Nutrition For Hair Health
All the hair on our heads and bodies is dead. Its cells are no longer living. Which makes you wonder if and how any of the topical potions aimed at hair growth and thickening work!
It makes sense, then, to approach hair health from the inside, in a ‘you are what you eat’ kind of way, doesn’t it? By doing so we have the potential to positively impact our ‘future hair’.
Rather than trying to embark on a total nutritional overhaul, aim to increase your intake of the following micronutrients each day. You’re probably already eating many of them (okay, so perhaps not the eyeballs…), and they’ll benefit more than your hair.
A hefty percentage of our hair is made of a strong protein called keratin, which has the important task of building hair, skin and nails. You may have heard your hairdresser recommend keratin-based products for hair health, manageability and styling. Whilst some foods contain keratin (think eggs, onions, sweet potatoes, carrots, seaweed, salmon, and sunflower seeds), any protein will aid the body’s natural ability to create its own keratin. Chicken, turkey, fish, dairy products and nuts are excellent sources of protein. Vegans should stock up on quinoa, pulses, tofu, seeds, oats and rice (brown or wild).
If you're worried you're not getting enough, look out for protein-rich snacks (some can be far from healthy, so check labels for sugar content—see below—and trans fats) or invest in a high-quality protein supplement from your favourite health food store.
These essential fatty acids (EFAs) play a big part in maintaining healthy hair – studies suggest Omega 3 promotes hair growth and thickness. But instead of making these EFAs ourselves, we must get them from our diet. Fatty fish such as salmon and sardines are great sources of Omega 3, as are flax, chia and sunflower seeds, so be sure to add these ingredients to your shopping list. Sprinkle the seeds into a Greek or protein yoghurt for a yummy snack or dessert. I supplement via a daily teaspoon of Viridian's Organic Omega 3-6-9 Oil from Victoria Health daily.
Omega 3 & 6
BiotinOtherwise known as vitamin B7, biotin is present in everyday foods like milk, bananas and eggs. This vitamin stimulates hair’s keratin production and can increase the rate of follicle growth. Conversely a deficiency may lead to thinning hair. It’s also essential for healthy skin and nails.
CollagenMeanwhile, collagen – a protein responsible for healthy skin, hair and joints – is key in maintaining hair health and promoting growth. Sourcing collagen from food is not so straightforward. It’s common in fish, but the least appetising parts contain the highest amounts - ligaments, bones, heads(!) and eyes(!!). Chicken is also a good source of collagen, and more appealing to most, I’m sure. Egg whites contain proline, an amino-acid essential to collagen production.
It’s worth noting that vegan collagen doesn’t currently exist. At some point we will no doubt be able to bio-engineer it, but in the meantime focus on ‘collagen-boosting’ ingredients that help our bodies create more of this vital protein.
Vitamin C is really important in the production of the body’s precursor to collagen, pro-collagen, so be sure to include citrus fruits and tropical fruits in your daily diet. The latter contain zinc too, which is also important for collagen production. Berries really pack a punch in terms of Vitamin C content, with strawberries and kiwis containing more than oranges, gram for gram.
A final note on collagen–whilst I’m not one to demonise sugar because I believe in balance and moderation, the bad news is that a sugar-rich diet sends the body into a ‘pro-inflammatory’ state, resulting in the production of enzymes which attack and break down collagen (and elastin, which gives our skin that youthful plumpness).
A lack of this mineral may contribute to hair loss, because the follicle and root depend on a healthy blood supply, and iron is a key factor in transporting oxygen to our cells, including the ones that help with hair growth.
Historically, red meat has been recommended to boost iron levels, but for a number of reasons many are favouring green leafy veg, kidney beans, edamame beans, chickpeas, dried fruit and fortified cereals.
I have had periods of low iron levels and have taken Spatone, a liquid iron supplement which is much more gentle on the stomach than iron tablets, which can cause constipation. Top tip: take your Spatone in a small glass of fruit juice as the vitamin C will aid absorption.
Vitamin EThis vitamin is essential for healthy skin, which does of course include our scalps: you can read more about scalp health here.)
Our scalps are prone to sun damage via UV ray exposure, and vitamin E, an antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties, helps combat damage caused by the resulting free radicals.
Be sure to include nuts, leafy greens, olive oil and fortified foods like breakfast cereals to your diet. If like me you thought a nut is a nut, is a nut, check out this BBC Good Food guide which details the nutritional benefits of common varieties.
Water / HydrationWater is our life source and cannot be underestimated when it comes to skin and hair nourishment. As it hydrates the skin, so it replenishes the cells on our scalps, and therefore helps our hair follicles grow and stay strong. If you're not taking in enough, the body diverts water to the places where it needs it the most, like vital organs, leaving your hair high and dry. So make sure you're drinking enough every day.
In this day and age it goes without saying that a reusable plastic or glass bottle trumps shop-bought disposable bottles any day of the week. I’ve always got one with me, wherever I go. My favourites are these from Camelbak - I go strawless as they seem lower maintenance, and the one litre version means three refills and I’ve had my daily quota.
Make Small ChangesSamantha Stewart, Consultant Trichologist at The Spencer Clinic, and co-founder of CURL iD says that ultimately our hair is pretty low down the pecking order when it comes to nutrients, and any deficiencies will see our bodies prioritising more important bodily functions.
The myriad of foods listed above can seem overwhelming on first glance, but there’s a common theme here: proteins, carbohydrates, fats, fruits and vegetables: essentially, the building blocks of a healthy, balanced diet.
And talking of things that will benefit your hair, don’t forget to wrap up in a Good Wash Day jersey cotton hair towel!