Your hair, skin, and nails are a window into what is going on inside your body. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies, overtaxed organs and hormone imbalances often make themselves known in the form of rashes, blemishes, dryness in hair or hair loss and imperfections in nails. Listen to what these body parts are telling you, and you can head off many health problems before they become serious. Understanding the best foods for healthy hair also helps you nourish your organs and balance your hormones.
What Affects the Health of Your Hair?
Healthy hair starts deep inside your scalp. The hair itself is dead, but the follicles are very much alive and in need of nutrients just as much as other areas of your body. You might be doing damage with toxic hair products and a hairdryer, not to mention coloring and commercial processes. Even just changing your shampoo and conditioner can help your hair regain its luster. Many commercial shampoos and conditioners dry your scalp and hair out, particularly if you wash your hair every day.
Genetic factors: Male pattern baldness can be passed on genetically, as well as other predispositions that can affect overall health and the health of the hair.
Environment: Environmental factors such as indoor heating and air conditioning can dry out the hair. Treated water in swimming pools can also cause hair to become dry and brittle, as can overexposure to the sun which also depletes folate levels.
Hair thinning or loss in men and women can be related to hormones, medications or autoimmune diseases.
- Thyroid dysfunction. As women go through hormonal changes during and after menopause, or after pregnancy, they often experience hair loss. Once hormonal levels become balanced, this loss will be halted. One of the most common causes of hair loss is low thyroid function, so if you’re experiencing hair loss, it’s a good idea to have your thyroid levels checked by an endocrinologist.
- Insulin resistance. Researchers performed a practice-based case-control study on 154 subjects (aged 19-50 years) with early-onset male-pattern baldness (onset prior to 35 years of age) and age-matched controls. The study showed a strikingly increased risk of insulin resistance, hyperinsulinemia, and insulin-resistance-associated disorders in men with early onset of male-pattern baldness (alopecia), supporting the theory that early male-pattern baldness could be a clinical marker of insulin resistance.5
- Smoking: Smoking destroys vitamin C, which is an essential nutrient for nourishing hair follicles and clearing toxins from the body. Nicotine causes blood vessels to constrict, making it harder for nutrients to reach the skin and hair and for waste to be eliminated. See our list of recommended vitamin C products here.
- Medications: Drugs such as those used in cancer treatment (chemotherapy), anesthetics, anticoagulants (used to thin the blood) and oral contraceptives can cause temporary hair loss. Don’t make any changes to medications without first consulting a doctor. Proper supplementation and dietary changes can greatly improve hair and scalp conditions.
The Top 8 Best Foods for Healthy Hair
The best foods for healthy hair is tied to balanced meals of the right protein, collagen, and fats, along with specific vitamins, minerals and compounds. Keep your blood sugar level throughout the day by avoiding high carbohydrate snacks and meals, and start your morning off with protein every day like a smoothie with coconut water or nut milk, protein powder (see the best whey or plant protein powders articles) frozen blueberries, and avocado or banana.
One of the main factors influencing hair health is a deficiency of iron and good-quality protein. Protein is essential for cell repair and growth, while iron produces hemoglobin in the blood, which carries oxygen for growth and repair of all body cells. Excess sugar and refined carbohydrates in the diet robs the body of minerals crucial to hair health.
As mentioned in the Whey vs. Collagen article, the growth of hair follicles is dependent on the collagen matrix in the dermal layer of our skin. When collagen is too low, the number and thickness of hair follicles can be reduced. One of the biggest benefits people see from collagen powder is a significant change in hair health.
If you have noticed receding gums as you get older, collagen is a major part of the structural component of teeth and the connection between teeth and gums. There have been multiple reports of improved gums with collagen, and research has also shown that collagen improves gum health.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
To feed your follicles, get lots of essential fatty acids from wild-caught fish, pastured meats pastured eggs, seeds and nuts. These are vital for the structure of every cell membrane as well as healthy joints, circulation, heart function, glowing skin, and shiny hair. Many people cannot make enough omega-3 fatty acids, so it’s essential to get them from foods and supplements.
Essential Fatty Acids fall into two groups:
- Omega-3 found in oily fish such as sardines, salmon and mackerel, and walnuts and flaxseeds. Based on your FADS1 and FADS2 genotype (as seen in the Nutrition Genome Report), you may require a higher intake of animal-based omega-3’s.
- Omega-6 found in chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and nuts. Hemp seeds are another wonderful source of GLA and omega-3.
A trace mineral is an essential nutrient for healthy hair and also for strong bones and teeth. Silica helps the body utilize other minerals such as copper, boron, zinc, magnesium, and phosphorous. There are several food sources of silica, including seaweed, oats, millet and barley. Beer is one of the best sources of silica, and there is a long history of washing hair with beer for a radiant shine. There is also a shampoo made with beer called Real Shampoo Bar from Tasmania.
Seaweed contains a wealth of nutrients vital healthy hair, including calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, zinc, niacin, iron, iodine, and many other vitamins. Seaweed binds with toxins and removes them from the body. As an alternative, you can take a kelp supplement.
Lentils and chickpeas are a great vegetarian source of protein. They’re also a good source of B vitamins, folic acid, and iron, nutrients necessary for healthy hair. Combine with brown rice or quinoa to make a complete protein.
See the article the Best Plant-Based Protein Powders.
Leafy greens like kale, collard greens, spinach, and Swiss chard contain large amounts of vitamins C and A, which the body uses to make sebum, which is secreted by the hair follicles and keeps the hair shiny and healthy. Greens like spinach are also rich in folate and minerals, including iron.
Sprouted Pumpkin Seeds
Sprouted pumpkin seeds are good sources of zinc, an important nutrient for hair health. Sprouting helps “unlock” the minerals like zinc that are bound by phytic acid.
Almonds, beans, sardines, and kale are the best sources of calcium.
The Top 3 Recommended Supplements for Healthy Hair
Vital proteins use high quality, grass-fed beef collagen. This is going to give you the biggest bang for your buck for glowing hair, skin and nails.
Due to the massive drop in seafood consumption, and concerns over polluted waters, fish oil supplementation has become an important consideration for many people.
This is one of the best multivitamins as rated by our Best and Worst Multivitamins article, providing all the necessary vitamins and minerals in the correct forms and dosage.
B-vitamins play a major role in healthy hair, especially biotin. Avoid cheap B-vitamins that use synthetic folic acid and cyanocobalamin, and avoid hair products with huge doses of biotin. High doses of biotin have been found to be damaging and even shorten telomeres.
1., 2. articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2011/01/17/the-best-foods-for-beautiful-skin.aspx
3. Raymond Peat Newsletter, Coconut Oil, reprinted at www.heall.com. http://www.heall.com/body/healthupdates/food/coconutoil.html An Interview With Dr. Raymond Peat, A Renowned Nutritional Counselor Offers His Thoughts About Thyroid Disease
5. Lancet September 30, 2000; 356: 1165-1166.