Most of us desire a head of strong, healthy, and manageable hair, after all it is one of the first things that people notice about us. We all accept that age, hormones, stress, and genetics can affect hair quality and growth but what role does diet and nutrition play?
We caught up with the team at Christos Hair Group in Milton Keynes to give us the lowdown on the role that nutrition plays when it comes to hair loss…
Consuming a diet low in important nutrients can result in hair loss and thinning, while eating a well-balanced diet helps feed your hair as well as your body and thus encourages hair growth.
There are several different types of hair loss. Alopecia areata is a potentially reversible auto-immune baldness on the scalp (sometimes including the entire body). Androgenetic alopecia, female pattern hair loss and chronic and diffuse telogen effluvium are other common types of hair loss. Interestingly, and worryingly, there has been a spike in the number of people reporting cases of hair loss following COVID-19. In fact, several celebrities have taken to social media to highlight their plight with hair loss following COVID-19 infection.
So, what does the science say about nutritional status, micronutrients, and hair loss?
Research indicates that sudden weight loss, bariatric surgery or decreased protein intake can lead to marked hair loss. Low iron stores, or iron deficiency, are commonly seen in patients, especially women, with hair loss. Low vitamin D and B12 levels are also associated with many types of hair loss. Interestingly taking too much of certain vitamins can be problematic and over-supplementing with vitamin A can cause hair loss, so finding the right balance of these vitamins is not only good for your hair, but also vital to help keep your body functioning optimally. The health of the gut appears to be very important as does overall dietary pattern.
Tips to support hair growth
When you experience hair loss or thinning it can be very distressing, especially when it is a side effect of another condition. My recommendation would always be to consult a hair loss specialist or your GP as they can help with diagnosis and treatment. That said, there are some steps you can take to look after your overall nutrition to support your immune system, cell function and, in turn, help promote healthy hair growth.
Supplements and dietary choice
If you are found to have low iron storage, low vitamin B12 or you are not currently taking a vitamin D supplement then you may benefit from upping your intake of these and supplements would be a good first choice to boost levels in the short term.
When it comes to hair health iron is a highly significant nutrient, especially if you’re female. You don’t necessarily have to be anaemic, even just indication of low storage is enough to see a marked change in hair health.
Iron supplements come in several forms and it’s important to find one you can tolerate because they can cause gastric side effects. Taking iron with an acid, ideally vitamin C, is the best way to ensure good absorption. Once levels have been boosted a diet rich in iron should be the focus to maintain levels.
Iron rich foods include seaweed, liver, dried apricots, chickpeas and beans, cashew nuts, spinach, and spring greens.
Vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin, as we make it through our skin’s exposure to UV light.
In the UK vitamin D supplementation is recommended for everyone over the age of 4 from September through to April and if you are dark-skinned or spend lots of time inside, supplementation is something you should continue all year round. 1000-2000 IU of vitamin D3 should meet the needs of most UK adults.
It’s very tricky to get what we need from food but foods rich in vitamin D are free range eggs and fish.
Hair health and Vitamin B12 status are strongly linked. B12 levels tend to drop with age as our ability to absorb it declines. Deficiency is also common in vegans and in individuals with inflammatory bowel disease.
Supplementing with oral B12 or B12 injections can be a good way to boost levels with choice of supplementation depending on the reason levels are low.
Animal foods and fortified foods are rich in B12. These include eggs, dairy, fortified plant milks, fish, and meats.
What about gut health and dietary patterns?
For optimal hair health, we all need a good, balanced diet. But what is the definition of a good, balanced diet?
- Ideally 8-10 portions of fruit and vegetables daily, and include whole grains, nuts, and seeds to provide vitamins, minerals, fibre, and phytonutrients.
- Add quality oils and fats like omega-3 fatty acids such as fatty fish, olive oil, avocados, and nuts.
- Build into your daily diet a mix of rich protein sources such as dairy, meat, fish, and eggs.
- Limit your intake of sugar, fried, and processed foods.
These are great steps, but it is important to recognise that these are the building blocks. Good nutrition comes from using these blocks to build your eating plan. It is not enough to just think about what you eat; you also need to understand the impact of WHEN and HOW you eat.
Aim to eat two to three main meals a day with a good period in between each meal to allow insulin levels to settle back to normal. Ideally aim to eat within a 12-hour window - consuming all food between the hours of say 8am and 8pm.
Take time to sit and eat slowly without distractions. This not only allows you to focus on your hunger and satiety levels, but it has also been shown to be incredibly beneficial in balancing out hormone levels which can indirectly affect hair health.
Of course, this is a large topic and nutritional needs can vary widely depending on your activity levels, genetic make-up, your beliefs, and of course any underlying medical conditions. If you feel that you are in a place where you need some extra support on understanding how your diet may be impacting your health and guidance on how you can take control, please get in touch.