Many of my clients, especially women, ask me how they can support healthy hair growth and condition. Whilst there are many factors which can influence hair health that do not relate to diet (such as hair dyes, heat application, over-brushing, sports such as swimming, sea-water and sunlight), there is no denying that what we eat can have a real impact on the condition of our hair. The following guide outlines the most important nutrients needed for healthy hair..
A number of nutrients are required for strong, healthy hair and hair growth. Overall the key to healthy hair is to have a balanced, nutrient rich whole foods diet, but some of the most important nutrients for hair health include:
As hair is made of protein, ensuring you have enough protein in your diet is crucial for keeping hair strong and healthy. If you are not consuming enough protein your hair may become dry, brittle and weak, and a very low protein diet may result in hair loss. Eat a source of protein rich food at every meal; choose from good quality plant proteins such as beans (including soya), peas, lentils, quinoa, seeds and nuts. If you eat animal products excellent protein sources include fish, eggs, meat and dairy products.
Iron is an especially important mineral for hair and too little iron (even in the absence of anaemia) is a major cause of hair loss in women. The hair follicle and root are fed by a nutrient rich blood supply. When iron levels (serum ferritin) fall below a certain point this disrupts the nutrient supply to the follicle, affecting the hair growth cycle and may result in shedding. Animal products such as red meat, chicken and fish provide iron with a high bioavailability, meaning the iron is readily available to the body. Vegetarians and vegans can obtain iron from lentils, beans, nuts, seeds, quinoa, leafy green vegetables (such as broccoli, kale and salad greens), molasses, fortified cereals and breads and dried apricots. Vegetarian and vegan women may also need to supplement with iron to meet their needs, but this may be best confirmed with a blood test. Men should generally not take iron supplements unless iron deficiency has been confirmed by a medical professional.
This amino acid is found in protein rich foods and works alongside iron to boost health growth. A lack of L-Lysine can therefore affect health hair and may contribute to hair thinning. L-Lysine can be found in all high-quality proteins such as meat, fish, eggs & dairy. However, it is in shorter supply in plant foods which emphasises the importance of vegetarians and vegans including a wide variety of plant-based proteins in their daily diet. Vegetarians and vegans, particularly women who are concerned about hair thinning, may need a supplement.
Vitamin C aids the absorption of iron from food, so foods high in vitamin C are good to eat in conjunction with iron-rich foods. Vitamin C is also an antioxidant so is used readily by the body. The best sources are blackcurrants, blueberries, broccoli, guava, kiwi fruits, oranges, papaya, strawberries and sweet potatoes. Vitamin C helps in the production of collagen that strengthens the capillaries that supply the hair shafts.
OMEGA 3 FATTY ACIDS:
Omega-3 fatty acids are important fats our body cannot make itself, and therefore must be obtained through our diet. Omega-3 fats are found in the cells that line the scalp and also provide the oils that keep your scalp and hair hydrated. The best sources of omega 3 are oily fish such as salmon, herring, sardines, trout and mackerel and plant sources including flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, rapeseed oil and dark green leafy vegetables. Vegetarians and vegans can also increase their omega 3 levels with micro-algae (available in supplement form).
Vitamin A is needed by the body to make sebum. Sebum is an oily substance created by the hairs sebaceous glands and provides a natural conditioner for a healthy scalp. Without sebum we may experience an itchy scalp and dry hair. Animal products (such as oily fish, dairy and eggs) are good sources of vitamin A, and orange and yellow coloured vegetables such as carrots, pumpkins, squash and sweet potatoes are high in beta-carotene (which is converted into vitamin A). Green leafy vegetables are also a good source of beta carotene.
ZINC & SELENIUM:
Scalp protection also involves other important minerals, notably zinc and selenium. A lack of zinc can lead to hair loss and a dry, flaky scalp. Fortified cereals, whole grains, nuts, seeds and quinoa are all good plant-based source of zinc along with seafood, beef and eggs.
The sun can damage our hair just like it can damage our skin, so ensure you eat foods rich in vitamin E to provide protection for your hair. Nuts are nutritional powerhouses, providing zinc and selenium as well as vitamin E so try to include them as part of a balanced diet. Seeds (such as sunflower seeds) are also a good source of vitamin E.
Biotin is a water-soluble B vitamin. Too little biotin can cause brittle hair and may lead to hair loss. Biotin rich foods include whole-grains and egg yolks.
Persistent hair loss that does not respond to a healthy diet (or that doesn’t appear to be related to normal life changes such as menopause or the post-natal period) should be investigated by a medical practitioner, as it could indicate an underlying medical condition and / or nutrient deficiencies.