I have a patient, I’ll call him Steve, who at the great boomer age of 66 has one of the greatest heads of hair I’ve ever seen. One day I asked Steve his secret and he said he really didn’t do anything special but tried to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle.
When I asked him about what kinds of foods he ate, he told me lots of fish and mostly green vegetables, and fruit. Well, this intrigued me and I did a little research on what foods might benefit your hair health the most. I found out why Steve’s hair was in such great shape. Turns out the majority of the foods he was eating were foods touted for creating great looking hair. Ever since, I’ve been giving my patients a food Rx to get beautiful, healthy hair. Here’s what I recommend…
For Healthy Hair, Feed Your Body Well
The hair you see on your head is actually nonliving tissue. The only living part of hair is its follicle located beneath your scalp. This is the place where hair starts to grow. You may be surprised to know that the average person has about 100,000 hair follicles! It’s at the follicle level that hair receives its nourishment from your blood supply that carries oxygen and nutrients to the follicle to stimulate hair growth. Good hair nutrition, then, is much more important to developing beautiful hair than all the hair products you put on the outer part of your hair.
Like my patient Steve can tell you, great hair comes from great overall nourishment that maintains the building block substances and vitamins of hair and scalp health. They include:
1. Protein. The first major building block of hair, nails and skin, as it helps produce keratin, the major structure in all three. Protein also helps hold color in your hair. Nutritionists recommend between 0.3 and 0.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight for good health which shows up first in your hair, nails and skin. That means, if you weigh 150 lbs, you should eat between 45 and 75 grams of high quality complete proteins per day like those contained in meat, fish, milk, soy, supplemented with plant proteins from legumes. Fruits have little to no protein and most vegetables only minimal amounts. Go for the higher number if you’re also trying to lose weight as weight loss requires extra protein to build more muscle than fat and keep skin tight.
2. Iron, zinc, copper. As we get older, we don’t need as much iron as we did when we were younger, but be sure to get at least 14-18 mcg a day in either your multivitamin supplement or through your food. Adequate iron ensures against hair loss. Zinc and copper function together to prevent deficiencies in each other and are necessary for maintaining integrity and strength of hair (and nail) structures. Zinc is an important mineral antioxidant that gives hair it’s shine and copper helps color hair and skin and prevents graying prematurely from copper deficiency. Zinc, copper and iron are found in legumes like butter beans, kidney beans, peas, cashews, pecans, almonds, oysters, beef and lamb. Biotin is found in egg yolks, liver, Brewer’s yeast, and milk.
3. Omega-3 fats. From salmon or flax, or supplements, omega fats help keep your scalp and hair moisturized and shiny from the inside out and prevent dryness which can lead to dandruff.
4. Vitamins A and C. Found most abundantly in dark green and orange vegetables, these help your scalp produce sebum, an oily substance produced in the hair follicles. Acts as a natural conditioner on your hair and scalp.
5. Selenium. One of nature’s best antioxidants and cancer prevention minerals, your hair also loves selenium to keep it strong. Found abundantly in Brazil nuts, 2 a day have the daily requirement of selenium. In the case of selenium, the “if a little is good, more must be better” rule does not hold true. As it is a mineral, too much can be toxic and have adverse effects on hair causing hair loss as well as other non-hair conditions. Most good multivitamin supplements contain selenium in its RDA dosage of about 70 mg. However, you can go to 100-200 mg a day if you live in an area that has selenium poor soil, such as areas in the Midwest and around the Great Lakes.
6. Alpha linoleic acid. An Omega-3 fatty acid, helps keep hair conditioned and soft. Found abundantly in walnuts.
7. B Vitamins. All the B vitamins (B-Complex) contribute to hair health. Biotin (B7) keeps hair from turning prematurely gray and prevents brittleness and hair loss. B12 supports energy metabolism in your entire body and helps your hair grow by transporting oxygen throughout the blood. Good food sources of B vitamins are eggs.
8. PABA and Inositol. PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid) and inositol both minimize graying of hair. Found in fruits, Brewer’s yeast, liver and citrus fruits.
What Else Can You Do For Your Hair?
It’s important that you don’t undo all the benefits you give your hair nutritionally by using harsh external hair products such as (bleaches, hair color, shampoos, etc) or excessive environmental exposure such as hot sun, chlorine in swimming pools, high heat from blow dryers, curling or straightening irons.
Wear a hat to protect your hair (and facial skin) from hot sun damage. Be sure the products you use on your hair are gentle and do not strip essential oils or cause damage to the hair shaft. You might also want to try massaging your scalp/hair weekly with olive oil and letting it sit for 15-20 minutes before shampooing. This stimulates blood flow to the scalp and also relieves stress which causes scalp tension, a common factor in hair loss.
Hair truly is your crowning glory. If you feed and treat it well, it will repay you with glowing health and beauty that can give you a boost of confidence and self-esteem like nothing else!
Jay Brachfeld, M.D.