We generally face hair problems because of reasons like our genetics, hormones, stress, inadequate nutrients, certain lifestyle habits (like smoking), and external factors like the sun’s UV rays and pollution.1
Of all these, it’s easy to see that our diet and lifestyle are the ones we have the most control over. In fact, the food we eat can provide our hair with nutrients right as it is getting constructed, helping it grow to be stronger, thicker and with a better ability to withstand damaged.
Here’s understanding exactly how the foods we eat can affect our hair.
Why Our Hair Needs Nutrients In Order to Grow
The ‘hair follicle’ is a pocket that anchors our hair into our skin (which is why, as you may have noticed, skin and hair problems usually accompany each other – like oily hair and oily skin).
The many parts of our hair are created by the cells residing in the follicle.
These cells are rapidly dividing and growing; for this, they need many vital nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and proteins, provided to them by the bloodstream from the food we eat.
It’s when we don’t get enough of these nutrients from our food that we start facing problems with our hair. Our body tends to redirect its limited supply of nutrition towards organs and functions that are essential to our survival, leaving our hair behind.
In effect, unhealthy hair is actually our body’s cry for better nutrition.
Let’s take a broad look at the various ways in which various nutrients directly impact the health of growing hair.
How Nutrients Can Affect Our Hair’s Health
Almost 88% of Indians don’t get the daily bare minimum of protein that we need, making that the crux of most hair problems.2
Our cells need amino acids (which are the building blocks of protein) in order to build keratin – the main protein that makes up our hair. Some of the amino acids are ‘essential’, meaning our body cannot make them, making it necessary for our diet provide them. When the diet doesn’t, the cells don’t get enough amino acids, affecting our hair’s growth, strength and even pigmentation.3 Since our hair grows only 1/4th to 1/2 an inch each month, our hair density could reduce by half before we notice any hair thinning.4
But hair problems don’t only arise because of a lack of protein.
Our cells also need vitamins and minerals in order to grow, which allows them to build stronger structures of keratin that withstand damage.Other than these, our hair needs some fats as well. Omega-3 fatty acids and a fat called GLA help retain moisture in the hair. An inadequate supply of these fats can lead to inflammation, which means swollen oily glands and oily hair as well as hair loss.5, 6 Our body does not make any GLA, which means it relies on our diet in order to get it. Found in unusual sources like borage oil and primrose oil, GLA is generally lacking in our diet, making supplementation often necessary.
Even the part of hair that you see outside the skin (the ‘shaft’) needs nutrients to protect itself from damage.
The sun’s UV rays, pollution and other external factors lead to free radicals that damage cells and structures in our body, including those that affect our hair. Internal factors like stress also lead to free radical damage, which is why stress is often accompanied by hair fall.
Antioxidants can fight free radicals and prevent the damage they otherwise cause. Since free radicals play a role in inflammation too, antioxidants tend to help with inflammation-fuelled problems as well.
Anyone experiencing hair problems need to take a good look at their diet, because it’s likely that many of us aren’t getting the nutrients we need through our food – especially considering today’s hectic lifestyle that leaves little time for wholesome, healthy meals.
By shifting the focus to nutrition, we can replace temporary fixes and superficial hair treatments with hair that’s inherently healthy, thick and lustrous, inch-by-inch.
1. Ioannides D, Tosti A. Alopecias – Practical Evaluation and Management. S. Karger AG, 2015.
2. Martens EA, Westerterp-Plantenga MS. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care 2014, 17(1): 75-79.
3. Finner AM. Dermatologic Clinics 2013, 31(1): 167-172.
4. Jackson AJ, Price VH. Dermatologic Clinics 2013, 31(1): 21-28.
5. Johnson MM, et al. The Journal of nutrition 1997, 127(8): 1435-1444.
6. Breitkopf T, et al. Dermatologic Clinics 2013, 31(1): 1-19.