Omega-3 fatty acids are a group of nutrients that may have various health benefits. While some studies suggest that omega-3s may help with hair growth and thickness, evidence for this is limited.
People can get omega-3s from foods, such as oily fish and some plant oils, as well as from supplements.
This article investigates whether omega-3s can benefit the hair. We explore the available evidence and look at ways to boost the intake of these fatty acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of nutrient in certain foods. They play an important role in several body functions, as the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) observe.
The main types of omega-3s are:
- alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
- eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
- docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
ALA comes from plant oils, such as canola and flaxseed oils. Fish and other seafood are sources of EPA and DHA.
Evidence of an impact on hair health is limited. However, a few studies suggest that omega-3s may aid hair growth.
A 2018 study found that a key source of omega-3s — fish oil — stimulated hair growth in rodents.
The researchers isolated rat whisker follicles and treated them with fermented fish oil from mackerel, which contains omega-3 fatty acids. After 14 days, the hair fibers of the treated follicles were longer than those of the untreated follicles.
The team also found that the oil helped move hair into its active growth phase when they applied it to the skin of shaved mice.
Finally, the researchers looked at the effects of fermented fish oil and DHA specifically on a certain type of cell that controls hair follicle growth. Both substances stimulated the growth of these cells.
A 2015 study in humans looked at the effect of a supplement containing omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids on female-pattern hair loss. Of the 120 participants, half took the supplement for 6 months, while the other half did not.
The scientists found that the treatment group had more hair in the active-growth phase than the control group.
The 2015 study also observed that participants taking the omega-3 and omega-6 supplements had thicker hair than those in the control group. Almost 90% of the participants in the supplement group reported that their hair felt thicker and that they were noticing less hair loss.
The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) cited these findings in an article on female-pattern hair loss, the most common cause of hair loss in females.
While the study was promising, the AAD have stopped short of recommending omega-3 supplements as a treatment for hair loss until more research confirms the findings.
Scientists need to look further into the effects of these fatty acids on hair health. However, as omega-3s have other health benefits and few possible side effects, they are unlikely to cause harm.
Some research suggests that omega-3s may also benefit:
- Heart health: Someone who eats seafood 1-4 times a week has a lower risk of dying from heart disease, according to the NCCIH. The same benefit does not result from taking omega-3 supplements.
- Arthritis: Omega-3 supplements may help relieve rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.
- Brain function: Some research suggests that people who get omega-3s from foods such as fish have a lower risk of Alzheimer’s. But not all studies have reached this conclusion.
- Vision: Some findings indicate that a diet rich in omega-3s might reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration, which can cause vision loss. Omega-3 supplements do not appear to stop the progression of the condition.
The American Heart Association (AHA) note that getting omega-3s from eating fish and seafood is generally more beneficial than using supplements.
For people without heart disease, they recommend eating fish containing omega-3s at least twice a week.
If a person opts for an omega-3 supplement, they may absorb it better if they take it with food containing fat.
Omega-3 supplements vary, containing different types of omega-3s in different ratios and from different sources. It is always important to read supplement labels carefully and purchase them from reputable suppliers.
Anyone with a plant-based diet can get DHA and EPA from seaweed and algae.
Oily fish, such as the following, are good sources of EPA and DHA:
It is important to note that some fish contain mercury. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommend eating no more than 2–3 servings of low-risk species of fish per week.
The body cannot make ALA, so it must come from food. Foods that are relatively rich in ALA include:
- flaxseed oil
- soybean oil
- chia seeds
The body may convert a small amount of ALA into EPA and DHA. However, relying on plant sources of ALA to provide all the omega-3s in the diet might keep the body from getting enough EPA and DHA.
Omega-3 supplements sometimes cause side effects. These are typically mild and may include:
- a bad taste in the mouth
- bad breath
- unpleasant-smelling sweat
- heartburn or indigestion
Anyone who has any side effects while taking an omega-3 supplement should stop taking it. It may be possible to add more food sources to the diet.
It is unclear whether fish oil supplements are safe for people with fish or seafood allergies. Use caution and follow a doctor’s guidance.
Always consult a doctor before trying any new supplement. This is especially important for people who take medications that affect blood clotting.
A small amount of evidence suggests that omega-3s may help improve hair thickness and growth. However, researchers need to carry out more studies to verify this.
If a person wants to try omega-3s for hair health, the best way to get more is from food sources such as oily fish. Speak to a doctor before trying an omega-3 supplement.