In the growth (Anagen) phase of the hair cycle, cells are rapidly dividing, differentiating and growing. With the cell cycle time estimated to be 18 hours, hair grows at the rate of ¼ to ½ an inch each month. As is the case with all growing cells, the availability of nutrients plays a vital role in the development of new cells, and the quality of nutrition effects both cellular growth and long term health.
From a survival standpoint, hair is fairly non-essential, and deficient micronutrients are more likely to be used for more critical functions. Therefore,
it is very important to ensure that our bodies receive sufficient nutrition to maintain healthy hair.
Nutrients that are important for healthy hair include:
Proteins: Hair is almost entirely made up of protein, the major protein being Keratin. Keratin contains a number of essential amino acids, which must be
obtained from the diet. Certain amino acids are very important for the synthesis of Keratin, and are normally obtained from high quality protein
sources. Low quality protein has been linked to brittle hair, and the consumption of high quality protein sources such as legumes, meat and eggshelps
avoid such deficiencies.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids: Omega 3 fatty acids are believed to benefit hair in two ways. As an essential nutrient, omega 3 fatty acids are an integral part of the structure of most cells, and an adequate intake will ensure that rapidly multiplying hair cells have enough of this nutrient to divide into healthy new cells. Omega 3 fatty acids also have anti inflammatory properties which are believed to help prevent hair loss due to non-nutritional factors. Hair loss due to other factors, such as stress, is often accompanied by inflammation of follicles, and the anti inflammatory nature of omega 3 fatty acids is believed to help suppress this inflammation. Good sources of omega 3 fatty acids include oily fish (mackerel) and flaxseed oil.
Biotin: Biotin, also known as Vitamin B7, is an essential nutrient with a number of physiological roles. Biotin is a coenzyme in a number of essential processes such as amino acid metabolism, fatty acid synthesis and overall cell growth. A deficiency of Biotin has been linked to a number of dermatological conditions. Ensuring an adequate supply of Biotin is believed to contribute significantly to the growth of healthy hair. Biotin is found in egg yolks, whole grains and milk.
Iron: A number of clinical studies have linked iron deficiencies to hair loss, and it is believed that identifying and rectifying these deficiencies may help reverse hair loss caused due to low iron levels. An iron deficiency is possible even when a person is not anaemic, and scientists believe that such a deficiency may be responsible for hair loss, especially in women. Good sources of iron include dark green vegetables, egg yolks, red meat, dry fruits and whole grains.
Vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 is a critical nutrient that plays a role in the metabolism of every cell, especially cells undergoing division, as it is involved with DNA synthesis, fatty acid synthesis and energy production. Without B12, our bodies cannot process the food we eat adequately, leading to a systemic issue. Vitamin B12 deficiencies are especially common in vegans, and their only option is supplementation. A deficiency of this nutrient can cause very serious conditions such as megaloblastic anemia and neurological conditions due to the damage of nerve cells, and given its critical role in cell
growth, it is an important dietary component for hair health. Vitamin B12 is not found in vegetarian sources, and is obtained through non vegetarian food, and in lesser quantities through the bacteria colonizing human intestines, which have the ability to produce vitamin B12 (although in small quantities).
Vitamin E: Vitamin E is a strong antioxidant that fights free radicals formed due to internal and external stressors. Vitamin E is also known to promote capillary growth, and is believed to increase blood circulation to the scalp promoting hair growth. Vitamin E has been associated with improved hair health and is a common ingredient of fortified hair product. Dietary sources of Vitamin E include oils such as wheatgerm oil, sunflower oil and safflower oil, and fruits such as avocados, mangoes and papayas.
Zinc: Zinc is an important cofactor for a number of biological processes, and is involved in the production of Keratin. A symptom of Zinc deficiency is hair loss, and an adequate intake of zinc is essential for healthy hair. However, an excess intake of Zinc can lead to a deficient absorption of other minerals, and lead to a deterioration in the quality of hair, so care must be taken to ensure adequate, but not excess Zinc consumption. Dietary sources of zinc include nuts, legumes, shellfish and meat.
In addition to the nutrients mentioned above, a deficiency in any essential micronutrient could potentially lead to adverse health conditions, and it is
therefore necessary to eat healthy on a regular basis. However, in some cases, individuals may not be able to obtain certain critical nutrients from their
diet (for example, vegans often do not consume sufficient vitamin B12), supplementation under the guidance of a healthcare professional is ideal.
Hair loss is also caused by genetic factors and hormonal imbalances in addition to improper nutrition, and a healthy, balanced diet may not always ensure
However, avoiding nutrient deficiencies through a well rounded diet is the simplest way to ensure good health, which, in the absence of other detrimental
factors, will reflect in the quality of an individual’s hair.