Hair loss nutrition... can what you eat REALLY have a significant impact on the state of your hair? Can it REALLY help prevent hair loss?
The answer to that depends chiefly on the CAUSE of your hair loss - if it's genetic, for example, or triggered by a particular medication, then adjusting your diet will not have much of an effect.
If, however, your diet is low in nutrients such as iron and protein - which are important for the hair - then making a point of eating "hair healthy" foods can, indeed, strengthen your hair and even improve the condition of your scalp, both of which help prevent hair loss.
What's more, some hormonal conditions that contribute to thinning hair can ALSO be affected by diet, so even hormone-related hair loss may be reduced by focusing on eating the right foods for optimum hair health.
NOTE: This information is provided for guidance purposes only. It should NOT be seen as medical advice and you should always speak to a medical professional about your hair loss issues, or before taking any kind of dietary supplement.
Well, the part of your hair beneath your scalp is the root, which is contained in a hair follicle. Hair follicles are nourished by nutrients carried in the blood - so, for your hair to be healthy, you need to be getting the right nutrients to those follicles!
Although YOU may see your hair as one of the most important parts of you, your body has it WAY down on the list of priorities! The nutrients you consume will first be directed to other important cell tissues and organs before they get sent to the hair. So if you're not getting ENOUGH valuable nutrients, it stands to reason your hair will suffer.
Source: The Trichological Society
Section 1 lists all the foods you should try to eat on a regular basis, along with some of the reasons why they're so helpful to the hair.
In section 2 I've listed the nutrients that experts recommend as useful to healthy hair growth, followed by some of the foods in which they're found.
Hopefully, this will make it easier for you to determine which foods YOU need to be eating more regularly to get your hair looking as good as possible.
These are rich in omega 3 fatty acids. When whole, they add a nice crunch to whatever foods you mix them with, but they are hard for the body to break down and you don't tend to absorb as much nutrition from them as you could.
Milled flax seeds are better for you - if you miss the crunch, do what I do and mix the whole and milled seeds together. They're tasty in bread and sprinkled on salads... and, although a little naughty, I love them as an ice cream topping too!
Also rich in omega 3 fatty acids, walnuts contain zinc, biotin and vitamin E (which protects cells from DNA damage). Since the hair is regularly exposed to the sun, that protection is actually pretty useful.
In addition to eating walnuts more regularly (which I personally find easy to do as they're so delicious!), you can try switching your regular cooking oil to walnut oil instead.
Yet another great source of omega 3 fatty acids, salmon is also a fantastic source of lean protein.
Fairly inexpensive and widely available, tuna is a great food for the hair. It contains omega 3 fatty acids, protein and selenium, which is useful for promoting new hair growth.
Its growing reputation as a 'superfood' is well deserved! Kale is a good source of omega 3 fatty acids, contains some protein, is richer in iron per calorie than beef and contains plenty of vitamins.
If you find it a little bitter, try making 'kale chips', which are SO easy to eat you'll become addicted. Just tear up the leaves (removing any tough central ribs) and toss them lightly with olive oil and a touch of sea salt. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet and cook on a VERY low oven until light and cripsy (I set my oven to its lowest setting and they usually take around 20 minutes).
Isn't it nice when something creamy and delicious is actually GOOD for you too... and particularly good for the hair?
Greek yogurt is high in protein (with less calories than regular yogurt), plus vitamins D and B5. You may know vitamin B5 by its other name - pantothenic acid - a name which regularly appears on hair care product labels, simply because it really does care for the hair!
Eggs happen to be one of my favorite hair healthy foods, as they're widely available, cheap, versatile (perfect for sweet and savory dishes) and highly nutritious. Eating more eggs is one of the easiest ways to improve the look and strength of your hair.
Whole eggs contain zinc, protein, iron, selenium, vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) and vitamin B12.
My favorite way to eat eggs - which is also quick and healthy - is to serve them poached, on a slice of whole wheat toast. To poach an egg the easy way, add an inch or so of water to a small bowl, along with a couple of drops of white vinegar. Break the egg into the water and cover the bowl. Microwave for 60 seconds, then check for 'doneness'. Continue cooking in 20 second bursts until cooked.
I use full power, but if your microwave is particularly powerful, you may prefer to use a reduced power setting.
Prepared healthily, without skin, chicken is a highly nutritious food. A great source of lean protein, it also provides iron (in the darker meat), zinc and B vitamins (including pantothenic acid, vitamin B5).
Not your everday food, I know, but if you DO have access to oysters on a regular basis, then go ahead and treat yourself, because they're GREAT for your hair!
They're rich in zinc, iron... and provide a nice boost of protein, too!
There's a 'rule' in nutrition that the more brightly colored a fruit or vegetable is, the better for you it tends to be.
The magnificently orange sweet potato is no exception - rich in vitamin C and bursting with the antioxidant beta-carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A.
Try tossing diced sweet potato with coconut oil, a little salt and a dash of chili powder, then roasting for 30 to 40 minutes. Delicious!
Although Popeye's hair didn't seem to particularly benefit from all that spinach, yours might!
Spinach is rich in iron, magnesium, beta-carotene (yes, even green veggies contain beta-carotene), vitamin C and folate, all of which are believed to support the circulation of hair oils and maintain healthy follicles.
These little legumes are wonderful... cheap, versatile and chock-full of valuable nutrients.
Lentils provide magnesium and make an excellent vegetarian source of protein. They also contain biotin, iron and zinc, meaning they're a great "all round" food.
Lentils can be used by themselves to make delicious side dishes - but if you're not feeling very creative, you can up your lentil intake by throwing them into soups or stews, where they act as a wholesome thickener.
Not only a useful part of a hair-healthy diet, avocados work well on the OUTSIDE of your hair too. (Sign up for my newsletter and you'll receive a free hair conditioner recipe book featuring avocado as an ingredient).
Avocados are rich in omega 3 fatty acids, pantothenic acid, folate, B vitamins and vitamin C. What's more, research has shown that eating avocado with foods that contain the antioxidants lycopene and beta-carotene (such as tomatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin and spinach) helps you absorb MORE of those nutrients, really giving you the most 'bang for your buck'.
In addition to serving avocado in a salad, try mashing it and using it instead of mayonnaise - a much healthier alternative, and a great way to get as much as possible into your diet.
You might be forgiven for thinking these 'essential fatty acids' are so called because they're so important for the hair. But they're actually called 'essential' because the body NEEDS them, but can't make them by itself - it's essential that they're obtained through the diet.
Omega 3 fatty acids help nourish the hair follicles and even reach the hair shafts themselves, adding elasticity and preventing breakage. In fact, omega 3 fatty acids actually make up 3% of the hair shaft and are present in the scalp's cells and natural oils, helping keep both the hair and scalp healthy.
Good sources of omega 3 fatty acids include:
Walnuts, brazil nuts, flax seeds, salmon, herring, tuna, sardines, mackerel, trout, avocado, rapeseed oil, pumpkin seeds
According to the Medical University of South Carolina, 68% of adults in the US don't consume enough magnesium. Yet this mineral - the 4th most abundant in the body - is needed for over 300 processes... one of these being hair growth.
So ensuring your magnesium intake is adequate is VERY important if you're suffering from hair loss.
Good sources of magnesium include:
Brown rice, halibut, spinach, lentils, cashews and almonds
You may not have heard of it, but this mineral with antioxidant properties protects cells from damage and is believed to stimulate the hair follicles, prompting new hair to grow!
Selenium deficiency is quite rare, however, and most of us consume adequate amounts within a typical daily diet.
Good sources of selenium include:
Tuna, brazil nuts, halibut, sardines, shrimp and ham
We all tend to think about nutrients such as vitamins, iron and protein when analyzing our diets, but few of us think about how much zinc we're consuming. Yet zinc has several very important functions in the human body, including hormone regulation and the repair and growth of the body's tissues. In particular, we need zinc to help maintain the production of glands on the scalp that secrete oil, which keeps both our scalps AND our hair healthy.
Good sources of zinc include:
Eggs, chicken, oats, oysters, lentils, beef, nuts, chickpeas (garbanzo beans) and wheat germ.
Although some medical professionals dismiss any connection between low iron and hair loss, there IS research to suggest a relationship between the two exists.
Iron is responsible for delivering blood to the body's cells, so it stands to reason that a shortage of iron may mean that the scalp doesn't receive enough oxygen from the blood supply to maintain healthy hair growth.
Taking into account the fact that adequate iron stores are important for overall good health, it makes sense to ensure that your iron levels are as high as they should be. In cases of serious iron deficiency, a doctor will usually prescribe a supplement - but the best option is to make sure you're eating plenty of iron-rich foods to avoid a deficiency in the first place.
Tip: Even though some foods are rich in iron, the body may not always absorb that iron efficiently. But there are two ways in which you can increase the absorption of iron from your food...
Good sources of iron include:
Meat, turkey, whole grains, beans, dark leafy greens, oats (and also try bok choy - it's high in vitamin C too, which makes its iron easier to absorb).
If you struggle to consume enough iron but hate taking supplements...
...Then a safe, gentle and cost effective alternative is the Lucky Iron Fish.
Click here to read more about the Lucky Iron Fish, which is helping tackle iron deficiency worldwide.
Considering that your hair is almost ALL protein (around 97%) - and that some experts even suggest a low protein/high carb diet can cause gray hair - taking a close look at your protein intake is vital!
Naturally occurring, pure protein is your best option.
Good sources of protein include:
Lentils, egg yolks, Greek yogurt, nuts, legumes, tofu, fish and poultry
These are both important nutrients in the battle against hair loss. They keep the hair supple and help prevent breakage by supporting the body's production of 'sebum', the oily substance in the hair follicles. Sebum also keeps the scalp healthy, preventing dandruff and itching.
What's more, vitamin C helps your body absorb more iron from your diet (as I discussed here).
Good sources of vitamins A and C include:
Sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkin, spinach, broccoli, Swiss chard, cantaloupe, mangoes, apricots, blueberries, kiwifruit, tomatoes and strawberries.
Vitamin B5 is also known as pantothenic acid. As I mentioned earlier, pantothenic acid is a name you'll often see on the labels of hair care products, precisely BECAUSE it's so important for healthy hair. Providing suppleness, sheen and strength, pantothenic acid is also believed to prevent hair loss AND graying.
Vitamin B7 - also known as biotin - is another important nutrient with a growing reputation as a useful tool against hair loss. You can read more about biotin here.
Folic acid, another B complex vitamin, helps maintain the amount of methionine in the body. Methionine strengthens the structure of the hair, preventing breakage and loss. Experts suggest that too little folic acid in the diet can cause a decrease in the rate of hair follicle growth. Check labels when buying bread, cereals and pasta and look for those that are enriched or fortified with folic acid.
Good sources of B vitamins include:
Eggs, poultry, beef, fish, milk, Greek yogurt, oats, banana, cereal and nuts.
I hope you've found this hair loss nutrition page useful and that it's inspired you to try a few healthy adjustments to your diet. And if you've found a particular food or supplement beneficial to YOUR hair, please do write and let me know!