Hair is derived from your hair follicles. Therefore the health of your hair depends on the health of your scalp. To maintain your healthy tresses, it is important to nourish your hair from the outside in and the inside out. Hormone imbalances, some medications, extreme weather changes, hair products and your nutritional intake all play a role in the look, feel and the overall health of your hair. Let’s examine the key nutrients and some homemade topical solutions that will make your hair shine.
Human hair is comprised primarily of protein. The first thing I rule out when looking for the cause of hair thinning in my practice is a protein deficiency. Low protein intake can in turn lead to poor quality hair strands and a deficiency in the nutrients that I discuss below. Therefore be sure to eat protein with each meal and to eat regular, balanced meals, every 4 hours. If you are a vegetarian, ensure that your meals contain whole grains such as quinoa, legumes and plenty of green leafy vegetables to support healthy hair growth.
Biotin B1, B5 and B12 are important vitamins for maintaining a healthy scalp and strong hair. B vitamins play an important role in your metabolism, hormone production and in the production of red blood cells. When your body is stressed, the need for B vitamins increases and for some individuals stress can result in thinning hair. Consume eggs, whole grains, nuts and seeds on a regular basis. You can also take a B complex supplement that contains a full complement of all the B vitamins for support.
Iron deficiency anemia is a common condition in women of child-bearing age. Iron is an important component of your hemoglobin which brings oxygen and blood to all of your cells, including the hair follicles. When your iron levels fall below optimal, your body will automatically focus on nourishing your vital organs, restricting blood flow to your non-vital organs such as your scalp; this leaves you susceptible to lack lustre, thinning hair. If you suffer from fatigue, heavy menstrual cycles or if you are a vegetarian, it is important to get your iron and hemoglobin checked regularly as you may need to up your intake of iron-rich foods or to take a nutritional supplement. Lentils, eggs, dark green leafy vegetables and organic beef liver are great sources of iron.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Long chain omega-3 fatty acids are essential; which means that your body is not able to make these scalp nourishing, heart-healthy fats on its own. These fatty acids are embedded within your hair strands, hair follicles and within the membranes of all cells in your body, including your scalp, providing moisture and a natural lustre to your hair shaft. If your scalp tends to be dry, consider increasing your intake of omega-3 fatty acids. Cold water fish such as salmon and mackerel are your best sources. You can also take a fish oil supplement to meet your daily needs.
In the northern latitudes, vitamin D deficiency and sub-optimal levels of vitamin D is an epidemic as the levels of year-round sunlight is limited. Functionally a hormone, vitamin D maintains the cycles of hair growth and without it your hair will appear dull and slow-growing. Test your vitamin D with your health care provider and according to the Vitamin D Council you should aim to maintain your blood vitamin D levels at 120nmol/L year-round. This will likely require taking a supplement; however food sources include, salmon, cod liver oil, mushrooms and fortified dairy products.
This is one of my all-time favourites. Use flat beer as a rinse after you have washed and conditioned your hair and voila, plump hair strands, full of body and moisture. Don’t worry about the smell, after you rinse the beer out with cool water, the smell will disappear. Depending on the length of your hair mix ½ cup to 1 cup of flat beer with a ½ teaspoon of jojoba oil. The jojoba will amplify the shine, soothe your scalp and seal the moisture into your hair strands.
Herbs for superb hair
Some herbs such as Saw Palmetto and Stinging Nettle Extract can give your scalp the nourishment it needs to promote the growth of thick, lustrous, and healthy hair. Saw Palmetto has a long history of use for treating benign prostatic hypertrophy in men as well as male and female pattern baldness, aka androgenic alopecia. Although the scientific research is limited, a small research study demonstrated it may be helpful for the treatment of androgenic alopecia in men. It is thought that this herb works by blocking the enzyme 5-alpha-reductase which causes the conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone. Dihydrotestosterone is thought to be the culprit in both male and female pattern baldness. In addition, Stinging Nettle is a perennial plant that grows widely across North America. Both the root and the leaves have been used for centuries in herbal medicine to treat health concerns such as hair loss, conditions of the urinary tract and seasonal allergies. It can be taken in capsule form or herbal tea form and applied topically as a hair rinse after you have washed your hair. Nettles is a rich source of many nutrients including iron, protein, silica and calcium which may explain its history of use for maintaining a healthy mane.
Originally written for and published on bellwellness.ca, September 24, 2014