It can't be helped. When those shiny haired colleagues swagger through the office there is a feeling of hopelessness. I've tried every product under the sun to get my locks gleaming, but it has been useless. Until now...As I was barraged with advertising for hair products on the internet I was reminded of a protein called keratin and an old saying came back to me, 'you are what you eat’ (or, more accurately, ‘you are what you absorb’). Well, if you want to grow luscious locks, what you eat really does make a difference.
The main constituent of hair is keratin, a structural protein. This is made in the hair follicle using the protein we eat, with support from a number of vitamins and minerals. Put simply, if your diet is poor, your hair follicle won’t get the building blocks it needs to make strong, healthy hair.
The lifecycle of hair is pretty straight forward. Each hair goes through a period of growth followed by a rest phase. At the end of the rest phase, a new hair begins to grow in the hair follicle, causing the resting hair to fall out.
It's normal to lose between 50-100 hairs every day. But stressful events can push more hair into the resting phase. Next time you are getting road rage, or my personal one 'public transport rage' think of your poor resting hair. But it's not just physical stress, emotional stress and your diet can also effect this process. Eg, anaemia caused by low iron intake, 'crash' diets that dramatically restrict food intake, and smoking.
While good nutrition is essential in healthy hair, it's also vital to the other part of the equation, scalp care. Often overlooked, the scalp produces those natural oils that condition the hair as it grows. A healthy scalp means shiny hair!
What nutrients are needed?
The most important nutrient for hair growth is protein, due to its structural role. However, it is rare for people to be protein-deficient, unless they are on a very restricted diet. If you're on a low-calorie vegetarian or vegan diet, there is a small chance that you're not getting enough. Studies have also linked iron, zinc, selenium, Vitamin A and omega-3 deficiencies, along with excessive Vitamin A, with hair loss.
Flaxseeds and walnuts for omega-3.
Tofu and lentils for protein and iron.
Beans, nuts and whole grains for zinc.
Brazil nuts and mushrooms for selenium.
Leafy green, or orange, vegetables for beta-carotene, which is converted to Vitamin A.
Oily fish such as wild salmon for protein, omega-3 and selenium.
Lean meat, especially red meat, for both iron and protein.
Shellfish for zinc
Should I take a supplement?Supplements designed to promote hair growth usually also contain nutrients such as silica and collagen, which are involved in hair structure, along with antioxidants and substances thought to improve blood flow. However, these tend to be expensive and most have not been clinically proven. There's no independent scientific evidence to prove that they are more effective than a healthy, balanced diet.
How long will it take to get results?We want shiny locks! We want them now!
But you will have to wait. Even the healthiest hair only grows at approximately half an inch a month. So when you change your diet or start taking a supplement it will take a while to see results. What's that old saying “it won't happen overnight...”
However, if you are experiencing slow hair growth, it is important to rule out underlying causes. Factors such as an underactive thyroid slow the metabolic rate, and therefore hair growth. See your doctor if you have any concerns.