Nutrition & Hair Health


  • Introduction
  • Vitamins
  • Antioxidants
  • Trace elements
  • Polyunsaturated fatty acids
  • Aminoacids
  • Aging effects
  • Bioavailability
  • Circulation
  • The 10 top foods that are the foundation of healthy hair diet.
  • Patient education
  • References

• Introduction
Healthy looking hair is in general a sign of good health and good hair-care practices. Most healthy individuals have adequate nutrients in their diet; however some people do not have access to good nutrition, others have medical illnesses that predispose them to nutritional deficiency which influence scalp / body hair. ]
Nutrition is a complex subject - the effects of correct nutrition are indirect and often slow to appear. Hair in particular is slow to respond to any stimulus.Trials have indicated that correct nutrition is instrumental inhealthy hair growth, and conversely many deficiencies correlate with hair loss.
Hair nutrition is therefore a vital part of any treatment regime. A truly systematic and rigorous approach must be taken when formulating a nutritional supplement for hair due the many factors that affect the eventual efficacy of the treatment.
Malnutrition, congenital heart disease, neuromuscular disease, chronic illnesses, malignancy, alcoholism, and advanced age can cause hair to change colour, be weakened, or lost.
Genetics and health are factors in hair wellbeing. Proper nutrition is important. The living part of hair is under the scalp skin where its root is housed within its follicle. It derives its nutrients from blood. Health concerns e.g. stress, trauma, medications, medical conditions, heavy metals, smoking etc. can affect the hair.
Hair is the fastest growing natural tissue in the human body: the average rate of growth is 1 cm per month. Optimal growth occurs from age 15 - 30 and reduces from age 40 - 50. Hair products (shampoos or vitamin supplements) have not been shown to noticeably change this rate. The cycles of growth of each follicle consist of creation followed by self destruction. During each new cycle the follicle is built anew from raw materials.
The speed of hair growth varies based upon genetics, gender, age, hormones. It may be reduced by nutrient deficiency (i.e., anorexia, anemia, zinc deficiency) and hormonal fluctuations (i.e., menopause, polycystic ovaries, thyroid disease).
It is important to mention that many of the metabolic requirements of follicle cells (minerals and vitamins) must be satisfied for optimal hair growth (not always derived from fast foods and punishing work schedules).
Nutritionists confirm that people with certain nutritional deficiencies tend to have dry, stringy and dull hair, and sometimes experience hair loss. Fortunately the latter can be restored once the deficiency is addressed.
Crash diets cause temporary hair loss due to incumbent nutritional factors e.g. anorexia, bulimia and other medical conditions.
Diets should contain protein, fruits, vegetables, grains, and an appropriate amount of fat. Deficiency will typically show in the hair. A mild case of anemia can cause shedding of hair. B group vitamins are significantly important for healthy hair, especially biotin.
When the body is under threat it reprioritizes its processes - the vital organs will be attended first - hair follicles may not be considered a priority. While not all hair growth issues originate from malnutrition, it is a valuable symptom in diagnosis.
The essential omega-3 fatty acids, protein, vitamin B12, and iron, found in fish sources, prevent a dry scalp and dull hair color. Dark green vegetables contain high amounts of vitamins A and C, which help with production of sebum and provide a natural hair conditioner. Legumes provide protein to promote hair growth and also contain iron, zinc, and biotin. Biotin functions to activate certain enzymes that aid in metabolism of carbon dioxide as well as protein, fats, and carbohydrates. A deficiency in biotin intake can cause brittle hair and can lead to hair loss. In order to avoid a deficiency, individuals can find sources of biotin in cereal-grain products, liver, egg yolk, soy flour, and yeast. Nuts contain high sources of selenium and therefore are important for a healthy scalp. Alpha-linoleic acid and zinc are also found in some nuts and help condition the hair and prevent hair shedding that can be caused by a lack of zinc. Protein deficiencies or low-quality protein can produce weak and brittle hair, and can eventually result in loss of hair color. Low-fat dairy products are good sources of calcium, a key component for hair growth. A balanced diet is necessary for a healthy scalp and hair.
Healthy hair growth requires a complexity of nutrients and a ready supply of oxygen but comparatively few authoritive studies have trialled ingredients to maintain or promote hair growth. However a balanced, bioavailable formula to protect and maintain hair growth is vital. Dietary supplements marketed to thicken hair or make it grow faster may prove of nil value.
2. Vitamins
A good multivitamin can be a foundation of health and nutrition. Changes in skin and hair can provide clues to the presence of an underlying vitamin deficiency.
Hair ultimately reflects the overall condition of the body. In health problems or nutritional deficiencies hair may stop growing or become brittle. If a body is in good health, it is possible to maximize genetic growth cycle through taking the proper blend of amino acids and B-vitamins.
Certain vitamins, minerals and amino-acids are crucial to the metabolic pathways involved in keratin protein (hair) metabolism., leading to a potential loss of hair and substantial degradation of hair health. There is a rather adequate research basis to justify product effectiveness claims for a vitamin, mineral and amino-acid complex designed to supply the nutrients needed by healthy growing hair.
B5 (pantothenic acid) gives hair flexibility, strength and shine and helps prevent hair loss and greying. Vitamin B6 helps prevent dandruff and can be found in cereals, egg yolk and liver. Vitamin B12 helps prevent the loss of hair and can be found in fish, eggs, chicken and milk.
It is also important to include B6, biotin, inositol and folic acid in the supplemental program. It has been found that certain minerals including magnesium, sulfur, silica and zinc are also very important toward maintaining healthy hair.
Vitamins B1, B2, Niacin & Pantothenic acid
Reduced levels of thiamin (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), niacin, and pantothenic acid can contribute to the undernourishment of hair-follicle cells. A dosage range of 25-50 mg daily is recommended.
Folic acid
A decrease in folic acid may contribute to decreased hair-follicle cell division and growth. Folic acid is also essential for the maintenance of healthy methionine levels in the body. Signs of folic-acid deficiency include anemia, apathy, fatigue, and graying hair. A therapeutic dose of 400-800 mcg daily is recommended.
Biotin, part of the vitamin B complex, is another nutrient associated with hair loss. Biotin is required for a number of enzymatic reactions within the body, and is necessary for the proper metabolism of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Over time, poor metabolism of nutrients can contribute to undernourished hair follicle cells. Although rare, a biotin deficiency results in skin rashes and hair loss. A study conducted at Harvard University suggests that biotin is one of the most important nutrients for preserving hair strength, texture, and function.
People who are eating adequate amount of protein should not have a problem with biotin deficiency, though vegans may be at risk. Good food sources of biotin are eggs, liver and soy.
It's not known if biotin supplements, which are marketed to help with male- and female-pattern baldness, can help with hair loss, and there are not any research indicating that the biotin in biotin hair products, such as shampoos, can be absorbed through the hair or scalp. The recommended dosage of d-biotin is 500-1000 mcg per day.
Vitamin C
One of vitamin C’s major functions is to help produce and maintain healthy collagen, the connective tissue type found within hair follicles. Vitamin C is also a strong antioxidant and protects both the cells found within follicles and cells in nearby blood vessels. A daily dose of 100-200 mg of vitamin C is recommended for hair and skin care. Vitamin C with bioflavonoids - one to two grams daily
Vitamin E
Vitamin E helps to maintain the integrity of cell membranes of hair follicles. The vitamin provides physical stability to cell membranes and acts as an antioxidant while promoting healthy skin and hair. A daily dose of vitamin E should be within the therapeutic range of 50–400 IU. Vitamin E and selenium work together to prevent attacks on cell membranes by free radicals by reducing peroxide concentration in the cell. Vitamin E - 400 to 800 IU daily


Beta-carotene is also important to hair growth. This is so because beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A as the body needs it, helps maintain normal growth and bone development, protective sheathing around nerve fibers, as well as promoting healthy skin, hair and nails. Dosage for Beta-carotene is 10,000 to 15,000 IU daily.

3. Antioxidants
Vitamins A, C and E are antioxidants that enhance skin cell turnover and collagen synthesis. When applied topically these vitamins protect against premature skin aging from the damaging effects of ultraviolet light and environmental pollutants.
Vitamin C helps reduce the damage caused by free radicals and UV exposure. Over time, free radicals can damage collagen and elastin, the fibers that support skin structure.
Vitamin E also helps reduce the skin effects of free radicals and UV exposure.
Selenium is necessary for iodine metabolism. Case studies have indicated that selenium deficiency can lead to cancer, heart disease, and poor hair growth. Supplementation of 25-50 mcg of selenium per day is the recommended dosage.

4. Trace elements
Calcium - a fraction of the body’s calcium stimulates cell mediators that act on cell-membrane phospholipids in hair-follicle cells. Most Americans fail to meet the recommended daily intake for calcium. Patients have to be advised to take magnesium with supplemental calcium to maintain healthy calcium levels in the body. Without extra magnesium to balance it, large doses of calcium may be harmful. The recommended dosage is 100-200 mg of calcium per day.

Zinc is essential for DNA and RNA production, which, in turn, leads to normal follicle-cell division. Zinc is also responsible for helping to stabilize cell-membrane structures and assists in the breakdown and removal of superoxide radicals. Zinc intake is generally low. Topical applications of zinc have been shown to reduce the hair loss activity of 5-AR type II. The recommended dosage is 15 mg of zinc (in the form of zinc amino acid chelate) per day.
Zinc deficiencies, and any associated hair health, may associate with low-calorie diets, especially young women. Zinc is found in meat, eggs and seafood.

Iron deficiency causes microcytic and hypochromic anemia. Moreover, most other organs including the skin and pilo sebaceous follicles are affected.
Iodine - Suboptimal thyroid functioning can lead to abnormal hair growth. Because iodine supports proper thyroid functioning, 112-225 mcg of iodine (in the form of kelp) per day is the recommended dosage.
5. Aminoacids

L-Methionine, one of four sulfur-containing amino acids, supports hair strength by providing adequate amounts of sulfur to hair cells. Sulfur is required for healthy connective tissue formation. Hair requires sulfur for normal growth and appearance.
L-Cystein - supports hair strength by the provision of sulphur. Skin, nails and hair are high in L-Cysteine. There is evidence that defficiency may be a factor in hairloss. Supplementing the diet accordingly may be helpful.
L-Lysine - It is interesting to note that male pattern baldness is less common in Asians than Americans. Is this in part due to he Asian diet being rich in L-Lysine -an enzyme inhibiting amino acid in vegetables and herbs affecting 5-alpha-reductase in some way.
6. Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) - play an important role in cell structure, barrier function, lipid synthesis, inflammation and immunity. PUFAs help reduce dry, scaly skin. Most popular sources are walnuts, fish oil, flaxseed oil etc.
People on low-fat and non-fat diets are at risk for nutrition-related hair loss because hair needs essential fatty acids. Essential fatty acid deficiency causes a drying-up of the scalp and skin. These are vital nutrients that support follicular health. When the follicle is not healthy, hair loss or thinning occurs.
7. Aging effects there is no solution for this. Even with outstanding nutrition, genetic blueprint is eventually going to take control and hair may change in colour, structure and density.
Contol of biological aging may be influenced by superfoods e.g. supergreen mixes, chlorella, spirulina, micro-algae extracts such as astaxanthin, broccoli sprouts fresh vegetables blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries etc also garlic, ginger and other culinary and medicinal herbs.
Water - is important in general bodily health and potentially good hair health. Water quenches thirst and aids food digestion.
8. Bioavailability
Many common vitamins and all amino acids exist as multiple isomers; however it is rare that these are equally available to human metabolism. The chirality of amino acids is well established, as is the dramatic difference between left and right enantiomers in the human body. On the whole, humans can only metabolise left or L enantiomers, such as L-Cysteine. R-Cysteine is not taken up or commonly metabolised, therefore commonly used racemic mixtures of the two forms are only half comprised of useful amino acids.
Vitamins, such as vitamin B6 also have several forms, pyridoxine is the form of vitamin B6 most commonly used in nutritional supplements, however it is not the bio-active form. Instead it must be phosphorylated to become pyridoxal-5-phosphate, which is active as an enzyme cofactor for many reactions, and is important for uptake of other nutrients as well. The phosphorylation reaction to activate pyridoxine takes energy and a certain set of conditions, and therefore not all the pyridoxine taken in a supplement is used. A more efficient alternative is to use pyridoxal-5-phosphate in the supplement, so the bio-active form is immediately available, requiring no energy, and minimal wastage.
Bioavailability is not just controlled by isomeric forms. Nutrient uptake is complex, and there are many surprising instances where one nutrient is dramatically affected – either negatively or positively, by a completely different nutrient in the formula.
9. Circulation
A final and often overlooked factor is the circulation of oxygen and nutrients to the hair. Even a perfectly balanced supplement would be ineffective without adequate blood flow to the hair. Hair loss may conceivably be caused or exacerbated by a deficient blood suppl,. therefore it may be beneficial to increase the circulation. This can be achieved through topical treatments that stimulate nitric oxide production or angiogenesis.
The stimulatory effects of caffeine and taurine on nutrient uptake and metabolism may also be beneficial. An added consideration is the possible effect of caffeine upon dihydrotestosterone and hair loss. Caffeine has been shown by several studies to reduce hair loss caused by dihydrotestosterone, the in vivo studies were successful topically, but the effects of oral caffeine have not been tested at this time. Taurine has also been shown by in vitro testing to protect the hair from TGFβ-1 induced apoptosis.
In spite of the paucity of clinical data in the area, it is possible through careful formulation to develop a potent, bioavailable, and balanced formula with combinations of ingredients that are likely to have good clinical outcomes. This is particularly true if supplements are used to support wider treatment regimes – even surgery.

Auto immune diseases - an immune reaction attacks the hair at the root (or follicle). Anti-bodies attack hair tissue as if they were foreign invaders.
o Androgenic Alopecia – the body’s immune system is sensitized to increased levels of DHT in the scalp causing hair loss in these high concentrated DHT areas. (DHT, or Dihydrotestosterone, causes 95% of all hair loss)
o Alopecia totalis/universalis – immune sensitivity to a substance other than DHT.
• Connective tissue disease - causes scarring of skin, loss of circulation to hair follicles and an autoimmune reaction leading to temporary or permanent loss of hair
o Lupus, Rheumatoid arthritis, Scleroderma, MCTD.
• Exposure to toxic chemicals - Common toxic chemicals, such as tobacco smoke, contains hundreds of lethal and damaging chemicals which can accelerate normal hair loss. This can be caused directly from smoking or indirectly from second hand smoke.
• Chemotherapy or Radiation exposure - Irradiation therapy or exposure to radiation from any source can cause localized or total hair loss, sometimes permanently.
• Iron deficiency anemia - very common with women but also can affect men.
• Hormonal changes - due to pregnancy, birth control pills, menopause and/or illnesses
• Thyroid disease - either hypothyroid or hyperthyroid disease causes hair to become brittle and break resulting in localized or generalized loss. Correction of the thyroid condition usually causes hair to re-grow.
• Excessive or lack of vitamins - too much vitamin A can cause hair loss. Medicines – some prescription and over the counter meds can foster side effects such as hair loss (see below). Usually, when the medication is discontinued, the hair re-grows.
• Individual reaction to illness or a personal sensitivity to the environment - Alopecia can be a reaction to foreign elements in your environment, similar to an allergic reaction.
• Fungal and Bacterial Infections - impetigo and tinea capitis.