By Jessica Corwin MPH RDN — One of many Hair and Skin blogs on SmartLivingNetwork.com
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.
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.
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 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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