When it comes to your hair, it is probably fair to say it is your crowning glory. A thick, lustrous, and shiny head of hair is often thought to reflect an individual’s state of health overall. According to leading dermatologists, there is truth to this as nutritional deficiencies, such as iron deficiencies, often show up in your hair first. Hair is the fastest growing tissue anywhere in the body and as such, it needs to be fed a healthy nutrient and vitamin diet in the same way that any other organ is fed.
Telogen effluvium, or a sudden loss of hair, for example, could be down to an iron deficiency. On the other hand, a lack of protein can make your hair lose its vibrancy and shine. That’s because hair is almost exclusively made of protein so, in addition to needing to feed your muscles, your body also needs protein to keep your hair in tip-top shape.
Then, there are more serious issues. If you suddenly lose hair on your legs but not your head, for example, this could be down to diabetes. Who would have thought not growing hair on your toes could indicate raised blood-sugar levels? So, as it turns out, keeping your hair in tip-top shape is so much more than just a matter of vanity. Make sure you get enough of these 10 vitamins to make sure your hair is making all the right waves.
1. Vitamin A
The tissue that grows the quickest in the human body, namely your hair, needs vitamin A. Vitamin A, also known as retinol, is found in sweet potatoes, pumpkins, spinach, carrots, and kale as these are all high in beta-carotene, necessary for the conversion to vitamin A. You can also get it from milk, eggs, and yogurt, among other foods.
Vitamin A is the same vitamin necessary to keep your skin healthy as it feeds the sebaceous glands. These glands produce an oil that moisturizes the skin and keeps it smooth and supple. It does exactly the same for your scalp. If your scalp is not healthy, it could lead to hair loss or dry, damaged hair. If your scalp is not healthy, your hair will not grow either. A lack of new hair growth will also lead to net hair loss over time, which in most cases can be extremely distressing.
As a B-vitamin, Biotin is one of the best vitamins for hair growth. Good sources of biotin include whole grains, fish, seafood, almonds, meat, and dark, leafy greens as well as many animal foods. Luckily, because vitamin B is so readily found in many foods, the incidences of hair loss due to a lack of this vitamin are very rare. However,
if you are vegan or vegetarian, you should consider taking a vitamin B supplement. This is due to the fact that eggs are a good source of biotin. They are also very easy to incorporate for those who are not on an eggless vegetarian or vegan diet.
Scientific studies have linked biotin deficiency to insufficient or interrupted hair growth. Various other B-vitamins also help red blood cell production. These carry nutrients and oxygen to the hair follicles and scalp, which is where hair growth originates. Eating foods rich in this vitamin will give hair follicles a boost.
Fish oils and fatty omega-3 oils nourish the hair, help keep it thick and lustrous and condition the scalp by reducing inflammation. Fatty oils are considered one of the top vitamins for great hair as a result. In a 2015 study on women with female pattern baldness in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, after being given omega-3 and omega-6 supplements, these women showed a clinically marked improvement in hair density and hair growth. The net result was that almost 90% of participants showed an increase in hair regrowth and thickness.
Good sources of omega 3 include salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel, and other oily fish. Walnuts and egg yolks are other good sources. If your diet is deficient in these, supplement it with one to two tablespoons of a good quality fish oil. The only caution is that if you use blood thinners, you should seek medical advice first as fish oil may increase bleeding.
4. Vitamin C
As you get older, your body is more susceptible to the damage caused by free radicals and your hair is no exception. Free radicals are the toxins and internal pollutants that cause damage to and age your cells on a micro level. This damage is gradual and so is the reversal process. The challenge when your age is that antioxidative enzymes also decrease. These enzymes fight off free radicals. Fewer of these enzymes can, therefore, mean hair that looks aged, grey, dull, limp, thin, and broken down.
Getting a good intake of vitamin C can help your body defend itself – and your hair structures – from free radicals. You’ll find these superhero defenders in oranges, grapefruit, limes, lemons, peppers, kale, kiwi, strawberries, broccoli, and Brussel sprouts. Alternatively, take 500mg to 1000mg twice a week in supplement form. Changing the diet can improve things dramatically and taking this vitamin is just about incorporating it into your daily diet.
5. Vitamin D
Alopecia areata or bald spots have been well documented as being linked to vitamin D. This is largely an autoimmune disease – hair follicles are very sensitive to hormone fluctuations. Vitamin D is a hormone that is vital to cell growth, among other things. Not only is the incidence of spot baldness found to be lower in those who take adequate vitamin D supplements, but the severity of the baldness was also found to be lower as well. Nutrition for the hair follicle starts from within the body and this is crucial to note when taking vitamin supplements.
The best way to get vitamin D is through direct sun exposure. 10 000 units of natural vitamin D can be absorbed by being in the sun for 10 to 15 minutes. You could also try applying vitamin D to your scalp. Foods rich in vitamin D include halibut, mackerel, eel, salmon, whitefish and several kinds of mushrooms.
Zinc is essential to hair follicle health and a lack, therefore, can lead to bald spots, hair thinning and hair loss in general. Zinc is necessary for the production of several enzymes essential to good health, and also helps hair follicles function optimally. Oral zinc sulfate has proven an effective remedy for patients with bald spots. It is also an essential vitamin, as it also gives a much-needed boost to the entire immune system.
There are four types of hair loss patterns across both genders. A 2013 study showed that zinc levels were lower in study participants who showed each kind of hair loss. Furthermore, the results of a study in 2009 published in Annals of Dermatology showed that taking zinc supplements orally improved hair growth for women with spot baldness. This was the only treatment given to the patients, who each showed a marked improvement. Red meat, poultry, dairy, whole grains, and oysters are good sources of zinc.
7. Vitamin E
Vitamin E is another fighter in the quest for great hair and skin. This vitamin is packed with tocotrienols which are powerful antioxidants that fight hair aging, breakage, and damage. As an exceptional antioxidant, it builds and repairs broken tissue, including hair, by fighting free radicals – the toxins and pollutants that break down cell walls. They also help keep the scalp in top condition, by repairing follicles.
The healthy follicles are able to sprout new hair growth unhindered as a result. A 2010 study showed that the tocotrienols in vitamin E helped ‘cure’ bald spots, hair thinning, and reverse hair loss.
Wheat germ, spinach, kale, avocado, and butternut are rich in vitamin 3 are inexpensive sources of this hair-critical ally. You can also get it in liquid or capsule form if you prefer. Additionally, there are also various topical forms of vitamin E so some people rub it onto their scalps directly to prevent hair loss, damage, and degeneration.
Hair is made up of protein, so it makes sense that to keep it strong and glowing, your protein intake needs to be sufficient at a minimum. Protein accounts for 80% of your hair’s structure in the form of keratin. Keratin is made up of connected polypeptide chains, plus two amino acids. These essential amino acids are the building blocks of all proteins (with hair being no exception) so without them, the follicles cannot produce hair strands or fibers.
A general lack of protein typically results in weak, brittle hair and little hair growth. Studies have shown that those who eat too little protein will experience at least some hair loss. In extreme protein deficiency cases, complete hair loss and baldness will follow. Seafood and meats such as chicken, turkey, and lean red meats will feed the fibers that make up the hair. If you’re vegetarian, go for broccoli, beans, spinach, and kale.
9. Vitamin B-complex, especially B12
Vitamin B complex consists of eight vitamins which together aid cell growth and division, which is critical for hair growth. B vitamins play a critical role in the functioning of metabolism, the nervous system, muscles, skin, hair, nails, and also energy levels. Because vitamin B is water-soluble, the body cannot store it and it passes out as urine. This means that you need to replenish it daily. How do you know if you’re vitamin B deficient? You may feel weak, bruise quickly, and have stilted hair growth.
Like Biotin, Vitamin B12 is such an important B vitamin that it warrants its own mention. It maintains the good health of red blood cells which is important for adequately oxygenating tissue, such as hair. You can take a daily B supplement or acquire it through your diet. Stock up on eggs, nuts, grains, vegetables, meats – especially red meats – and oily fish.
Iron is essential for proper red blood cell functioning. As such, it helps carry oxygen to the hair roots. If you don’t have enough iron, your body struggles to produce enough hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the oxygen carrier that provides vital life and energy supplies to all parts of your body including the scalp and hair follicles. Oxygen does not only help with new hair growth, but it can also help to radically repair damaged hair cells.
This is why an iron deficiency is often linked to hair loss, as well as dry, damaged, and angry-looking hair. Hair specialists often recommend that if you’re losing more hair than normal, one of the first things you should assess is whether you’re getting enough iron. Iron treatments have been shown to actually reverse hair loss.
Eat iron-rich foods such as red meat, especially steak and lamb. Iron from an animal source is absorbed differently that when it comes from a plant source though. This is why it is often best to combine iron from animal sources with iron from plant sources. If you’re going the plant-based route, also up your vitamin C intake, as this will boost iron absorption. Great plant sources of iron include lentils, spinach, beans, seaweed, Swiss chard, and sesame seeds.