One of the most exciting touted benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, which are abundant in fish oil, is that they can help you grow long, shiny locks.
“Omega-3s aren’t made in the body, so you have to eat foods that contain them or take a supplement,” says Dr. Lynne J. Goldberg, director of the hair clinic at Boston Medical Center in Massachusetts. Fish and seafood contain DHA and EPA, while plant-based foods like walnuts and flax seeds contain alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA, some of which is converted to EPA and DHA, according to the National Institutes of Health. Proponents of omega-3 fatty acids say that getting enough in your diet can help feed follicles and grow hair.
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Do Omega-3 Fatty Acids Help Hair Regrowth?
When it comes to supplementation, there are few studies looking at omega-3 fatty acids and hair growth, and few that look specifically at fish oil.
A small study in the February 2017 issue of the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology looked at 10 participants with androgenetic alopecia (known as male baldness that can occur in both men and women, MedlinePlus notes) who were each treated with a supplement with a twice-daily supplement Mixture of fish oil, flaxseed oil, antioxidants and melatonin. After about six months, eight people (which corresponds to 80 percent of the participants) had an increase in hair. However, it is important to remember that this was a very small study and there was no placebo group.
An earlier study of 120 participants was published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology in 2015. A group taking a dietary supplement containing fish oil and vitamins C and E (among others) was compared with a control group. After six months, 62 percent of those in the supplement group saw an increase in hair density compared to 28 percent in the control group. Perhaps surprisingly, more than half of the women in the control group said they saw an increase in hair growth when they compared before and after photos of their scalp. “I really think we need more data and more research to understand the possible mechanism,” says Dr. Goldberg, who was not involved in either study.
Diet supplements can contain fish oil or omega-3 fatty acids along with other ingredients such as antioxidants. These ingredients can work synergistically together, so we shouldn’t conclude that taking fish oil or omega-3s alone in a dietary supplement will make hair grow.
Regarding topical use, a study published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences in September 2018, in which scientists applied fermented mackerel oil topically to rodent whiskers, found that the substance helped stimulate follicles, possibly by activating the growth phase of hair .
This is a study – and about rodents. Overall, “topical application of fish oil will not support hair growth or scalp health,” said Kerry Yates, trichologist and founder of Color Collective in Dallas. It also has a fishy odor, and the lingering smell is enough to discourage some people from using pure fish oil on the scalp.
When it comes to hair growth, the most effective thing to do is to eat healthy, use gentle hair care products, and get treatment for hair loss (start with your dermatologist) so any health issues can be fixed, Goldberg says.
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What is the best form of fish oil?
There are many different ways to get fish oil, including fish oil supplements, fish liver oil supplements (like cod liver oil), as well as shellfish and whole fish, according to the National Center for Complementary and Inclusive Health (NCCIH). In terms of food, fatty or oily fish contain the largest amounts of omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, sardines, mackerel, cod, herring, trout, and canned tuna, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Fish like these contain a number of additional vitamins and minerals that diet supplements don’t contain. To reap the potential benefits of fish oil, opt for whole fish over pills recommended by registered dietitians. If you’re looking to take a supplement for your hair, skin, or nails, choose one that uses small fish to limit mercury levels, says Dr. Debra Jaliman, a board certified dermatologist based in New York City and author of Skin Rules. She likes Nordic Naturals, which uses fish oil made from anchovies and sardines.
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Is Fish Oil Good for Hair and Nails?
There is a lack of data to support the role of fish oil in hair and nail health. Most importantly, you are getting the omega-3 fatty acids your body needs to function well all around. “Different vitamins [claiming] You can let the hair grow, support any imperfections, but do not guarantee hair growth, ”says Yates.
If you are well nourished and have a balanced diet, Goldberg says you are unlikely to be deficient in omega-3s. “And if you’re not deficient, it’s unclear whether consuming more omega-3s than you need from a supplement is helpful,” says Goldberg.
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Does Cod Liver Oil Cause Hair Loss?
There are no studies to show that cod liver oil causes hair loss – there is no research showing a link between cod liver oil and the health of curls in general. However, an excess of certain vitamins, such as vitamin A, can make hair loss worse. This is evident from research published in the journal Dermatology Practical & Conceptual in January 2017. Cod liver oil contains EPA and DHA as well as vitamins A and D NCCIH. The organization warns that the amounts of these two vitamins vary from product to product. Some supplements may contain too much vitamin A, which can cause problems for your health and hair. It’s important to choose supplements from high-quality brands that your health team has approved.
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