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As with every other part of our body, our hair depends on the food we eat in order to grow. In fact, being among the fastest growing cells in our bodies, growing hair needs to be consistently supplied with nutrients for it to stay healthy and look great.

A decline in hair quality or an increase in hair fall can be some of the first few indications of an unhealthy diet or lifestyle, because of the hair receiving a limited supply of healthy nutrients.

The good news? The reverse is also true: a healthy diet can give us healthy and strong hair. Here are six of the most important nutrients for healthy hair:

 

1. Protein:

Hair, as we see it, is almost entirely made up of a protein called keratin. We can think of the hair on our head as really tightly coiled ropes of keratin molecules.

We all know that growing muscle requires protein from the food we eat. The same principle applies to keratin. The protein from our diet is broken down into amino acids, which enter our bloodstream and are used by growing hair to build keratin.

Two specific amino acids called methionine and cysteine are especially important for the hair, because they contain sulphur, which forms special bonds that make the keratin stronger.

Dietary sources of protein include legumes, dairy products, sea food, eggs and meat.

 

2. B vitamins:

B vitamins, such as biotin, vitamin B3 and vitamin B12 are crucial to cell division, and a deficiency in them has been directly linked to hair loss. Having brittle hair and hair loss is actually one of the first symptoms of a Biotin deficiency, which can eventually cause much more serious symptoms.

Good sources of B vitamins are whole grains, nuts and root vegetables.

Vitamin B12 is especially important to keep track of, as a number of Indians have an undiagnosed deficiency of this ‘essential’ (which means it’s not made by the body, and thus must come from our food) nutrient.

Good sources of vitamin B12 are yogurt and other dairy products, eggs and meat.

 

3. Healthy Fats:

Omega 3 and Omega 6 fats are essential nutrients that we need to consume in our diets to survive. These healthy fats play a critical role in everything from the structure of our cells (including our eyes and brains) to the correct functioning of our immune systems.

One lesser known benefit of consuming these nutrients is that they keep our hair healthy as well. Omega 3 fats help reduce inflammation of the hair follicle, creating a healthy environment for hair growth. One particular omega 6 fat called GLA even helps lubricate the hair shaft, keeping it healthy.

Nuts and natural oils such as flaxseed and olive oil are good sources of these healthy fats, while fatty fish such as mackerel and tuna are excellent sources of omega 3 fats.

 

4. Iron and Zinc:

These minerals are essential for the formation of keratin. While a healthy diet will provide these nutrients, iron deficiency is all too common in Indian women. A diet lacking these nutrients, over a long period of time, can severely affect our health, starting with hair fall and leading to more serious concerns.

Leafy green vegetables such as spinach are a great source of iron, while peanuts, beans and meat are excellent sources of zinc.

 

5. Vitamin E:

Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that fights free radical damage, which is a leading cause of inflammation in our bodies. In addition to fighting free radical damage, vitamin E also promotes the growth of capillaries (tiny blood vessels) and is thus believed to increase circulation to the scalp, thereby promoting hair growth.

Good sources of vitamin E include sunflower and safflower oil and fruits such as avocados, mangoes and papayas.

 

6. Vitamin A:

Vitamin A, another powerful antioxidant, is essential for cell growth. It also helps with the production of sebum, a waxy liquid that’s released by our scalp and coats hair strands, keeping them from drying out.

Carrots and spinach are excellent sources of this essential nutrient.

 

Not many people realise the deep impact that our nutrition has on our hair – but, the truth is, ensuring that our hair looks healthy is as simple as making sure that it is healthy. And when we start looking out for these nutrients in our foods, getting stronger and healthier hair is as straightforward as hair care gets!

 

References:

 

1. Finner AM. Dermatologic Clinics 2013, 31(1): 167-172.

2. Montagna W, Ellis RA. The Biology of Hair Growth. Elsevier Science, 2013.

3. Litwack G. Vitamin A; Vitamins and Hormones, vol. 75. Elsevier: London, UK, 2007.

4. Gehi R. Vitamin B12 eludes 8 out of 10 Indians. Mumbai Mirror. 2012 Sep 7, 2012.

5. Stabler SP, Allen RH. Annual Review of Nutrition 2004, 24(1): 299-326.

6. Breitkopf T, et al. Dermatologic Clinics 2013, 31(1): 1-19.

7. Johnson MM, et al. The Journal of nutrition 1997, 127(8): 1435-1444.

8. Miniaci MC, et al. J Cell Biochem 2016, 117(2): 402-412.

9. Ekanayake-Mudiyanselage S, Thiele J. Hautarzt 2006, 57(4): 291-296.

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