Many of my patients, particularly those over 40, ask me if there is anything they can do about the look of their hair – it’s lost its healthy, youthful shine, and just doesn’t seem to be as thick as it used to be. There’s a whole lot you can do for your hair just by following some simple rules of good nutrition and supplementing with the correct vitamins.
When your body is healthy, it shows in your hair and your nails. In fact, I can often tell when a patient’s nutritional status is out of whack just by looking at their hair and nails as they are made from the same substance, keratin. Ideally, your hair should have a healthy density and texture, it’s not falling out, and it grows about ½ inch a month. Your nails are smooth without ridges, clear, non-yellowed, don’t chip and peel and grow normally.
A holistic approach to restoring the health and glow of your hair and nails is necessary by starting with some good, basic rules of nutrition that will also benefit the health of your entire body.
Good Nutrition, Good Health, Good Hair
Protein: As I mentioned above, your hair (and your nails) are made out of the same material called keratin, a protein. In order to ensure that this building block of your hair and nails is adequate to produce healthy hair shafts, you need to eat an adequate amount of high quality protein everyday. You should consume at least 50 grams (read labels) of this type of protein on a daily basis, some of which are good sources of B vitamins that are also crucial to hair health. These include:
- Chicken – rich source of B vitamins
- Fish – good source of B vitamins
- Beef – rich in B12 and other B vitamins.
- Amino acids – like L-cysteine and L-methionine, proteins that benefit hair texture and growth. In addition to being found in protein foods, they can also be found in protein supplement/shake formulas like whey protein. Read labels for amino acid content.
In addition, there are many plant-based, quality proteins that are useful to your overall health as well as your hair which include:
- Legumes – (chick peas, lentils, kidney beans, black eyed peas, navy beans)
- Whole grains – like quinoa, brown rice, amaranth
Vitamins: Your body requires the right amount of many vitamins and minerals to support all its various functions, but when it comes to your hair and nails, the B family of vitamins rules. In fact, deficiencies in the B group of vitamins, particularly folic acid, B6 and B12, will show up most profoundly in lack of hair and nail health. Hair loss, lack of growth, dullness is often a result of deficiencies in these vitamins. The good news is that these conditions can be turned around restoring hair health as soon as these deficiencies are corrected. B vitamins are easily supplemented with a good quality B-Complex formula. They are also found in high quantities in the following sources:
Ø B9 (folic acid) – spinach, asparagus, romaine lettuce, turnip and mustard greens, broccoli, parsley, calf’s liver, legumes (all).
- B6 – yellow fin tuna, chicken and bananas contain the highest food sources. Other good sources include turkey breast, cod, salmon, and beef. Deficiencies in B6 can cause hair loss particularly in men.
- B12 – calf’s liver, sardines, snapper, and beef contain the highest food sources.
Supporting Vitamins: Your hair (and the rest of you) also benefits from a good intake of other vitamins that support hair health. They are:
- Vitamin C – helps to build collagen, a building block of keratin. Aids in scalp circulation as it supports blood capillaries. 1,000-2,000 mg daily. Good sources include citrus fruits.
- Vitamin E – helps with oxygen uptake, stimulates immune function (which stimulates hair growth). 400 mg daily.
- Vitamin A – watch for over-consumption of food, supplements, containing this vitamin as it can cause hair loss! No more than 10,000 IU daily, preferably from natural food sources of beta-carotene. Good sources include: sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, and carrots.
Minerals: Good health requires a lot of different minerals to thrive. In particular, your hair benefits from magnesium, sulfur and zinc. Laboratory studies have shown that animals deficient in magnesium lost large amounts of hair! Here are some good sources of all:
- Magnesium – pumpkin seeds (raw), rich source. Black and navy beans (cooked). Salmon, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds.
- Sulfur – sunflower seeds, lentils, garlic, yogurt.
- Zinc – beef, lamb, chicken, turkey, salmon, dairy products, peanuts, legumes, whole grains, potatoes, yogurt.
- Iron – anemia can lead to hair loss, shine and beauty. If you are a premenopausal woman you need 18 mg of iron a day. For older women and men, the requirement is 8 mg per day. Be sure your vitamin/mineral supplement has the correct amount of iron in it for your age. Over-consuming iron can create heart and liver damage. Have your iron levels tested to determine if anemia might be contributing to your hair and other health concerns.
Other Nutrients: Other nutrients that are beneficial to hair health are:
- Co-Q10: 60 mg a day.
- Essential fatty acids: Like fish oil, super primrose oil, 1,000 mg a day.
Here you have my recommendations of how to restore your hair shine and health from the inside out. Remember that TV commercial that showed a model with long, thick, luxuriant beautiful hair who told viewers, “Don’t hate me because my hair is beautiful”? Well, of course, she was selling some product that promised to make your hair look just like hers.
The truth is, there are no external products that can completely restore hair health and beauty. They can smooth out frizzies, or add a little oil for some temporary shine and control, but ultimately hair health and beauty has to come from deep within your nutritional matrix. So, eat not only for your health, but to keep your crowning glory thriving for a lifetime!
Jay Brachfeld, M.D.