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October 10, 2011 at 8:00 AMComments: 4 Faves: 0

Diet Tips for Fuller, Healthier Hair

By Jessica Corwin MPH RDN More Blogs by This Author

I was recently asked if diet could help reduce hair loss and I must admit that although I wanted to respond with a quick YES, I took a great pause before answering. Although nutrition can certainly influence the health of your hair, the idea that nutrition may be used to prevent hair loss is more controversial. However as over 60 million Americans suffer from thinning hair and roughly one in two will suffer from this or bald spots by age 50, I dove into the research to learn more.

What I have found is that hair loss may be due to a variety of things, stress, medications, hormones, care, genetics, and yes, even nutrition.

Hair Health and Fad Diets

Ever notice a change in your own hair after hopping on the cabbage soup diet bandwagon? How about the baby food diet, grapefruit diet, or fat-free diet? Undertaking the severe dietary limitations imposed by fad diets limits the variety and amounts of nutrients available to our body and causing malnutrition (deficiency in calories, protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins or minerals); often resulting in dull complexions, dry hair, and even hair loss. If a strict diet initiates the thinning process, it may further be exacerbated by genetics by jump-starting the hair loss pattern you have your parents to thank for. Thankfully in many cases if hair loss is due to poor nutrition, an improved diet may help to restore health to your hair; however in chronic cases of extreme dieting hair loss is more likely to be irreversible.

Healthy Hair Nutrition

Just as our bones rely on the availability of calcium and vitamin D (not to mention, phosphorus, protein, magnesium, zinc, copper, iron, fluoride, vitamins D, A, C, and K!) to grow strong, hair requires nutrients as well.

Healthy hair requires multiple nutrients, though iron and zinc have key roles in growth as iron delivers oxygen to the hair follicles and zinc aids in growth and repair of hair cells. Zinc also helps in the functioning of the oil glands surrounding our hair follicles. Other key nutrients for healthy hair include magnesium, protein, essential fatty acids, and vitamins D, B, and A.

A poor diet may also throw off your body’s hormone production, leading to even greater hair loss. An aspect reinforced in much of the research I came across focusing on the hormonal aspects of hair loss. However even hormones may be influenced by dietary intake. If your diet is light on vegetables and heavy on animal products you may be stimulating an increased production of the male sex hormone testosterone, a hormone linked with increased risk of hair loss; creating hair loss similar to male patterned baldness. Further reason to follow the USDA’s advice found in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Healthy Americans which encourage us to limit animal foods and enjoy a plant-based diet.

The Bottom Line?

The bottom line is that YES, nutrition does promote healthy hair growth and although certain factors, such as genetics, may have predetermined your body’s hair loss patterns, a balanced diet will help to maintain the hair you have and boost the likelihood of greater growth. Aim to fill your plate with a variety of food groups to ensure you are providing your body (and hair!) with a nutrient-rich environment for growth. As zinc and iron have been proven to be beneficial to healthy hair, be sure to seek out pumpkin seeds, wheat germ, nuts, seeds, as well as lean animal or seafood based proteins.

If you are in need of losing weight, rather than beginning a fad diet with unrealistic expectations, I highly encourage you to begin with small changes in your diet and lifestyle. Remember all it takes is to cut out 500 calories per day to lose 1-pound each week, a step which may be done simply by cutting out a large soda or reducing portion sizes. If you need more help, please send me your questions, or seek the advice of your own local registered dietitian by searching here.

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  • Thanks for the information but I was wondering is it safer (because it creates no worries) on the amount or other factors if it is smarter to just take vitamins? I mean I know food is also important but I'm just curious about the vitamin functions as well.

  • Nancy, which nutrients are you referring to? A general multivitamin? Each nutrient is different when it comes to supplementation and each with it's own benefits/risks...

  • Very informative, Jessica. Thanks for posting. I think what Nancy is trying to say is because we are people and we forget or we eat badly one day, we may not get all the nutrients in through food. So to be safe, should we take supplements or vitamins that have the key nutrients that play a role in having healthy hair? Is it better to just take supplements or vitamins to make sure we obtain all the nutrients than we could possibly be missing in our daily diets?

    Or is this too broad of a question because, like you said, each supplement has it's own benefits/risks? Sorry for so many questions! I am just interested. :)

  • Bri, I think it is still too broad to say YES TAKE SUPPLEMENTS, because each one interacts differently. In fact, even trying to take some at the same time will interact and may reduce absorption - essentially sending your money down the drain. Even calcium supplements were called out last year as a potential risk for increasing heart disease, then this past week a study was released saying that calcium supplements are protective against mortality, yet vitamin B6 and folate are risky... the science is ever-changing.

    On another note, the science is simply not there. While we may think that the vitamin A in sweet potatoes is so good for us (and it is!), it may not necessarily be the vitamin A alone, rather the dual-effects of vitamin A with the thousands of other micronutrients and phytonutrients within the food. Yet we still want to pull out the single nutrient and take it alone, hoping for the same positive effects. We certainly still have a lot to learn, as evident by the constantly changing recommendations by health professionals.

    My personal take on all of this is that if you are at risk for osteoporosis, then yes, a calcium supplement is still likely in your best interest. Or if you are pregnant, folate is likely in your (and your baby's) best interest. The science is growing on vitamin D as a winner as well, but again the latest research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, did not find any significant health benefits among their population sample. As for your hair, a single multivitamin paired with as balanced of a diet as you can get, is what I would choose for myself. Perhaps, with a omega-3 DHA supplement mixed in there as well :)

    Hope this helps more than it confuses?

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