Women seeking hair growth will try every new gadget, shampoo, conditioner and hair vitamin on the market. That’s great for keeping your hair in great shape once it grows out from the scalp, but true hair growth starts in the hair follicle. And when it comes to hair growth, nutrition plays a key role.
Though genetics plays an important role in regulating a variety of observable hair traits like color, length, and thickness, most people can improve their hair growth through improved nnutrition.
What Your Hair Is, and How It Grows
The hair you feel on your head and skin is an elongated piece of dead protein called Keratin that’s covered by an oily, waxy sheath made up of a fatty substance called sebum.
Since these substances are literally dead, anything you eat doesn’t influence the state of the hair directly. Underneath your skin is a biochemical complex called a follicle that’s responsible for scooping up nutrients from the bloodstream and packaging together the cells and proteins necessary to form your hair.
Providing your follicles with adequate starting materials for your hair is the key role in nutrition for hair growth.
Hormones and Your Natural Hair
In addition to the follicle, the other key player affecting the growth of your hair is the balance of different hormones in your body. Different growth hormones are responsible for synthesizing different precursors for hair growth which are secreted in and around the follicles when hair is formed.
The balance of estrogen and testosterone is an important regulator for hair growth. Testosterone tends to slow hair growth, and estrogen stimulates it. The increased presence of testosterone in males is one of the reasons why men tend to have shorter hair and are more likely to suffer from baldness.
Part of the role nutrition plays in hair growth is supplying the body with the nutrients needed to convert and regulate hormone levels in the body as needed.
A Healthy Diet Means Healthy Hair
When you eat different nutrients, your body doesn’t immediately target it for a specific body part. Instead, it pools its available nutrients together and based on its needs at that time appropriates nutrients where they’re most needed. So if your diet is lacking in general, the protein, iron, zinc, and biotin that it needs for hair growth will be used for more vital bodily functions like repairing injured tissue, breathing and movement, whether you want them to or not.
So eating for healthy hair and just plain “eating healthy” are practically one and the same. The biggest difference is that a “healthy hair” will place an emphasis on specific nutrients more so than a regular high nutrient meal plan.
The nutrients your body needs for hair growth are scooped up by hair follicles from the bloodstream. Thus healthy circulation is essential for good hair growth. The most important determinant affecting your blood circulation is the amount of cardiovascular exercise you get on a regular basis. For this reason anybody looking to improve their hair should also make it a point to exercise regularly. You don’t have to do a strenuous weight training workout like a Gladiator – just walking two miles per day (about 30 minutes) will do the trick.
High blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes are also impediments to healthy circulation to the scalp. Thus, a diet that’s low in fat, high in fiber, and low calorie will help promote healthy hair, even though none of these qualities are directly responsible for hair growth itself.
Supplements, Nutrients and Hair Growth: Can You Over Do It?
If you stroll into any health food store, you can usually find a supplement or two that claims it will promote healthy hair and faster hair growth. Should you spend your money buying one of these? In my opinion it’s not necessary, although it wouldn’t hurt. My cousin used Target brand prenatal vitamins and achieved phenomenal hair growth in just 90 days for 1/3 the cost of special hair vitamins.
However, if you chug down supplements without making the necessary changes in your eating habits, you are not addressing the root cause of your unhealthy scalp and hair. Plus you’re wasting money. The same money you might spend on an expensive supplement would be better spent on a new pair of walking shoes, fresh green vegetables and fruit, or some flaxseed oil to put on your salad.
The Six Essential Nutrients for Hair Growth
Vitamins A and C: These two nutrients are important because they’re used as the building blocks of sebum, the substance that coats the outside of your hair follicles.
Food Sources: Most fresh vegetables provide an abundant supply of both vitamin A and C. Any you get at the grocery store will probably do.
Biotin: Also known as B7, biotin is used to synthesize Keratin Growth Factor, the hormone your body uses to synthesize Keratin, the protein that comprises the fibrous parts of your hair.
Food Sources: beans, eggs, beef
Protein: Your hair is primarily a stick of protein with some hardened fatty acids coating it. Thus adequate protein is important for healthy hair. The amino acid lysine is particularly important, since it’s commonly found in keratin.
Food Sources: Any natural food source has to have protein in it, since it’s the building block of all cells. Fish, lean meats, legumes, and soy are all good sources.
Omega 3 and Omega 6 Fatty Acids: Your sebaceous gland uses a variety of fatty acids to create sebum, and Omega 3’s and Omega’s 6’s are the building blocks used to create the shiny coat that makes hair smooth. In particular, alpha linoleic acid is particularly robust for synthesizing the waxy sheath that coats the outer part of your hair.
Food Sources: flaxseed, salmon, hemp, canola oil, olive oil, Brazilian nuts, walnuts
Iron: Iron is the mineral your body uses to convert testosterone to estrogen, which is an important hormonal regulator of hair growth. As I mentioned before, estrogen stimulates hair growth, while testosterone impedes it.
Iron deficiency is a common reason people start to get flaky hair that starts to shed.
Food Sources: Beef, poultry, nuts and legumes
Zinc: Zinc is an important regulator of a variety of different growth hormones which your body uses synthesize hair growth.
Food Sources: Nuts and legumes, seafood (especially oysters and shellfish), beef and chicken, dark leafy greens
Vegans and Vegetarians
When it comes to eating for hair growth, a vegan and vegetarian that doesn’t take care to properly balance their food intake could experience problems with hair shedding or slow growth as well.
While it’s very possible to get all the nutrients listed above with no meat or dairy in the diet, you have to plan well to include a wide variety of plant-based foods that contain the nutrients listed above. A diet that’s poorly conceived might leave your hair and skin lacking.
The most common solution to this problem is to make sure you eat several servings of beans per day. Legumes, which is another name for beans, peas, and lentils, are all good sources of fiber, protein, iron, calcium, zinc, and B vitamins. This group also includes chickpeas, baked and refried beans, bean burgers, soy milk, tempeh, tofu, and texturized vegetable protein.
Seeds and nuts such as almonds, walnuts, chia seeds, sesame seeds, and nut or pea protein powders are also great additions to a vegan/vegetarian diet for maximizing hair growth.
Anne-Randall, Valerie. “Androgens for Human Hair Growth” Clinical Endocrinology, 1994.
Schweikert, Hans, et. al. “Regulation of Human Hair Growth by Steroid Hormones. I. Testosterone Metabolism in Isolated Hairs” Journal of Clinical Endocrinology.
Beach, Renee, et. al. “Sebum Transforming Growth Factor Beta1 Induced by Hair Products” Archives of Dermatology.
Dobbs, Joannie, et. al. “Hair Loss For Women Has Many Contributing Factors” University of Hawaii.
Lowe, John, et. al. “Zinc Source Influences Zinc Retention In Hair and Hair Growth In Dog” Journal of Nutrition.
Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, “The New Four Food Groups”
Walvarens, Philip, et. al. “Growth of Infants Fed A Zinc Supplemented Formula” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
About the Author (Author Profile)Blogger, writer, relationships/dating expert, fitness trainer and natural hair enthusiast since 1997. Sharing information from grandmomma, books and scientific journals, as well as my personal discoveries and experiences with natural hair as we journey from relaxers, flat irons and weaves together.
Comments from Facebook