Ms Salma S. Khan, Nutrition Consultant & Health Writer reveals some insightful information about various hair friendly nutrients.
Hair health is a hot topic, most people complain about their hair at some stage or other. Hair is so frequently spoken about that there’s even a popular term used for when we’re not happy with our hair; “I’m having a bad hair day!” Various factors affect our “bad hair days” – our genetic makeup, hormonal influences, stress and nutritional deficiencies all play a role in hair quality and loss of hair. The good news is that certain nutrients may help maintain and promote better quality hair. Whether you’re hair is thinning, rapidly greying, losing its sheen or dandruff is causing embarrassment, various nutrients may help bring your hair back to life.
Protein: As the hair is primarily made up of protein filaments known as keratin, protein sources are thought to strengthen and repair keratin to support healthy hair growth. When the body is lacking in protein, the production of non-essential protein including those used for hair growth is paused until the body receives sufficient protein. So ensuring that there is adequate protein in the diet may help prevent excessive hair fall and strengthen hair follicles. Good quality sources of protein include fish, chicken, turkey, poultry, eggs, beans, legumes, nuts and cheese. However for those experiencing eczema and dandruff, protein sources of dairy such as cheese may exacerbate these conditions.
Iron: A common cause of hair fall is iron deficiency – women are particularly susceptible to having low iron levels due to regular blood loss during menstruation and after giving birth. When the body is lacking in iron, nutrient supply to hair follicles is reduced. This affects the cycle of hair growth, and may cause rapid hair fall. When opting for blood testing to uncover the reason behind hair loss, it is highly important to test Ferritin levels, a test for iron stores. Iron rich sources of food include; red meat, blackstrap molasses, beetroots and leafy green vegetables such as spinach. Combine iron rich foods with sources of Vitamin C to help with iron absorption, for example prepare a spinach salad with fresh lemon juice.
Vitamin C: As mentioned, this water-soluble vitamin is required to increase iron absorption in order to help prevent hair fall and strengthen hair follicles. Vitamin C also plays a role in the production of collagen, and consequently strengthens the capillaries that supply the hair shafts. Food sources of Vitamin C include various fruits and vegetables such as berries, citrus fruits, kiwi fruit, sweet potatoes and broccoli. If opting for a Vitamin C supplement, choose a slow releasing formula so that the body can utilize Vitamin C for a longer duration. Some individuals may have a higher requirement for the vitamin – it has been found that Vitamin C is rapidly depleted in smokers, and in those that over consume alcohol, as well as during illness.
Zinc: Zinc is an important mineral that is required to help minimize hair fall, prevent a dry flaky scalp, and it is also thought to delay the formation of greying hair. A deficiency in zinc has been found to increase the production of DHT (Dihydrotestosterone) in the body. DHT is a chemical derivative of testosterone, and many experts believe that it is the primary cause of hair loss in both men and women. Another reason why zinc is important for the hair is because a large portion of the mineral is held in the hair follicles. As well as being required for hair, zinc is also needed for other functions in the body such as eyesight, digestion, smell and taste. So when there is a zinc deficiency, the body will take zinc firstly from the hair follicles as the health of the hair is least important to the body. Good food sources of zinc include oysters, beef and pumpkin seeds.
Biotin: Biotin or Vitamin B7 is a water-soluble B vitamin, and is a part of the B-Complex group of vitamins. Researchers report that a deficiency in biotin may lead to brittle hair and eventually accelerated hair loss. Biotin is important for the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and protein. If metabolism of these vital nutrients is insufficient then hair follicle cells may become undernourished, consequently accelerating hair loss. Those at increased risk of a biotin deficiency include those who over use antibiotics and some anti-seizure medications, as well as individuals with digestive disorders including leaky gut syndrome and Chron’s disease. Biotin rich foods include; whole grains, almonds, walnuts, egg yolk, carrots, avocado, sardines and salmon.
Omega-3: Omega-3 essential fatty acids are found in the cells that line the scalp, they provide hydration in the form of healthy oils to the scalp and hair. The consumption of adequate omega-3 is thought to prevent dryness, itchiness and flaking of the scalp, as well as helping to reverse hair loss. In addition, omega-3 fats have anti-inflammatory properties that are thought to open hair follicles to encourage healthy hair growth. Omega-3 food sources include walnuts, flaxseeds and chia seeds, as well as oily fish such as salmon, sardines and mackerel. If opting for an omega-3 supplement, choose formulas that are free from heavy metals and other contaminants.
Silica: The mineral silica is essential for optimum health of the body, although it is required by the body in only small amounts. Silica is thought to improve circulation by strengthening blood vessels, consequently stimulating blood flow to the scalp to help promote hair growth. Silica is also one of the most important components of collagen which helps to regenerate hair by repairing connective tissue, and thus enhancing hair growth, as well as delaying greying of hair. Silica may be consumed in supplement form or consumed from a wide range of foods including oats, strawberries, green peppers, red peppers, millet, barley, wheat, cucumbers, brown rice, bean sprouts, potatoes, avocados, asparagus, almonds and sunflower seeds.