There might be a vitamin for hair loss after all. And it takes care of your skin too.
Losing hair can have a significant impact on one's psychological and social outlook.
And while we may notice more men with this problem than women, it is nevertheless a condition that affects both genders.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, we typically lose about 50-100 hair threads a day. But compared to the average of about 100,000 hair follicles on our heads, this loss is insignificant.
It is when we start to lose more hair than we are growing that the loss becomes a problem.
There are many causes of hair loss, the most common of which are male and female pattern baldness, alopecia areata (an autoimmune disease of unknown cause), scarring alopecia (where hair follicles are damaged due to other medical conditions), telogen effluvium (caused by physical or emotional stress), and traction alopecia (caused by excessive hairstyling or hairstyles).
In 2000, two Turkish scientists published a study in Cell Biochemistry and Function, showing a link between oxidative stress and hair loss.
By comparing the levels and activities of certain antioxidants - as well as substances indicating oxidative stress - between two groups of participants, one with hair loss and one without, the scientists found that the levels of antioxidants were significantly lower in those participants experiencing hair loss.
In additon, the levels of substances showing oxidative stress were significantly higher for t hese participants.
With this in mind, a group of researchers from Universiti Sains Malaysia's (USM) School of Pharmaceutical Science and nutraceutical company Hovid Bhd, teamed up to look at the effects of increased doses of vitamin E, specifically tocotrienols, on hair loss.
What's hair-E growth?
Tocotrienols: A powerful antioxidant
Says Carotech Ltd Sales & Marketing (Europe) Scientific Affairs vice-president Dr Sharon Ling: "Tocotrienol is a very potent antioxidant - 40 to 60 times more potent than tocopherol - with preferential accumulation in human skin and cuticle structures, including hair, after oral consumption and topical application.
"We know that ageing and injury to skin structures, including hair, bear close relation to injury from the environment. Lipid peroxidation and oxidative stress are associated with ageing and hair loss.
"As tocotrienol is a potent antioxidant with selective high concentration in the skin, we thought that it would be a very interesting compound to investigate for skin and hair protective properties."
Tocotrienols and tocopherols are both members of the vitamin E family, with four types each: α, b, g and d. Increasing scientific attention has been paid to tocotrienols in recent years, after almost exclusive focus on tocopherol in the early decades of vitamin E research.
Carotech, which is based in Malaysia and belongs to Hovid, is the world's first producer of commercially-extracted tocotrienol complexes from virgin crude palm oil - nature's most abundant source of tocotrienols.
The study, published in Tropical Life Sciences Research in 2010, showed a significant difference in the number of hairs grown in a pre-determined scalp area for participants on 100mg of vitamin E, compared to those taking a placebo.
A total of 38 participants of both genders, aged from 18 to 60 years, with varying degrees of hair loss were recruited for the eight month randomised, double-blind trial.
The participants were randomly assigned to the two groups, with 21 ending up in the vitamin E group and 17 in the placebo group.
The vitamin E supplement given contained Carotech's tocotrienol complex - a 50mg capsule of mixed tocotrienols (30.8 per cent α-tocotrienol, 56.4 per cent b-tocotrienol and 12.8 per cent d-tocotrienol), as well as 23 IU of α-tocopherol, taken twice a day.
All participants had a 2x2cm area of their scalp, where they were experiencing hair loss, selected to mark any changes in hair growth or loss during the trial.
They also had a tuft of hair from this area snipped off three times during the trial, to obtain around 20 strands of hair, which were then trimmed to 1cm in length and measured for any weight changes.
The process of hair loss does not only involve the excessive falling out of hair, but also the growth of thinner, more fragile hairs, which cause them to drop out of the scalp sooner.
The results of the study showed that at the end of eight months, the participants on vitamin E demonstrated a significant difference in the amount of hair grown in the measured area, as compared to the beginning of the trial.
Eight of the participants (40 per cent) recorded hair growth of more than 50 per cent in the measured area, while half of them had hair growth between 10 per cent-50 per cent. One participant recorded a slight decrease in hair loss, while another one dropped out of the study.
There was also a significant difference in terms of hair growth between the two groups at the end of the trial. However, no significant differences were noted for the weight of the hair measured.
The conclusion, as stated by the authors, was that "this trial demonstrated that supplementation with tocotrienol capsules increases hair numbers in volunteers suffering from hair loss, as compared to those in the placebo group."
In fact, the specific tocotrienol pill used in the trial was granted a patent by the United States Patent and Trademark Office in 2007 for "a formulation for promoting hair growth and preventing hair loss".
E for the skin
E for the skin
As an antioxidant, tocopherol has been frequently utilised as a main ingredient in cosmetic skincare products.
But various studies over the past decades have shown that tocotrienols have a much stronger effect than tocopherols in skin protection against ultraviolet (UV) rays, skin whitening and preventing wrinkles.
Says Dr Ling: "Palm tocotrienol prevented skin ageing and oxidation of skin collagen matrix in animal studies. In addition, studies have shown that palm tocotrienol improved efficacy of sunscreen and reduces severity of sunburn."
A Japanese paper published in the Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology in 2008 found that dietary tocotrienols, as fed to hairless mice, were taken up in the skin and protected them against damage from UVB rays.
This effect was enhanced with the addition of sesamin into the diet, but was not as well-exhibited with a diet of α-tocopherols alone.
Good for dry skin too
This might be due to g-tocotrienol's suppression of the production of UVB-induced inflammatory protein, PGE2, as shown in a Japanese paper published in 2010 by the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
This study also showed that similar doses of α-tocopherols did not produce the same effect.
Dr Ling adds that a double-blind, placebo controlled human study also showed that palm tocotrienol works in synergy with astaxanthin to improve dry skin.
"Subjects supplemented with palm tocotrienol had increased moisture level, reduction of fine wrinkles and pimples, improved elasticity and reduced swelling under the eyes," she says.
Meanwhile, other studies have shown that tocotrienol-rich fractions, when used on cells, inhibits the synthesis of melanin - the pigment that darkens our skin; thus, having a skin-whitening effect.
Another study conducted by researchers at USM in collaboration with Carotech examined the effects of individual members of the tocotrienol group, as well as the mixed tocotrienol pill used in the hair loss study above, on procollagen type 1 carboxyterminal peptide (P1CP).
P1CP is the precursor to collagen. As we age, collagen production decreases, while the production of matrix metalloproteinase, an enzyme that degrades collagen, increases. This combination of actions results in wrinkle formation.
The study, which is awaiting publication, showed that the various tocotrienols, as well as the mixed tocotrienol pill, increased P1CP production from concentrations as low as 10ng/ml; thus, demonstrating the potential to slow down wrinkle formation.