Updated: Jul 9, 2020
Ever heard the saying “you are what you eat”? Well, your hair is no exception.
When people begin experiencing hair loss the first option is usually to start treatments like finasteride and minoxidil, which is great except for the fact that more often than not people do not consider diet to be an important underlying factor.
Not only does your diet dictate how you look and feel, it also has an immense impact on your hair. The way that you eat helps determine hair quality, growth, and may even help prevent a receding hairline.
In this article, I am going to explain exactly how your diet is a huge factor in hair loss. We will be taking an in depth look at each of the important nutrients that a healthy diet provides and how they interact with your hair follicles.
Hairs nutritional needs
Your body does not consider hair to be a vital organ. This means that if there is a nutritional deficiency, your body will not prioritize it. That is why hair loss is usually one of the first signs that your body is not getting the nutrition it needs to function properly.
You get many important vitamins and minerals from food. Eating a well-balanced diet will keep your nutritional levels balanced, but having a well-balanced diet is difficult. Often, the level of one, or several nutrients may be too high or too low which can have a range of negative effects on your hair. The best way to tell which vitamins and mineral levels are unbalanced is to get a blood test from your doctor. This will help you determine exactly what types of food you need to be eating more or less of.
Let’s dive into each important nutrient individually so that you can better understand how they affect your hair.
Zinc is an essential mineral that many enzymes in the body utilize for various functions.
In relation to hair, it is used for cell division and growth, meaning it is important for hair to grow properly.
Zinc also keeps the oil glands around the hair follicles working properly which is important for maintaining the scalps pH balance. By secreting the proper amount of sebum (scalp oil), issues like dandruff and itchiness can be prevented.
Bonus: although research is limited, zinc shows promise in its ability to block 5-alpha reductase, meaning it may work similarly to finasteride.
Sources of zinc:
Iron is important for the production of hemoglobin in the blood.
Hemoglobin is responsible for carrying oxygen which is used by the body for growth and repair of cells, specifically hair cells.
Iron deficiency is one of the most common deficiencies affecting nearly 80% of people worldwide. This is problematic because it is established knowledge that iron deficiency can cause hair loss.
Sources of iron:
Consuming enough protein is important for hair growth because hair is mostly made of protein. Specifically, the protein keratin is one of the most crucial structural components of your hair. If you do not consume enough protein, keratin may start to break down which will result in hair becoming dry and brittle.
Dry and brittle hair breaks off easily, and if prolonged protein malnutrition can lead to the appearance of thinning(although it is very rare with a western diet).
Sources of protein:
Vitamin A is very important for healthy cell and tissue development, including hair cells. Without the proper amount of vitamin A your hair may not grow and long or thick as it normally would.
Most diets, healthy or not, will provide enough vitamin A, which is why there is no data linking vitamin A deficiency and hair loss. But, there is lots of data showing that consuming too much vitamin A can cause hypervitaminosis A which has been shown to cause hair loss. This is because it is fat soluble, meaning that it is stored in the body, and when too much is stored it leaks into the circulatory system causing a range of issues.
Do not take a vitamin A supplement unless explicitly directed to by your doctor.
Sources of vitamin A:
There are many different b-vitamins including niacin, biotin, folic acid and more, each of which have different effects on your hair. This is an overall look at b-vitamins, although I encourage you to research more in depth how each affects your hair individually.
B-vitamins are responsible mostly for creating red blood cells which are used by the body to deliver vital oxygen and nutrients to the hair. Like I said, they all affect hair differently but only vitamin b2, b7, b12, and folate deficiencies have been shown to be linked to hair loss.
Sources of b-vitamins:
Hard boiled eggs
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant, meaning it protects hair from damage caused by free radicals.
It also plays an important role in helping the body efficiently absorb iron, which like we talked about earlier is important for healthy hair growth. This also helps prevent iron deficiency which can be detrimental to your hair.
Although there are no studies directly linking vitamin C with hair loss, we know that free radicals and iron deficiency cause hair loss which is enough to make a point about the importance of vitamin C’s role in protecting your hair.
Sources of vitamin C:
Vitamin D plays an important role in regulating the cycle of hair growth.
This is important because in order for hair to be healthy, it needs to complete healthy growth cycles. When you are suffering from androgenic alopecia, your hair cycles are shortened which causes hair to eventually die. You may be able to help keep your hair cycles at the proper length by ensuring you have enough vitamin D in your system.
Vitamin D deficiency is very common affecting around 1 billion people worldwide, I was even diagnosed myself, and hair loss is one of the common symptoms.
Sources of vitamin D:
Vitamin E is another potent antioxidant. Working similarly to vitamin C, it helps neutralize free radicals therefore protecting hair against the damage that they can inflict.
There is minimal data that links vitamin E deficiency with hair loss. But, just like vitamin A, too much can cause hypervitaminosis E, which may lead to decreased thyroid hormone production. This is problematic because decreased thyroid hormone can lead to a condition called hypothyroidism, and hair loss is one of the common symptoms of this.
Sources of vitamin E:
Selenium is very important for its role in regulating thyroid hormones. Like we talked about above, if thyroid hormones are unbalanced it can lead to an overactive or underactive thyroid, both of which have been known to cause hair loss.
Be extremely careful with selenium. Excess selenium intake can cause toxicity which not only can worsen hair loss, but can lead to other health problems as well.
Selenium also acts as an antioxidant like vitamins E and C, helping to protect hair against free radical damage.
Sources of selenium:
Fatty acid deficiency can lead to loss of hair and pigmentation (which drastically impacts how thick your hair appears).
Some evidence suggests that unsaturated fatty acids work similarly to finasteride by blocking 5-alpha reductase, but research is limited. The fatty acid arachidonic may help promote hair growth by enhancing rapid reproduction of hair follicles cells.
Omega-3 fatty acids in particular are also very important. They help reduce inflammation which has been linked to hair loss.
Sources of fatty acids:
Magnesium helps prevent calcium buildup in hair follicles. This is important because buildup can cause dandruff and inflammation, both of which have been linked to hair loss.
It also helps regulate protein synthesis meaning it helps your hair complete healthy growth cycles and produce enough melanin (melanin is responsible for giving hair its color).
Sources of magnesium:
Hopefully now by understanding how each of these important nutrients can affect hair loss you are more inclined to maintain a well-balanced diet. Like I stated at the beginning of the article, maintaining a well-balanced diet can be difficult, which is why if you suspect you are nutrient deficient you should get a blood test from your doctor to determine exactly which types of foods you need to consume more or less of.
By eating right you will be providing your hair will everything it needs to grow long and thick, and will certainly be giving yourself a better chance at preventing or overcoming hair loss in the long run.