplementation with a marine protein-based supplement, such as Viviscal. Other options, such as biotin, Shen Min, and L-arginine have more limited support, but may still be viable choices if you have a poor diet (i.e., biotin, L-arginine) or are a candidate for minoxidil/Rogaine (i.e., L-arginine). As always, talk to your physician before beginning this or any other supplement regimen!

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Photo source:  Long Beautiful Hair , a photo by ReceiveTruth on Flickr.
Date: August 1 2011 at 8:00 PM
Hair Care, biotin and hair growth, biotin review, does viviscal work, how does viviscal work, L-arginine and hair growth, L-arginine and hair loss, shen min, shen min and hair growth, viviscal and hair growth, viviscal review

Comments (6)

  1. Jeni
    September 6 2011 at 4:38 PM

    I've tried about 50 different vitamins to try to regrow my hair, or at least keep it from falling out, but so far nothing has worked for me. The latest thing I tried was Viviscal because a hair loss doctor I went to highly recommended it. Anyway, that didn't work for me either. Now I'm starting to wonder if I have a problem absorbing nutrients, and if that's what contributing to my hair loss.

  2. u
    March 20 2012 at 12:07 AM

    i dont no if i am posting this message in a wrong area, but i want 2 let u no, if u r a woman pl dont use tablets of any hair growth, as it causes hair growth everywhere especially on upperlip. instead try viviscal scalp lotion and shampoos. pl spread this word. hair grow and hairloss supplements r: biotin, L arginine and viviscal. B and L A are available @walmart @very cheaper prices. dont pay 2much money for websites that say they stop hairloss. those medikations also contain these B and L A and Vivi only. thanx.

  3. Chris
    June 28 2012 at 1:36 PM

    This is a good question and a well written post. Besides eliminating the causes of hair loss, there are two key factors to promoting hair growth: 1. Feed the hair with the correct balance of amino acids and supporting nutrients 2. Make sure the hair is receiving a strong supply of blood The problem with supplements is they are less easily absorbed compared with nutrients consumed in food. Once you know exactly what foods you need to eat to feed your hair, maximizing those food types is arguably more effective than using supplements. If this is not enough to achieve satisfactory hair growth, I suggest taking hands on action to directly feed your hair and increase blood circulation in the scalp, every day, until you are satisfied with the results. This means following a special 'hair food diet', which feeds the hair and supports hair growth and using special techniques (including increasing nitric oxide) to increase blood circulation in the scalp (thereby increasing the delivery of nutrients to the hair). Additionally, certain conditions in the scalp can restrict blood flow to the hair -- but these can be addressed with the proper guidance. For further reading, see: http://www.nicehair.org/hair-loss-ebook All the best, Chris

  4. Laura D.
    August 22 2012 at 9:06 PM

    The GNC Hair, Skin, & Nails has done wonders for me in just 10 days. My nails are longer & stronger already and I can tell my hair is growing faster! Fantastic product!

  5. Angela
    September 1 2012 at 3:40 PM

    Any info on BioSil hair skin nails capsules? Orthosilicic Acid. There's a 2007 study but I haven't found any more recent ones.

  6. Adam
    January 20 2014 at 10:36 AM

    I've always wondered how much effect supplements can really have on hair loss. I expect the problem is more deeply rooted than a simple nutrient deficiency for them to make much difference but probably some supplements work to an extent. I think that there are better ways to avoid hair loss such as alkalizing the blood, detoxing and removing high glycemic index foods from our diets.
    Cheers
    Adam

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