The function of hair is unknown. Mainly, we know that it frames our faces and is a form of self-expression. Therefore, hair loss can be quite devastating to individuals who experience it.
By age 70, over 70% of males and over 50% of females will have evidence of balding. Because balding affects such a large portion of the population, there has been somewhat of a race for the cure. Recently, several different teams of scientists have published their research, regarding the role of vitamin D and its receptor and its effects on hair loss.
If vitamin D can affect hair loss, can taking vitamin D supplements cure balding? The answer is probably no. The research does not support that vitamin D supplementation alone will lead to hair growth. The receptor that vitamin D acts on is likely more important to regulating hair cycling and growth than vitamin D itself.
The vitamin D receptor can be thought of as the lock and vitamin D can be thought of as a key that fits into the lock. Research has shown that there are many different molecules besides vitamin D that can act as keys to the vitamin D receptor’s lock. Some of these molecules, such as MED1 and LEF-1, were recently described by researchers at Harvard Medical School and the University of California San Francisco as being critical to hair growth.
These molecules, such as vitamin D, that bind to the vitamin D receptor are called ligands. When they bind to the vitamin D receptor, they lead to activation of the receptor, which leads to regulation of various genes that control hair cycling and growth. Although, according to a July 2012 report by Dr. Haussler from the University of Arizona, the vitamin D receptor can be activated without being bound by a ligand.
Interestingly, although the actual vitamin D receptor and not necessarily vitamin D alone, seems to play a bigger role in hair growth regulation, a recent study by Dr. Yoshimura from the University of Tokyo, suggests that vitamin D may also stimulate hair growth. The researchers used cells taken from mouse skin, and pretreated them with vitamin D. When the cells were transplanted back into the mouse and induced to form hair, they found that the addition of vitamin D enhanced hair follicle growth.
This is a promising finding that could potentially be useful in the future, when cloning hair for its use in hair transplantation.
So have scientists discovered the cure for baldness? The answer is not yet. The recent discoveries about the vitamin D receptor’s influence on hair growth is just a small piece in this very complex puzzle.
Dr. Meena Singh is a board-certified dermatologist. She received her medical education at Harvard Medical School and dermatology training at the Mayo Clinic. She is currently in private practice in New York City. Her interests include ethnic skin and hair (also termed “skin of color”), hair loss, scarring or permanent hair loss, and hair restoration surgery or hair transplantation. She is currently performing clinical trials in laser hair stimulation, as well as projects on techniques used in hair transplantation for scarring and non-scarring forms of hair loss.