Taking care of your hair is about more than choosing the right conditioner and styling products. Like clearing up your complexion or making a cold go away, you need to pay attention to the things you put into your body as much as – if not more than – the things you put onto it if you want to maintain truly healthy, strong hair.
Eating healthfully will go a long way toward making your hair soft, shiny, and strong – but focusing on these nutrients in particular will prove especially beneficial.
Incorporate these vitamins for hair growth and health
As much as possible, try to get your nutrients from whole foods instead of supplements – but high-quality supplements are much better than nothing. (People on plant-based diets will need to supplement more in general.) Check with your doctor before beginning a supplement regimen, as even all-natural substances can cause unexpected reactions in your body.
Keep macronutrients balanced. You know macronutrients from nutrition labels: carbohydrates, protein, and fat. While all of these are part of a balanced diet, there are two major players when it comes to hair health.
- Protein – Your hair is almost entirely composed of protein (specifically, the protein known as keratin), as are your nails. That means that dietary protein is absolutely essential to growing and maintaining healthy hair.
- Fat – If you’ve seen the Time cover that features a stick of butter, you’ve probably heard that fat – especially saturated fat – has been vilified by the USDA and nutrition community for many years as an artery-clogging, obesity-causing nightmare. But as it turns out, properly sourced saturated fats are really, really good for your hair and skin – and your overall health and energy. (Plus, they help your body absorb and utilize plant-derived nutrients.)
The key to healthy fat consumption is trying to get a similar amount of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Look for minimally processed fats from properly raised animals (butter, lard, ghee, bacon, etc.) and whole foods (avocado, macadamia, olive, coconut, and walnut oils, for example).
Pay attention to micronutrients. Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals in a given food. “Essential” micronutrients refer to substances our bodies don’t create on their own. While it’s hard to keep track of micronutrients the same way you log macros, keep these nutrients in mind when you’re snacking or choosing your meal’s protein source.
Keep hair strong and supple with these micronutrients
Healthy hair looks better, of course – and it tends to be a reflection of your overall health. The following micronutrients directly affect how strong, soft, and shiny your hair is – so make sure you’re getting enough of them in your diet or supplementing appropriately.
- Vitamin A – Your scalp uses vitamin A to create sebum. Sebum keeps your hair properly moisturized, so vitamin A deficiency will create brittleness and breakage. Beta-carotene is a plant-derived nutrient that our bodies convert to vitamin A – and while you can get it from plants, you’re much better off focusing on vitamin A from whole foods.
- Iodine – The war on salt is far from over, but the truth is, you need salt – specifically, iodine – in order to maintain proper thyroid health, fluid balance, heart health, and a high-functioning nervous system. And to optimize iodine absorption (and prevent iodine toxicity), your body also needs adequate selenium. How does it relate to your hair? Thyroid health can make or literally break your hair.
- Magnesium deficiency has been linked to hair loss, among other unsavory things. To properly absorb magnesium, you’ll also need enough vitamin B – especially B6.
- Zinc keeps your hair follicles happy and healthy by helping skin cell turnover and contributing to synthesis (production) of thyroid hormones. It’s also an anti-inflammatory agent, which makes zinc a star ingredient in treatments for scars, diaper rash, sunburn, and blisters.
- H2O – We know – water isn’t a nutrient, so to speak. But staying hydrated keeps your hair healthy from the inside out. Adequate water consumption promotes cell health and production and helps keep hair shiny and strong.
Promote healthy circulation and cell turnover for hair growth
As mentioned above, hair is almost entirely composed of protein – the same stuff that makes up your nails. Healthy blood circulation and cell turnover make your body capable of generating new cells and new tissue – and growing hair.
- Vitamin B – This nutrient takes on a few different forms, but most of the B family’s members can do great things for your mane.
- B6 helps your body build new cells – and, as mentioned above, cell turnover is important to hair growth and health.
- Inositol – better known as vitamin B8, even though it’s not a true vitamin – also contributes to strong hair and hair growth.
- B12 is another hard-hitter, and a deficiency doesn’t have to be severe to affect hair health.
- Biotin – which you might’ve seen in some of your smoothing hair products – helps to thicken the hair shaft and encourage growth.
- Niacin – you guessed it – also helps with circulation.
- Vitamin C – One of the most lauded immune-boosting nutrients, vitamin C helps build red blood cells – which are important for hair growth.
- Vitamin E – Good circulation is important for healthy hair, and vitamin E is a major player in circulation.
- Iron – While there’s not a solid body of evidence for iron deficiency being directly related to hair loss, physicians do find that iron deficiency certainly exacerbates hair loss in their patients. Even if you don’t have diagnosed anemia, adding iron to your diet or supplement regimen is very likely to help regrow hair, or at least halt hair loss.
What other factors affect hair health?
Diet is extremely important to overall health – but if you’re seeing hair damage and your diet is wholesome and well-rounded, there are a few other things to consider.
- Changing or unbalanced hormones can change the texture and health of your hair, and stress can make hair fall out, gray, or thin. If you’re a new or expecting mother, prepare for your hormones to change – and your hair texture might follow suit. Super-stressed individuals might also notice changes in hair.
- And those hair products that make your mane so shiny and fragrant? They might be doing more harm than good if they contain toxic ingredients. Choose more natural options if possible.
- If you’ve recently had general anesthesia and/or surgery, you might experience temporary hair loss.
Your hair is a pretty accurate indicator of your overall health. As always, try to get as many nutrients as possible, and talk to your doctor before beginning a new supplement regimen.
Read more about how you can eat for healthy hair this Fall!
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