Even though I prefer to give advice that applies to the majority of our readership, it’s difficult to talk about hair growth without pulling from one’s own experience and today I will get more personal than usual when I revisit the subject of hair growth supplements. I have written about them in the past here and here in very general terms.
Hair growth supplements* sound perfect don’t they? You pop a pill daily with or without a meal and they tremendously increase your hair growth rate, some even claiming potential gains of an inch per month.
You combine your new supplementation with a decent hair regimen, cross your fingers and pray for BSL hair. You have to admit, the pull of hair growth aids is sometimes irresistible to us black women.
Until about 6 months ago my own experience with supplementing vitamins for hair growth was theoretical for the most part having never bothered with them. Hair grows anyway right?
When I was making my final push to achieve my waist length hair goal in November of last year, I decided that along with boot-camp protective styling, I would also try supplementation. After all, so many hair gurus and long haired youtubers admitted to taking supplements to enhance their growth efforts. It was definitely worth a try I thought.
In November 2012 I opted for the ever popular Fast Grow Ethnic Hair Growth Enhancer (no longer available) which I took religiously as described. Unfortunately it was unavailable when the time came to re-order so I switched to Hair Formula 37 (also no longer available) in December 2012.
In the middle of November I started to notice a disturbing symptom. I developed involuntary muscle twitches. We all get muscle twitches from time to time which are perfectly natural and generally go away on their pretty quickly but this was very different from anything I’d ever had. The twitches would go away for a day or two but would always come back. They were particularly persistent in my bottom eyelids.
It wasn’t actually very noticeable to other people unless I specifically pointed out the area as it was happening (thank goodness), but it was something that I was constantly aware of and truthfully, it was beginning to frighten me. A google search of the symptoms brought up everything from ‘nothing to worry about’ to ‘a fatal muscle wasting disease’. Clearly not helpful.
Not one to run to the doctor at the first sign of a runny nose, I decided to wait it out and see if it would either stop on it’s own or I would try to see if I could pinpoint the source of the problem. At the time I was reading up about a paleo diet (grain and dairy free) and not surprisingly I decided to blame the twitching on a gluten sensitivity (it’s all the rage don’t you know). Never mind that I’ve never had a problem with gluten in the past!
I promptly removed every trace of gluten from my diet even going as far as refusing to eat out any more in case of cross contamination. The twitching didn’t stop. I would sometimes imagine that it was reducing in severity and sometimes it would go away for a couple of days but then it would be back with a vengeance. ‘I’m still in the process of healing’ I would tell myself.
In December as my Hair Formula 37 was running out, and after having been gluten free for a month I came across a video in which a lady explains how she grew her hair extremely quickly. She says that her hair grew 1-1½ inches per month which she credits to her supplementation regimen. She recommends taking: Womens Ultra Mega Multi Vitamins, MSM, Biotin & Silica. I was intrigued.
I have always been a slow grower averaging 4 inches of hair per year but it’s important here to convey that I had already reached my goal of waist length hair so I genuinely wasn’t much bothered about gaining extra length per se. I just wanted to test this theory that this particular combination of vitamins would accelerate my hair growth to over an inch a month.
I was not able to get the Multi vitamins that she suggested but I managed to procure the rest and began taking them in January 2013 (with the addition of Niacin for it’s benefits to hair as well).
I took these 4 pills religiously daily for the next two weeks but haphazardly for the remainder of January and into February. I would forget and skip a day or two and continue taking them when I remembered. I never went more than 3 days without taking my supplements.
I did stop taking Niacin* after two weeks because the it’s side effects (aka Niacin flush) just didn’t sit right with me. My muscle twitches unfortunately, continued as before, sometimes subsiding to where I thought that they were gone before returning.
I distinctly remember a period in mid February where I resolved to be more consistent with my vitamins and I set a phone reminder daily so that I would remember to take them. The eye and muscle twitches became worse and I shake my head now in disbelief that I was unable to see the parallel between the vitamins I was taking and my odd symptoms.
I was still convinced that I had a gluten sensitivity and blamed my toast eating husband with unintentionally contaminating my food. In early March, unable to take it any more, I went to see my doctor to get some answers.
After asking the standard questions of what the symptoms were and their severity the doctor immediately mentioned that involuntary muscle spasms are usually caused by mineral imbalances (either a deficiency or an excess). She didn’t put much weight in the idea it was caused by gluten as I have been eating gluten since childhood without any problems.
The NHS (UK health service) does not generally approve of ordering broad spectrum blood vitamin levels of healthy young women unless medically necessary so my doctor ordered tests for what she assumed would be the most likely cause of my muscle twitches, Magnesium* and Calcium levels.
The levels both came back normal. During the follow up appointment she asked me again if I had started doing anything differently before I noticed the symptoms. The conversation went something like this:
Doc: Have you added any new foods into your diet recently?
Me: Not really, in fact I’ve been gluten free for 3 months
Me: Well I did start taking some vitamins but I don’t really think . . .
Doc: What vitamins?
Doc: When did you start taking them?
Me: Begining of November last year.
Doc: And when did you say your symptoms started?
Me: In November . . . . Oh!
Doc: Just after you started taking these vitamins? Why didn’t your tell me this last week?
Me: I didn’t think it mattered. OMG!
Doc (shaking her head): I think you know what you have to to then.
Me (in shock): OMG!!
In no uncertain terms the doctor told me that I was told to stop taking any form of supplementation, not even vitamin C* and see if my symptoms improved. I was given a follow up appointment for a couple of weeks later. That first week I didn’t notice too much difference but slowly the twitches began to subside and by the second week they were all but gone.
During my last appointment I got a lecture from the Doctor about the dangers of self medication even with so called ‘harmless’ vitamins and minerals. I listened to this with a head hung in shame but all the while giving a silent prayer of thanks that I didn’t have something life threatening. I’m glad to say that the muscle twitches are all gone now over 6 weeks later and I have no intention of ever touching a supplement again!
This is usually the kind of post that I would put in my personal blog rather than here on BHI but it occurred to me that too much of the information posted here seems to support vitamin use as part of your hair journey when it really isn’t necessary.
My own and a lot of other ladies hair goals have been accomplished largely without the use of supplements. A good diet containing plenty of fruit and vegetables along with adequate protein is all you need.
That’s not to say that vitamins haven’t worked for some people, clearly they have, but it’s also prudent to look at the other side of the story.
Supplements contain isolated forms of vitamins in combinations and concentrations that would never be found in nature. That is worrying enough. Further, there have been studies that show that supplemental vitamins are actually harmful rather than beneficial in the long run.
Is it possible that my symptoms were caused by a bad reaction to additives in the supplements rather than the vitamins themselves? Sure. Is it also possible that my personal body chemistry just didn’t agree with one or all of the supplements? Absolutely.
My experience of course is not conclusive proof of anything, it’s just that, an experience. But it should also serve as a warning to those of you on the fence about beginning supplementation as part of your hair journey. At best it may turn out to be unnecessary but at worst, it could see you in a similar or worse situation than I was in.
The truth is researchers just don’t know the long term effects of isolated vitamins. I am no scientist but it’s difficult to continue to be unconcerned about needless supplementation when there is so much information that they may actually be harmful instead of beneficial.
Final note: The purpose of this post is not to call out any particular person or brand that recommends hair vitamin supplementation and neither can I prove conclusively that any of the vitamins or supplements mentioned here caused me direct harm.
I only hope to give you pause by either avoiding supplements altogether in cases where you don’t have a proven deficiency or to encourage vigilance if you happen to notice any negative symptoms while taking supplements. Always check with your doctor before taking any supplements especially if you are already on medication.
In the cold light of day, the idea of trying to speed up a natural process like hair growth with concentrated isolated vitamins may not be the best idea. Hey, your hair is going to grow anyway right?
I never did see a noticeable improvement in my hair growth rate but for the sake of health, there’s a better way of increasing your vitamin intake naturally without depending on supplements; Juicing! But I will get into that further in future posts.
For now I will leave you with a few choice articles to read on the dangers of vitamin supplements.