Let It Grow: Foods and Nutrients for Healthy Hair
Every day it seems supermarket aisles, our Facebook and Instagram feeds and even conversations with friends are sprinkled with mention of products promising to encourage hair growth, replenish lost hair and give you the shiniest of locks.
So, I’m here to chat you through the foods and nutrients are important for healthy hair, including deficiencies of specific nutrients that may be related to hair loss.
It’s important to firstly point out that changes in our hair health and density can be related to genetics, styling, age, hormones, stress, medications and diet. If you have noticed a significant change in your hair, or experienced significant hair loss, this can be a sign of an underlying health concern- please discuss with your health care team.
Now, let’s jump into it!
Protein, Iron and Zinc
are the big guns here, deficiency in these nutrients can result in hair loss/changes. They're essential for the building, growth and repair of nourished tissues, like hair.
Protein is important for hair health because, well, it's mostly made up of it! In particular, a protein called keratin.
Diets low in protein have been associated with hair loss and finer, more brittle hair.
Generally, increasing protein intake overall in one’s diet has been found to be helpful, rather than specific protein sources or amino acids (protein building blocks) at this stage.
Sources of protein include: legumes, meats, dairy products, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds.
Iron is one of the first nutrients that will be screened for hair loss, as hair loss is a symptom of low iron. The relationship between iron and hair loss is unclear, though it is thought to be related to iron regulating genes in the hair follicle.
Sources of iron include: legumes, animal proteins, fortified cereals, eggs, dried fruit, dark leafy greens, nuts and seeds.
Zinc is important for maintaining the health of normal hair and is linked to stronger hair structure and improved growth. Zinc deficiency has been linked to changes in hair structure and loss, which can be improved with adequate intakes.
Sources of zinc include: Whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, oysters and red meat.
Good fats and vitamin E
help to keep our scalp and hair hydrated and protected.
Fatty acids have been associated with keeping hair hydrated, and deficiencies in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids have been linked with hair loss and discolouration.
This is thought to be related to the relationship with these fats and skin/scalp health (preventing dryness), reducing inflammation, improving circulation of nutrients and impacting the proliferation of hair cells.
Sources of omega-3s and -6s include: oily fish (e.g. salmon, tuna), walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds, soy and soy products, sunflower oil, canola oil and sesame oil.
Vitamin E is a tricky one- it’s important in cell membranes and has antioxidant properties that are linked with protecting our hair from free radicals.
There isn’t any evidence that supplementing Vitamin E will prevent hair loss, but there is evidence that too much vitamin E from supplements will reduce hair growth.
Sources of Vitamin E include: olive oil, sunflower oil, nuts, seeds and wholegrains
Vitamins A and C
are important for cell growth and repair, protecting our hair from moisture loss, as well as making collagen.
Vitamin A is linked with hair health as it maintains healthy hair follicles. However, this is another dangerous one to supplement- as excessive intake can be toxic, and lead to hair loss!
Sources include: eggs, oily fish, leafy greens and yellow/orange fruits and veggies
It’s no secret that Vitamin C is used in supplements for it’s role as an antioxidant and in create and maintain collagen levels- including in your hair. However, like with Vitamin E, we have not seen an improvement in hair loss with Vitamin C supplementation.
Sources include: strawberries, kiwi fruit, mango, capsicum, oranges, leafy greens
are found in a variety of foods, so having a balanced diet helps here. These vitamins (including biotin) are important for the growth and health of our hair in different ways. They are also one of the main vitamins in hair supplements, and in most cases, you're just paying for expensive urine as these are excreted when in excess.
By far and wide, this is the nutrient you hear about the most in hair supplements. At first, it seems like it makes sense- deficiency in biotin is linked with alopecia, and as biotin is used for macronutrient metabolism, deficiency can mean poorly nourished hair follicles.
However, a deficiency is very rare given the nutrient is produced in the gut. There is no evidence biotin supplementation helps outside of a deficiency.
Sources include: salmon, tuna, eggs, sweet potato, nuts and seeds.
As with biotin, a deficiency in niacin is linked with alopecia. However, this is also a rare deficiency, typically seen in alcoholism or in conditions that may impact nutrient absorption.
Sources include: animal proteins, eggs and wholegrains.
Other B Vitamins
All B vitamins play a role in maintaining the health and growth of our hair, however the evidence in this space is limited. Supplements containing B Vitamins for hair loss/growth are only useful if a deficiency is present.
Noteworthy: Vitamin D is involved in the growth of hair follicles and linked for this reason to hair health, but evidence in humans here for hair loss is limited.
There are many, many claims being made in regards to nutrients and supplements in resolving hair concerns. However, much of the evidence in this space is limited. The problem here is, when someone is experiencing changes in their hair, or significant hair loss, we can feel incredibly vulnerable. This could lead to missing, or masking a serious condition, or delaying care, or even risk worsening hair loss if nutrient values aren’t monitored.
Generally, a balanced diet is best for healthy hair, and if any deficiencies are present- specifically treating and managing these can go a long way (and save you a lot of $$).
Ablon G. (2015). A 3-month, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study evaluating the ability of an extra-strength marine protein supplement to promote hair growth and decrease shedding in women with self-perceived thinning hair. Dermatology research and practice, 2015, 841570. https://doi.org/10.1155/2015/841570
Almohanna, H. M., Ahmed, A. A., Tsatalis, J. P., & Tosti, A. (2019). The Role of Vitamins and Minerals in Hair Loss: A Review. Dermatology and therapy, 9(1), 51–70. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13555-018-0278-6
Bhat, Y. J., Manzoor, S., Khan, A. R., & Qayoom, S. (2009). Trace element levels in alopecia areata. Indian journal of dermatology, venereology and leprology, 75(1), 29–31. https://doi.org/10.4103/0378-6323.45216
Bradfield, R. B., Bailey, M. A., & Margen, S. (1967). Morphological changes in human scalp hair roots during deprivation of protein. Science (New York, N.Y.), 157(3787), 438–439. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.157.3787.438
DiBaise, M., & Tarleton, S. M. (2019). Hair, Nails, and Skin: Differentiating Cutaneous Manifestations of Micronutrient Deficiency. Nutrition in clinical practice : official publication of the American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition, 34(4), 490–503. https://doi.org/10.1002/ncp.10321
Goette, D. K., & Odom, R. B. (1976). Alopecia in crash dieters. JAMA, 235(24), 2622–2623.
Goluch-Koniuszy Z. S. (2016). Nutrition of women with hair loss problem during the period of menopause. Przeglad menopauzalny = Menopause review, 15(1), 56–61. https://doi.org/10.5114/pm.2016.58776
Guo, E. L., & Katta, R. (2017). Diet and hair loss: effects of nutrient deficiency and supplement use. Dermatology practical & conceptual, 7(1), 1–10. https://doi.org/10.5826/dpc.0701a01
Herskovitz, I., & Tosti, A. (2013). Female pattern hair loss. International journal of endocrinology and metabolism, 11(4), e9860. https://doi.org/10.5812/ijem.9860
Kantor, J., Kessler, L. J., Brooks, D. G., & Cotsarelis, G. (2003). Decreased serum ferritin is associated with alopecia in women. The Journal of investigative dermatology, 121(5), 985–988. https://doi.org/10.1046/j.1523-1747.2003.12540.x
MacFarquhar, J. K., Broussard, D. L., Melstrom, P., Hutchinson, R., Wolkin, A., Martin, C., Burk, R. F., Dunn, J. R., Green, A. L., Hammond, R., Schaffner, W., & Jones, T. F. (2010). Acute selenium toxicity associated with a dietary supplement. Archives of internal medicine, 170(3), 256–261. https://doi.org/10.1001/archinternmed.2009.495
Rizer, R. L., Stephens, T. J., Herndon, J. H., Sperber, B. R., Murphy, J., & Ablon, G. R. (2015). A Marine Protein-based Dietary Supplement for Subclinical Hair Thinning/Loss: Results of a Multisite, Double-blind, Placebo-controlled Clinical Trial. International journal of trichology, 7(4), 156–166. https://doi.org/10.4103/0974-7753.171573
Rushton D. H. (2002). Nutritional factors and hair loss. Clinical and experimental dermatology, 27(5), 396–404. https://doi.org/10.1046/j.1365-2230.2002.01076.x
Vujovic, A., & Del Marmol, V. (2014). The female pattern hair loss: review of etiopathogenesis and diagnosis. BioMed research international, 2014, 767628. https://doi.org/10.1155/2014/767628