Bodybuilders and athletes often use supplements to increase muscle mass and to help with post-workout recovery. Though many supplements do help in achieving these results, they can also cause undesirable side effects such as hair loss.
Hair fall, bald patches, or a receding hairline is definitely a matter of concern for both men and women.
In this article, we are examining whether BCAA supplements cause hair loss or hair growth. Quite contradictory, yes! But BCAA has been blamed for hair loss among its users and at the same time, there are many people who claim it helped with hair growth.
So let’s check the science behind BCAA, its working mechanisms, the effect on specific hormones, and ultimately its impact on your hair. Do BCAAs harm or help your hair?
What are BCAAs?
BCAAs are a trio of three essential amino acids.
Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins in the human body. They are classified into essential and non-essential amino acids.
Out of the 20 amino acids used by our body, 9 are essential amino acids. They have to be supplied from our daily diet while the non-essential amino acids are synthesized in the body.
Three of the essential ones, L-leucine, L-isoleucine, and L-valine together are called the Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs).
So termed because of their ‘branched’ chemical structure, BCAAs are vital for protein synthesis, act as sources of energy and support many metabolic functions.
Hair is made up of proteins and since BCAAs play a primary role in protein synthesis, they are important for your hair growth as well.
But how do they influence hair growth? Read on to find out!
Summary: Amino acids, L-leucine, L-isoleucine, and L-valine are called BCAAs owing to their branched chemical structure. Since they aid in protein synthesis they have a significant impact on hair growth.
Does BCAA Cause Hair Loss?
Proteins are found in every cell of the human body including hair. BCAAs are essential amino acids that act as building blocks for proteins. So chances are that BCCAs promote hair growth rather than cause hair loss.
An important factor to note is that – BCAAs are the chief components of the potassium-ion channels present in hair follicles which are, in turn, responsible for stimulating hair growth. (1)
Although BCAA, in recommended doses, is quite safe, overdosing on them can lead to a surge in testosterone levels. The rise in testosterone can lead to unwanted hair loss. (2), (3)
We’ll examine the relationship between BCAA dosage, testosterone, and hair loss, later on in this article.
Summary: BCAAs with their capacity for protein synthesis and being the main constituents of potassium-ion channels in hair follicles may aid hair growth. But overdosing can raise testosterone levels which in turn can induce hair loss.
The Potassium-Ion Channels: BCCA for Hair Growth
Hair growth is dependent on various factors but is primarily engineered by the existence of potassium ions in the hair follicle. Hair growth is vastly based on the presence and effective functioning of potassium ions.
BCAAs are an integral part of potassium ions and hence their consumption may help in repairing damaged hair follicles and stimulation of hair growth.
This possible mechanism makes BCAAs a valuable addition to the formula of many hair growth supplements that claim to promote healthy hair growth.
Research showed that the drug minoxidil, a hypertensive drug, was found to have a side-effect of stimulating hair growth. Topical application of minoxidil induced hair growth through the stimulation of potassium ion channels. (4)
The topical solution (Rogaine) containing 2% minoxidil worked but dependency on the drug increased. If usage was halted, then the effect too was limited and in fact, caused huge shedding afterward. (5)
Dr. Whitfield of Oxford University had suggested a solution to replicate the Rogaine drug mechanism.
This cost-effective method involves using BCAAs with a combination of L-carnitine and niacin to stimulate the potassium ion channels for effective hair growth without any side-effects if its use is stopped. (6)
Summary: BCAAs are the main components of potassium ion channels in hair follicles that are vital for hair growth. A combination of BCAAs, L-carnitine, and niacin is a cost-effective solution to combat hair loss as compared to Rogaine which creates dependency and intense hair shedding if stopped.
BCAA Dosage, Testosterone and Hair Loss
If you thought amino acids were all-natural and hence okay to consume as much as you want, then time to reconsider frequent use of protein shakes and BCAAs.
There are definite side effects to overdosing on amino acids such as the BCAAs and hair loss is one such possible consequence.
BCAAs can create adverse effects such as an imbalance in testosterone levels. High testosterone levels in the body can leave you with noticeable hair loss. (7)
Whey protein supplements also contain some amounts of BCAAs along with other amino acids. When taken regularly, they naturally increase the amino acid concentrations in your body. (8)
A 2010 study indicated that testosterone levels may be significantly increased during overreaching resistance training when accompanied with an intake of amino acids such as BCAAs. (9)
Summary: Whey proteins enhance concentrations of BCAAs in blood. Too much of BCAAs consumption can raise testosterone levels which, in turn, can cause hair loss.
What is the Recommended Dosage of BCAA to Avoid Hair Loss?
Recent studies show that the daily total BCCAs requirement varies from 144mg/kg of body weight to a maximum of 210mg/kg and anything in excess is an overdose. (10)
Medical experts opine that sources of food make a better choice to get the required BCCAs and nutrients you need and minimize any adverse effect. (11)
Healthy foods such as turkey, sardine, quinoa, fenugreek seeds, etc. are great sources of BCAAs. (12), (13), (14), (15)
Seeds such as chia, pumpkin, flaxseeds, etc contain essential nutrients such as calcium, zinc, vitamin C, and iron that promote hair growth effectively. (16), (17), (18)
Summary: Intake of foods that provide BCAAs and essential nutrients are good rather than complete dependence on BCAA protein supplements.
The Final Note
BCCAs are 3 essential amino acids that have to be derived from our daily diet.
BCAAs are vital for protein synthesis and support of metabolic functions. They may have a positive effect on hair growth, as all cells in the human body including hair, are dependent on efficient protein synthesis.
Another primary reason why BCAAs can support hair growth is that they are the primary components of the potassium ions in hair follicles, which are responsible for stimulating hair growth.
Consumption of BCAAs along with L-carnitine and niacin may help boost hair growth without the use of drugs, such as minoxidil, that can cause hair shedding if its usage is stopped.
The downside of BCCAs is that, if consumed in excess, they may cause a surge in the testosterone hormone which, in turn, can trigger hair loss.
The addition of healthy foods that provide BCAA would help lower dependence on supplements and help avoid adverse effects such as hair loss.