In this article I’ll show you the 2 main ways that fish oil can help you grow thick, healthy hair (HINT: one way involves blocking DHT) and then I’ll show you the best way to use it for maximum hair-growing impact
Chances are, you’ve heard of fish oil and its supposed health benefits before.
Currently the third most widely used dietary supplement in the United States, it is considered one of the trendiest supplements out there.
Its miraculous properties were first observed in areas such as Greenland and Japan, where high dietary intake of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids from seafood was correlated with low incidences of certain diseases, such as myocardial infarction (heart attack), chronic inflammatory, and autoimmune disorders.
Natural fish oil has since been associated with a myriad of health benefits, including those related to cardiovascular, cancer, stroke, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, depression, anxiety, epilepsy, psychosis, cataract, psoriasis, dermatitis, attention deficit hyperactive disorder, asthma, and allergies, to name a few.
With such large influences across many health domains, we want to examine whether fish oil can also help with hair loss in those afflicted with alopecia, or male-patterned baldness.
What is Fish Oil
Fish oil is the fat or oil that is extracted from the tissues of certain fishes. This oil generally contains a high level of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid.
Even though our body requires these fatty acids in order to function properly, we cannot synthesize them ourselves. We need to obtain them through diet.
There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids applicable to us. The two most widely talked about is eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
They are found in a variety of marine life such as tuna, herring, mackerel, and krills.
These animals do not produce omega-3 fatty acids internally, but rather they accumulate them by either consuming phytoplankton, a type of marine algae or preying on other fishes that have ingested the fatty acids prior.
The other type of omega-3, called alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), are found primarily in plant-based foods such as nuts, flaxseed, chia and hemp.
ALA is considered the shorter-chain omega-3 fatty acids, while EPA and DHA have longer-chain omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3 helps influence the cell membrane by affecting the function of cell receptors in these membranes. They are crucial for making hormones that regulate the contraction, relaxation, and clotting of artery walls.
Therefore, it plays a large role in controlling inflammation. They are also heavily present in the brain and are necessary for cognitive performances, including memory, mood, and behavioral function.
Many scientists argue that most of the cellular health benefits linked to omega-3 fats are associated to the marine-based EPA and DHA. ALA can convert into EPA and DHA in the body, but it is done at a very low ratio.
Though it hasn’t been well-researched yet, omega-3 fish oil may be able to encourage healthy skin and hair growth due to its strong anti-inflammatory properties.
By reducing chronic attacks to the scalp, the body can provide proper circulation and nourishment to the hair follicles and promote sustainable growth.
How Fish Oil Reduces Inflammation
Inflammation is a complex biological process that is part of the normal host’s response to the many harmful stimuli of life, such as injuries, infections, foreign pathogens, and toxins.
Immune cells present in the damaged tissue will release various inflammatory markers to activate inflammation, which will start the process of removing any invading microorganisms or dead tissues.
Only when they are cleared out can the body start to repair itself, thus ending the inflammation cycle and allowing cells to proceed as normal.
However, the problem arises when the foreign microorganisms are persistently present. The inflammatory markers will continue sending distress signals and prolong the inflammation for an extended duration of time.
This uncontrollable type of inflammation is called chronic inflammation.
Chronic inflammation can be very serious and is often the onset of many disorders and diseases, including those related to metabolic syndromes, autoimmune, and cancer.
In the case of hair loss, unnatural accumulation of harmful substances such as free radicals, DHT, bacteria, and fungus in the scalp region can instigate and perpetuate inflammatory response to the tissues.
The symptoms of persistent inflammation will not only damage follicular cells but also limit a vital supply of nutrition and impede attempts to repair damaged cells.
This often lead to chronic hair loss, which if left unaddressed may become irreversible.
Therefore, managing chronic inflammation will encourage healthy function in the scalp and conceivably promote hair growth.
A few studies have suggested that the omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in fish oil may exert anti-inflammatory benefits in both a prophylactic manner (preventing an increase in inflammation) as well as in a therapeutic manner (decreasing elevated inflammatory markers).
To test the anti-inflammatory properties of fish oil, Kiecolt-Glaser, Belury and their team of researchers recruited 138 middle-aged and older adults who were sedentary and overweight and split them into three groups – one with 2.5 grams of fish oil, one with 1.25 grams of fish oil and the last with only placebo (with a mixture of palm, olive, soy, canola and coco butter oil).
The researchers chose a 7:1 EPA/DHA balance due to prior evidence suggesting that EPA has a relatively stronger anti-inflammatory effect than DHA.
After four months of continuous use, the researchers found that there was a significant decrease in the inflammation markers (interleukin-6 and tumor necrosis factor) between the placebo group and the fish-oil groups.
In the placebo group, there was even an increase in these markers, making them more susceptible to inflammation!
The Omega-3 and Omega-6 Debate
One other hypothesis for the chronic inflammation in our body, including at the scalp, is related to omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid.
A popular theory suggests that while omega-3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation, omega-6 fatty acids does the opposite by promoting inflammation.
However, not all omega-6 fatty acids should be measured in the same light. Though inconclusive, many researchers argued that the overproduction of a specific omega-6 called arachidonic acid may be more responsible than others.
These same researchers further suggest that omega-3 fatty acids, in addition to the inherent anti-inflammatory properties, can also interrupt arachidonic acid from overexpression.
At a biological level, the omega-3 fatty acids compete with arachidonic acid to be synthesized by specific enzymes (such as cyclooxygenase) that help regulate the inflammatory markers, which as we know are instrumental to the initiation and continuation of inflammation.
If these enzymes bind with the omega-3 acid, many aggressive inflammatory markers will not activate.
However, if there are too many arachidonic acids, then the enzyme will use them instead.
This will trigger more activities in the inflammatory markers, thus sustaining the chronic inflammation.
Given that the typical American diet generally contains 14 to 25 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3, it seems reasonable to assume that eliminating a majority of our omega-6 intake will be the most effective dietary practice for promoting a healthy scalp.
In fact, this method might prove to be more counterproductive for combating alopecia.
In moderation, the very same arachidonic acid have shown to support hair growth by preventing healthy hair cells from prematurely self-destructing.
In addition, arachidonic acid can help promote cell integrity by activating special growth factors that encourage the multiplication of these keratin cells during the anagen phase of hair growth.
Therefore, the problem of chronic inflammation may lie more in the imbalance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the body.
In recent years, many studies investigating high omega-3 intake have also shown that including omega-6 in the diet does not interfere with the benefits of omega-3, but instead work synergistically to reduce inflammation.
The American Heart Association published a study that took patients from two previous cohort studies and narrowed it down to approximately 405 healthy men and 454 healthy women for this study.
They then took blood samples from each participant and examined the ratios of omega-3 to omega-6.
They found that subjects with low levels of omega-3 fatty acids and high levels of omega-6 fatty acids tend to have a high degree of inflammatory markers.
Interestingly enough though, subjects that had a high intake of both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids resulted in the lowest level of inflammation markers.
Given their finding, the researchers suggest that individuals should concentrate on consuming more sources of omega-3, which may prove effective in directly addressing the fatty acid imbalance in most Western diets.
Fish Oil May Be Linked with DHT
While researches are still in the early phases, a daily intake of fish oil may help reduce the hair loss through the regulation of the hormone dihydrotestosterone.
Dihydrotestosterone (DHT) is a sex steroid and androgen hormone that is created as a testosterone byproduct.
While we recognize that testosterone is essential for sexual functions and certain male development, it is also the precursor for DHT.
In fact, about 5 – 10% of circulating free testosterone, with the help of the enzyme Type II 5-alpha reductase, converts to DHT.
While DHT plays a vital role in secondary male characteristics such as facial hair, chest hair, deepening voice and muscle mass, it also serves to take hair away from the scalp.
When DHT attaches itself to the hair follicle’s oil gland, it stops essential vitamins, minerals, and proteins from nourishing the follicles.
This effectively shortens the average lifespan of the follicles, which results in its shrinking and stunted development.
Numerous studies have linked the correlation between the two.
Interestingly enough, DHT has also been linked to the growth of prostate cells.
While this is normal in adolescence years, in many older men, it contributes to benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), a condition characterized by a non-cancerous enlargement of the prostate gland.
Therefore, alopecia is likely correlated with the development of BPH.
One particular study seeks to examine the role of 21 different dietary fatty acids contents in subjects with benign and malignant prostatic diseases in comparison to healthy patients.
After collecting blood samples from 64 male patients (21 of which with BPH, 19 with prostate cancer, and 21 with neither), researchers found that BPH and prostate subjects are generally associated with low omega-3 fatty acid counts.
The researchers postulate that both benign and malignant prostatic diseases are dependent on the same few hormones, including testosterone and dihydrotestosterone.
These two hormones alone play a major role in regulating the synthesis, release, and metabolism of a lipid compound called prostaglandins, which is influenced by the metabolism of fatty acids.
Therefore, omega-3 fatty acids may have a direct role to DHT’s effect on BPH and the enlargement of the prostate.
How to Apply Fish Oil
If you think omega-3 can help with your hair loss, experts from health organizations like the World Health Organization and European Food Safety Authority recommends taking approximately 250 – 500 mg per day.
However, you should take into consideration several factors, including age, health, and daily omega-6 intake before deciding on an appropriate dosage of fish oil.
When choosing a brand, note the amount of EPA and DHA contained in each capsule, which may differ from each supplier. Generally speaking, you should aim for a brand that provides a minimum of 180 mg of EPA and 120 mg of DHA.
Keep in mind that some of these supplement companies may provide false advertisement about the quality and concentration of their oil.
Check the labels to make sure that it has been tested and verified by a trusted third party (such as GOED).
Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to encounter fish oil with an unpleasant odor. This may be an indication of oxidation, which means that the oil is likely not fresh.
You can read more about fish oil health benefits here.
Though a few studies have displayed no evidence of oxidized fish oil negatively affecting health in the short-run, it may be better to avoid taking these.
It may also be helpful to take a Vitamin E supplement alongside the fish oil. Vitamin E is a fat-soluble antioxidant that can counteract any oxidation present.
While it is entirely possible to apply the oil directly to the scalp and hair, some may find the fish smell too rancid and overbearing. You can mix the fish oil with another oil to dilute the smell.
Otherwise, oral consumption should provide the same benefits.
Except for the bad breath and occasional belching, fish oil is likely safe for most people when taken in low doses. You can take the supplement with a meal to prevent these minor issues.
More serious side effects, such as weakened immune system and reduced blood clotting, may occur when fish oil is taken in high doses.
The omega-3 content in fish oils provides many applicable benefits for a healthier scalp, especially when it is well-balanced with omega-6. Therefore, we do not think it will hurt to add fish oil to your daily regimen.
Keep in mind though that there is currently not enough conclusive evidence to suggest that fish oil will make a large difference in remedying hair loss or promoting hair growth.
Because there is little consensus on the best dietary practice for fish oil, it is best to consult a physician before starting.
If you have a condition and are currently taking other drugs, fish oil may interfere and cause more harm than good.