Hair & Nutrition
We place a lot of emphasis on staying away from hair care ingredients such as silicones, harsh sulfates, drying alcohols, parabens, mineral oils, etc. but eating a healthy well balanced diet is much more important. While the perfect combination of hair products can work wonders for improving your hair, healthy hair starts from within. From the moment hairs exit the protection and nourishment of the scalp, they battle our combs, brushes, dryers, chemicals and any mechanical stressors we apply to them.
At the follicle level, hair that is emerging from the scalp is fortified with as much strength and robust infrastructure as it ever will. If hair is compromised from the start by health and an unhealthy diet, the hair will be weak and will eventually grow weak or feeble from a lack of nutrition. Our hair, skin and nails are a direct reflection of our internal bodily conditions. (The Hair-Total Body Connection)
The cells that reproduce within the hair follicle are among the fastest growing cells in our body. When our bodies are under stress from nutritional deficiencies, illness, medications, hormonal shifts, thyroid conditions, or simply from day to day life, energy is redirected from growing hair to reinforcing more critical bodily processes. Hair follicles are very sensitive to these shifts in attention and are programmed to respond by slowing down growth rates, producing thinner, less vibrant colored fibers and shedding hairs altogether. (The Hair-Total Body Connection)
Poor quality diets produce poor quality hair, plain and simple. Eating a palette of fruits, nuts, seeds, grains, lean meats and leafy vegetables will ensure that you cover the full suite of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that your body needs to produce quality hair. Vegetarians and vegans can plan accordingly to ensure they get the nutrients they need typically found in meats from vegetables, seeds, nuts, grains and supplements.
Finally, giving your body the hydration it requires by drinking water regularly will improve the moisture content on your hair as well as your scalp and skin. Experts at the Institute of Medicine recommend women consume 2.2 liters if liquids per day (men, 3 liters) to keep the hair and body properly hydrated. (The Hair-Total Body Connection)
Vitamins and Minerals
Vitamins are organic substances that are produced by animals and plants. Minerals come from the earth’s soil and water and are taken up by the plants we eat. While numerous vitamins and minerals are beneficial for total body health, a select few have great hair health benefits. External applications of vitamins and minerals in hair products are always temporary solutions and are generally rinsed down the drain. Vitamins and minerals work on the hair best from the inside, where they can travel through the bloodstream and interact with the body internally at the cellular level.
L-lysine is an essential amino acid that our bodies cannot make. It helps to support the uptake of calcium and iron in the blood. It has shown some promise as a dietary remedy for shedding. In one scientific study, when L-lysine was combined with iron supplementation therapy, it helped reduce the rate of hair shedding in women.
Natural sources of L-lysine: beef, chicken, lentils and beans. (“Iron Deficiency” in Textbook of Dermatology, 4th edition)
Every single cell in our body contains protein and our hair is comprised almost entirely of it. Although the body produces its own basic proteins, there are key proteins known as essential amino acids that the body does not make. This must be provided by the foods we eat. These proteins can be found in meat, poultry, fish, tofu, milk products, cheese, eggs, beans, many vegetables, rice, and seeds. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that 10-35% of all daily calories should come from protein sources. Our bodies digest and breakdown food proteins into amino-acid components that in turn replace proteins lacking in our own bodies.
Given that our hair is protein, it’s no surprise that research on both humans and animals has shown that low protein diets produce weak, protein deficient hair shafts, which were found to be more brittle than normal hairs and also lacked color, natural curl pattern and texture of normal hairs. In addition to that, a decrease in the diameter and size of hair follicles were also observed with protein deficient dietary regimen. Once hair follicles shrink, hair texture and color changed soon follow. Eventually, a total disappearance of the hair’s growth phase occurs. So adding adequate protein sources to your diet can reverse negative hair follicle trends. (Institute of Medicine, “Source for Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range).
Iron is needed to accomplish a variety of cellular tasks throughout the body. Iron deficiency can be devastating to the hair. Research has shown that iron deficiency leads to dry, brittle and dull hair. When iron is deficient in the blood, hair shedding rates may increase and an overall thinning of the hair may occur. (“Nutritional Factors and Hair Loss”, Clinical and Experimental Dermatology).
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), plant-based iron is not absorbed by the body as well as iron from meat sources such as poultry and fish. Studies have shown that iron absorption can be improved in the body by eating foods rich in vitamin C or by pairing meat sources of iron with plant sources of iron during meals.
It is suggested that coffee, tea and calcium rich foods such as dairy products should be taken several hours after eating as they can inhibit the absorption of iron in the body. In addition, research has shown that when levels of zinc and iron are in the same multivitamin, iron uptake is substantially decreased. To prevent absorption interference, iron: zinc ratios should be roughly 3 to 1. (Thyroid Disease 101: “The Basics”. “The Diagnosis and Treatment of Iron Deficiency and It’s Potential Relationship to Hair Loss).
The best natural sources of iron supplementation include: dark green leafy vegetables, kidney beans, egg yolks, soybeans, raisins and bran. Also, red meats, poultry and fish.
Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency in the world. Iron’s primary roles are to carry oxygen from our lungs to destinations around the body and to help or muscle tissues manage and store oxygen.
Journal of the American Dietetic Association
This vitamin consists of eight interdependent vitamins, each to improve the look and feel of a hair as it emerges. These vitamins are all found in the same foods and sufficient amount of each B vitamin are needed for the others to work well. Together, the B vitamins play a major role in protein metabolism and in cell growth and repair, Which are all necessary internal processes for better hair growth.
Research has shown that together the B vitamins, found it primarily in eggs, rice, milk, whole grains, poultry and organ meats help prevent hair loss, hair thinning and loss of hair color (graying). B vitamin deficiency can lead to dry scalp and excessive dandruff. In particular biotin (B7) deficiency has been linked to severe cause of dermatitis and hair loss. Folic acid (B9) supports red blood cell development as well as tissue growth and repair in the body. B6 and B12 are especially important for hair health because they support the iron carrying capability of the blood.
Vitamin A is beneficial for healthy growing hair because it supports healthy cell division, the primary means by which hair is formed and exits the follicle. Research has shown that vitamin a supports a healthy scalp environment for hair growth by keeping the scalp scaling (dandruff forming) process under control.
Too little vitamin A can lead to dry hair and scalp, as well as to a condition called follicular hyperkeratosis (or phrynoderma) which is characterized by an overproduction of keratin in the hair follicles. This overproduction of keratin creates plugs that block hair follicles, stunting hair growth. Too much vitamin A in the body, however, is toxic and can lead to thin, coarse, brittle hair.
Natural sources: meat, carrots, milk, cheese, eggs, dark leafy vegetables, papayas, watermelon, apricots and mangoes. (“Iron Deficiency”, in Textbook of Dermatology. U.S. Department of Agriculture, “Dietary Guidelines for Americans”. “Effect of Low-Protein Diet and Its Duration on Our Hair Composition”. “Vitamin A Deficiency”, Emedicine.
Vitamin C is a collagen builder that helps our bodies absorb iron, which is an important mineral for healthy hair maintenance. It’s also an antioxidant, which means that it helps protect our body cells from damaging stressors. Vitamin C is important for maintaining strong healthy hair and follicles. Lack of vitamin C in the diet can cause bleeding under the skin, especially around for hair follicles. Vitamin C deficiency causes hair shafts to grow in weak, dry and brittle and often results in a dry flaky scalp as well.
Sources: Citrus fruits, tomatoes, bell peppers, cauliflower and broccoli. (“Protein Deprivation: Comparative Response of Hair Roots, Serum Protein and, Urinary Nitrogen”. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
In conclusion, experts agree that the best source of dietary nutrition is directly from consumed food sources. Unfortunately, we live in a microwave type of world and eating healthy often takes a backseat to other demands. Not only that, processed foods, pesticides in our soil change the very nature of our food by the time it hits our table. (“The Vitamin A Spectrum:From Deficiency to Toxicity”. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition)
Incorporating a multivitamin into your well-balanced diet will help cover many nutritional deficits. (“Vitamin C in Merck Manual Online)
***We should as consumers always seek the advice of a licensed medical professional before starting any sort of supplement regimen. Your doctor can help you determine which, if any, supplemental work for you given your medical history and current health condition.
Oftentimes, we have a hair focused health approach consuming vitamins only to boost hair growth. Our bodies prioritize areas of nutritional focus, so such strategy rarely works. Vital organs receive the bulk of our nutrition to keep critical organs and organ systems functioning. Organs and tissues without vital life or death functions such as hair skin and nails, receive the remainder of our nutritional allotment. If your diet is lacking, your vital organs quickly take up what is required for basic functioning while hair skin and nails are left to fend for themselves.
A word of advice: if you plan to include supplements in your hair regimen, make sure your brand has been independently tested and verified. (“The Vitamin A Spectrum: From Deficiency to Toxicity”, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition).
Bonus: Thyroid problems
The thyroid gland produces hormones that regulate how are body’s cells use energy and directly affects many of our bodies organs and organ systems. Hair growth is one of many things regulated by the thyroid. (Allured’s Cosmetic Toiletries Magazine 2). When the thyroid releases too many hormones, or too few hormones, our hair suffers. With an under active thyroid (hypothyroidism), hormone release is an inadequate and the shortfall results in thin, brittle nails and hair. Weight gain, fatigue and feeling cold or other common symptoms of under active thyroid.
An overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) May result in actual hair loss. Weight loss, nervousness, excessive perspiration and menstrual irregularities are common symptoms. (Journal of the Society of Cosmetic Chemistry).
If you suspect you have thyroid problems, please consult your doctor for expert diagnosis and treatment.