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Hair is actually dead cells, so there’s a limit to what hair products can do to improve the health of the hair follicle.
The hair growth cycle has three phases: the growth, regression, and resting phases. (1) The hair on your head grows about 6 inches a year. Deficiencies in vitamins A, E, C, and D, biotin (and other B vitamins), protein, unsaturated fatty acids, iron, selenium, and zinc can slow hair growth and even cause hair loss.
Micronutrients play a role in the hair follicle cycle and cellular turnover. Thus, the nutrients in your diet have a big impact on hair growth and the health of your scalp.
Aside from malnutrition and nutrient deficiencies, other factors that affect hair health include stress, hair products, diseases, hormones, inflammation, and aging.
Foods for Healthy Hair
To achieve shiny, healthy hair, consume the following foods packed with the vitamins and minerals that your hair and body need.
Salmon is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D. Omega-3s are anti-inflammatory polyunsaturated fatty acids, an important component of all cell membranes. A diet deficient in omega-3 can cause loss of hair and eyebrows. (2)
Vitamin D is not only important in bone health, but it’s also responsible for skin homeostasis, and a deficiency in vitamin D is associated with hair shedding. (3) Just one 3-oz serving of salmon has 70% of the daily value of vitamin D.
Eggs are an excellent source of protein and biotin. The hair follicle is primarily made up of protein, so getting enough of this nutrient in your diet is essential for hair growth. Hair loss is common in protein malnutrition.
In a double-blind, randomized control trial, adult women with thinning hair took an extra-strength marine protein supplement daily. After 3 months, the women’s hair growth increased, and they experienced less hair loss. (4)
It’s widely believed that biotin, a B vitamin, helps hair grow. Most of the biotin in our diet is found in protein. Severe biotin deficiency in healthy individuals eating a varied diet is uncommon.
Research shows that patients with a biotin deficiency and hair loss related to several factors do benefit from biotin supplements. (5)
3. Sweet potato
Sweet potatoes are packed with beta-carotene, the type of provitamin A found in food. The body converts carotene to vitamin A, which is important for vision, the immune system, and cell function.
Vitamin A is also important in the development and maintenance of the skin, hair, and sebaceous glands. (6) Note that oversupplementing with vitamin A can cause hair loss and vitamin A toxicity. So stick to food sources of provitamin A such as leafy greens, yellow and orange vegetables, and tomatoes.
4. Almonds and sunflower seeds
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin that works as an antioxidant. It’s also important for skin and hair health. One ounce of almonds or sunflower seeds has over 45% of the daily value of vitamin E. (7)
Broccoli is loaded with a variety of nutrients. This green vegetable is high in vitamins A and C, folate, and selenium, making it a valuable food for your hair.
Selenium protects your cells from oxidative damage and also plays a role in the formation of hair follicles, which is why it’s often marketed in hair growth products. However, there aren’t many human studies showing selenium’s effectiveness in hair growth. (2)
Folate is a B vitamin important in cell division and growth. Folate deficiency can cause changes in hair, skin, and nails. One and a half cups of broccoli has 15% of the daily value of folate. (8)
Quinoa is a whole grain that is higher in protein and nutrients such as iron, B vitamins, and vitamin E than other cereal grains. (9) It also has anti-inflammatory benefits.
Alopecia areata is hair loss with a possible autoimmune cause. Studies show that oxygen free radicals are a contributing factor to alopecia. (10)
The vitamin E and other antioxidant components in quinoa protect the essential fatty acids in this whole grain from oxidation. (9)
7. Kidney beans
Beans are excellent vegetarian sources of iron. Iron deficiency is the world’s most common nutrient deficiency, and it causes hair loss.
The iron found in meat is more bioavailable, meaning your body absorbs more of the iron from animal sources than it does from other sources. A half cup of kidney beans (canned) has 11% of the daily value of iron. (11)
8. Cottage cheese
One percent cottage cheese is an excellent low-fat source of protein needed for hair follicle growth. High amounts of the antioxidant mineral selenium are also found in this vitamin-packed food.
You’ll get 120 g of protein and 29% of the daily value of selenium in 1 cup of low-fat cottage cheese. (12)
9. Pumpkin seeds
Zinc is important in cell division and plays a role in the process of hair follicle formation. This mineral is highest in meat, poultry, and oysters, and pumpkin seeds are a good vegetarian source of zinc.
However, whole grains, legumes, cereals, and other plant sources of zinc have phytates, which limit the bioavailability of zinc from these sources.
Vitamin C is an antioxidant that protects your cells from free radical damage. Vitamin C is also important in the role of your body’s absorption of iron. One mango has 76% of the daily value of vitamin C. (13)
Inflammatory Foods to Avoid
Not only is inflammation associated with heart disease, diabetes, and insulin resistance, but studies also show that oxidative stress affects your scalp’s health and plays a role in hair loss. (14)
Some foods increase inflammation and oxidative stress, causing low-grade inflammation in the body. So, besides adding nutrient-dense foods to your diet for healthy hair, try to cut down on foods associated with inflammation.
Artificial trans fats
Trans fats, usually listed as “partially hydrogenated oil” on packaged foods and margarine, are unsaturated fats. However, not all unsaturated fats are good for you. Trans fats are associated with free radical oxidative stress in cells.
Sugar and high-glycemic carbohydrates
Sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, and high-glycemic foods cause a quick spike in blood sugar than lower glycemic carbohydrates such as whole grains or nonstarchy vegetables.
Eating refined high-glycemic foods correlates with low-grade inflammation. (15) The glycemic score is determined by comparing the glucose content of food to glucose, which has a score of 100. For example, white bread has a glycemic score of 70.
Other high-glycemic carbohydrates include white rice, pasta, breakfast cereals, and starchy vegetables.
There’s more to your hair’s appearance than products you may use to make your hair look good. A diet high in nutrients for hair health may give you the shiny and healthy hair you’re hoping for.
Ideally, you want to get these nutrients from food instead of supplements. There may not be many benefits to taking supplements if you don’t have a deficiency. Taking vitamin A, zinc, and iron supplements without a deficiency can even be toxic.
The hair you have now results from your diet and lifestyle a few months or even years ago. Hair grows 6 inches a year, so it will take some time before you see the benefits of a hair-healthy diet.
Remember, your hair changes over time with age and hormonal changes such as pregnancy and menopause. Many factors cause hair loss including stress, illness, medications, and genetics.