Hair-care Through Food
Hair woes seem larger than life when hair starts thinning, and greying. It is everyone’s crowning glory, and rightfully so. If there is one thing about us humans, that can make or mar looks dramatically, it’s the volume and style of our hair. Strong, shiny, healthy looking hair is a sign of beauty coveted by all.
But, caring for hair has become a challenge in today’s times. Have you often wondered, and envied the thick tresses and crops your grandparents sport, even in their ripe old age? Ask them, and they will in all their wisdom tell you, it’s a lifestyle thing. True so ! You may want to believe them, when you glance at the array of your hair products – oils, masks , shampoos and conditioners on your bathroom shelf, and yet you struggle to keep your hair healthy.
What Causes Hair Damage ?
It all begins with your genes – healthy and thick hair, or otherwise. But, you don’t have to blame it all on them and resign yourself to balding, or greying. Your genes can be tricked into reversing traits that have been encoded in them. Dr Steven Gundry, in his book “Diet Evolution”, explains how the food that we eat can alleviate even degenerative diseases. So, eating right for hair health is what we are going to be looking at.
Other factors that cause hair damage are external – weather, sun, pollution, quality of water, and hair products. Internally, inflammation, diet, sleep, stress, hormonal imbalances, and medication have a direct bearing on hair health.
How To Get Healthy Hair Then?
While you may have to consult a dermatologist, or a trichologist to determine the root cause of hair thinning and greying, there is something you can do, all by yourself to keep hair-health at its best – eat right. But eating right is only a part of the solution ; healthy hair can be maintained with proper nutrition, but serious hair issues will need professional help.
Hair needs internal nourishment more than anything else to keep follicles healthy and strong , hair shaft smooth and shiny. Nutritional deficiency is the major culprit for most hair woes. Hence, nutrition is of paramount importance to healthy crops and tresses. Hair that has been strengthened from within, can withstand the onslaught of many external and internal factors. Healthy hair follicles, and a strong skin barrier can be your gateway to luscious hair.
A healthy scalp needs ample blood circulation to the area as well as, balanced sebum production, appropriate hydration, and robust skin cells leading to a strengthened skin barrier. We must remember that our scalp is an extension of our skin. So poor skin barrier translates to poor hair health.
Hair cells grow fast ; they are the 2nd fastest growing cells in the body, next only to intestinal cells. But, hair is a non-essential tissue and therefore, our body does not prioritise nutrient supply to hair, if there is a lack of it in the body.
Hair strands and hair shafts are supported by hair follicles and are a direct result of the health within them. Hair strands that retain moisture and shine are envied by all, and the secret to that lies in hair nourishment.
While eating a balanced diet is your best bet, there are still certain nutrients that play a key role in halting hair loss, greying, and may even boost hair growth. External nourishment in the form of hair oils will help, only if all is well within. Vitamins, minerals, amino acids, antioxidants, proteins, and fatty acids are the building blocks we need for gorgeous hair.
A little science, before listing out the nutrients for healthier hair. Hair growth in hair follicles occurs in three phases, and ‘anagen’ is the first phase, characterised by active hair growth. Hair grows about 1 cm every 28 days at that time.
Androgens are hormones that can reduce the anagen or hair growth phase, and cause baldness. Certain antioxidants, through specific chemical reactions, inhibit the action of androgens. This in turn, lengthens the anagen phase, increases hair production, and prevents hair loss.
Nutrients Essential For Hair Growth
Experts recommend the following nutrients for maintaining healthy and lustrous hair. Make sure you take in adequate amounts of the nutrients in your daily diet. Later in the blog, you will find foods that are nutrient-dense, but do make sure you eat seasonal and local produce. If need be, there are many good hair supplements in the form of powders, tablets and capsules. A word of caution here though – consult a professional before you take any supplement ; do not borrow diets and medications.
- Vitamin A – We need sebum to keep scalp moisturised, and hair healthy. Vitamin A helps promote the production of sebum.
- B-vitamins – Red blood cells carry oxygen and nutrients to the scalp and hair follicles. B-vitamins help create abundant red blood cells.
- Vitamin C – Collagen is an important part of hair structure and its production wanes with age. Vitamin C aids collagen.
- Vitamin E – Vitamin E boosts blood circulation and helps strengthen hair follicles.
- Iron – Iron deficiency is a major cause of hair loss. Supplementing diet with iron boosts production of red blood cells.
- Zinc and selenium – These two nutrients protect the scalp from damage, and help in hair tissue growth.
Now for the foods that are good for hair.
- Avocados – Rich in vitamin E and B-vitamins. Also a good source of potassium, omega-9, folic acid, and heart-healthy monounsaturated fats that aid hair growth.
- Berries – Such as strawberries and others with their high level of vitamin C protect hair follicles from oxidative damage. Citrus fruits and peppers are other sources of vitamin C.
- Eggs – Proteins are the building blocks of hair, and eggs are replete with protein. Eggs are also a source of vitamins A and D, carotenes, lutein, and zinc, all of which promote healthy hair.
- Figs – A great source of iron in addition to providing potassium, magnesium, vitamins A, and E.
- Flaxseeds – Flaxseeds and nuts are rich in omega-3 fatty acids that nourish the hair and help thicken it. Flaxseeds are also rich in vitamin B1, magnesium, phosphorus, and selenium.
- Kelp – A sea-weed that is an amazing source of iron, l-lysine, zinc, vitamins B2 and B5, folate, and magnesium.
- Dark leafy greens – All leafy, and dark leafy greens are a rich source of iron – darker the leaves, higher the iron content. Leafy greens also provide vitamins A, C, and K, B-vitamins, potassium and folate.
- Mangoes – Good news ! Mangoes contain silica, which helps strengthen hair strands. Vitamins A, B6, C, and folate are also found in mangoes.
- Pumpkin seeds – Zinc is another key nutrient for healthy hair and pumpkin seeds are full of it – they prevent scalp dryness. They also contain iron, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, copper, and protein, all of which promote hair growth.
- Soybeans – Are a rich source of iron. They are known to inhibit the hormone known as dihydrotestosterone (DHT). An imbalance of DHT in the body is one of the main reasons for hair loss. Soybeans are abundant in omega-3, vitamin B2, and magnesium – all good for hair health.
- Wild-caught fish— Wild-caught fish like salmon are high in omega-3 fats ; they decrease inflammation and support hair growth, and hair thickening.
- Green tea — Green tea helps detoxify ; contains antioxidants that promote hair growth. It also may stop the conversion of testosterone into DHT.
- Chia seeds — Being high in fiber and healthy fats, chia can help aid hair growth.
- Bone Broth— Bone broth is the perfect food for healthy hair growth as it is high in protein, collagen, and amino acids.
- Caffeine— Caffeine has been shown to spur hair growth (in moderation though). According to research, caffeine stimulates hair shafts and helps them grow faster, by damping down the effects of DHT, a substance that infamously slows hair growth.
What You Must Avoid
If the following are not good for overall health, they in excess are not good for our hair too. Remember this from the earlier part of the blog ? Hair that has been strengthened from within, can withstand the onslaught of many external and internal factors. Healthy hair follicles, and a strong skin barrier can be your gateway to luscious hair.
Diet soda, sugar, starchy whites, fast food, alcohol, smoking.
Foods to Avoid
Avoid these foods as much as possible:
- Trans fatty acids — Unhealthy fats like trans fatty acids increase inflammation and production of DHT. Hydrogenated oils like corn oil and soybean oil are loaded with trans fats.
- Sugar — Sugar spikes hormones-imbalances, insulin resistance, increases DHT and causes inflammation, and all of these can lead to hair loss.
- Processed foods — Processed foods are loaded with unhealthy fats, sugar and sodium, which are detrimental to hair health.
- Alcohol — Liver toxicity can cause hair loss and frequent intake of alcohol can increase inflammation in the body.. Similarly, smoking can lead to hair fall.
- Caffeine — Coffee and tea in small amounts is tolerated and can even be beneficial, but too much caffeine can be counter-productive. It can dehydrate, spike hormone imbalances and even production of DHT.
Resolving hair issues becomes that much more simpler when you know the root cause of hair thinning/loss. Reiterating – consult a professional to resolve hair problems, but eat healthy all the same – with or without the hair concerns.