When we talk about healthy eating we are mostly thinking about our energy, fitness and our waistline. What we often forget is that what we eat, i.e. the vitamins and minerals we put into our body, also affects our external physique as well as our internal. According to the science behind this, the phrase ‘you are what you eat’ could not be closer to the truth. Whilst it has long been known that eating the right foods is good for healthy organs and muscles, recent research has been delving into what it can do for the health of our skin, hair and nails. Dermatologist Susan Taylor, MD FAAD, working at Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania, spends much of her working hours proving how the nutrition in our food impacts our skin. “Research has shown that the antioxidants in vitamins C and E can protect the skin from sun damage and help reduce damage in skin cells,” she says. “Similarly, we have long known that the B vitamin biotin is responsible for forming the basis of skin, hair and nail cells, and vitamin A – found in many fruits and vegetables – maintains and repairs skin tissue. Without an adequate supply of these vitamins, you may notice it in the appearance of your skin, hair and nails.” Clean eating and healthy living are fast becoming an obsession on social media, but be assured that succumbing to this fad will reap undeniably positive consequences for your hair.
The mane mistakes
As with all things health related, top quality hair is all about balance (find out more by taking one of many hairdresser courses
available). There are common, everyday mistakes we make in the name of ‘good health’ that can be detrimental to our hair’s growth. “Eat lots of oily fish,” say most nutritionists, constantly; but in fact, some fish contain high levels of mercury that can lead to hair thinning and even hair loss if consumed too often. Mercury heavy fish are mackerel, swordfish and some species of tuna, so make sure these aren’t littering your diet too heavily.
Vitamin A is another health craze that, if taken in too high a dose, has been proven to cause hair loss. Studies have shown that once an individual who suffers from hair loss has had their vitamin A intake reduced and regulated then hair begins to regrow.
It’s dangerously easy to overdo your vitamin A intake for it’s often prescribed based on its numerous health benefits, such as its vital role in bone growth, immune system health, reproduction, skin protection and healthy vision.
A multivitamin tablet shouldn’t overdo your intake, but a supplement probably will.
From the unhealthy foods category, sugar is probably the most obvious one. Eating too much sugar causes the body to pump out insulin in order to regulate your rising blood-sugar levels, and insulin damages the blood vessels that carry oxygen around your body. Hair deprived of oxygen will suffer like any strong mammal will.
Insulin also produces high levels of androgen, a male hormone that, whilst stimulating body hair, causes the hair follicle to shrink around the temples and scalp vertex, leading to hair loss.
So high sugar diets can lead to more hair on the body and less on the head.
Following this, foods with a high-glycemic-index that quickly break down into sugar should also be avoided, such as starchy white bread and pasta. It has been proven that a high-glycemic-index diet can increase androgen levels, whilst one with a low-glycemic-index can reduce them.
Milk and dairy foods are another genre that can be dangerous for your hair’s health, although this relationship falls under the category of intolerance. In some intolerant cases, dairy can have an effect on the antibodies or immune cells in your blood or skin and can cause a type of eczema to develop, which prevents essential oils getting to your hair, causing hair to become dry and brittle. Dairy’s impact on hair health is a form of intolerance, but if you have a dairy intolerance it does not necessarily mean your hair will be affected.
How to heighten your hair’s health
There is a lot of attention in the media on what foods and nutrients are good for our organ and muscle function, but the needs of our hair, skin and nails are often overlooked. Protein, for example, is time and again pounded into our brains as a hero of bodily strength, but it also plays a major role in our hair growth. Hair is actually made of protein, so a lack of it means, essentially, a lack of hair. Make sure, then, that your diet is rich in protein, for you’re not only eating for muscle growth but also for the health of your hair too! Chicken, turkey and fish all contain high levels of protein, but there is plenty of protein in non-meat foods too, such as beans, tofu, nuts and lentils. Without a sufficient amount of protein your hair will be dry, brittle and weak, and in extreme cases, it can result in hair loss. These cases mostly occur in those with eating disorders, however, or severe diet limitations due to intolerance or disease. Still, protein is food for your hair, so the more you give it the merrier it will be.
Whilst too much vitamin A has been proven to be damaging, a regulated amount is necessary for scalp protection. Vitamin A produces an oily substance called sebum, which is created by our sebaceous gland and acts as a natural conditioner for your hair. Vitamin A is found in animal products and can be gained from yellow/orange coloured foods that are high in beta-carotene, which makes vitamin A. Think carrots, pumpkins and sweet potatoes. Another vital vitamin is biotin, found in rich foods such as egg yolks, wholegrains and liver. Biotin protects the hair follicles and the shaft to prevent breakage.
Eating lots of omega-3-rich foods greatly helps, also. Omega-3 is a fatty acid that lines the scalp, providing your scalp and hair with the oils it needs for shine and hydration. Our bodies can’t make omega-3 itself, so it needs to be supplied from your diet. Omega-3 can be found in oily fish, such as salmon, sardines, trout and mackerel, and from plant sources including avocado, pumpkin seeds and walnuts. But as mentioned previously, be careful not to overdo it on the mercury-strong fish.
There have been tests that demonstrate how different amino acids can stimulate hair growth. These include methionine, which contains sulphur, an important chemical for hair growth; arginine, which opens the potassium channels of our blood cells, improving the blood supply to hair follicles; and glutamine, which transports sulphur to the hair. Many of the 20 amino acids are found naturally in the body, but their levels of production can fade due to age or stress. Amino acids are found in protein, so here is yet another reason to eat a protein-rich diet.
Your hair gets all of these vitamins, acids and compounds from a richly nutritious blood supply feeding the hair follicles. The richness of that blood supply is dependent upon how much iron is in your blood, as iron plays a major part in breaking down the enzymes in food, releasing all those essential vitamins and minerals, as well being responsible for transporting oxygen around your bloodstream. Iron deficiency can result in anaemia and a lack of nutrients in your blood supply, which will affect your hair’s growth, so make sure there you’re eating plenty of iron-rich foods such as red meat, fish, lentils and leafy greens such as broccoli, kale and spinach.
Seeing the silky and strong signs...
If you’re packing in the protein, drinking up those fatty acids and maintaining your vitamin and iron levels then the results should be evident. You should see your hair becoming stronger, shinier, thicker, faster growing and more elastic. Your everyday styling should stop clogging up your hairbrush and littering your floor with flyaway hairs, as you will have fortified it with protein and vitamins. Your hair will shine with a natural lustre if you have given it enough omega-3 and other minerals. Adding oil to the hair will only weigh it down and lead to grease, for hair should be getting enough moisture from your scalp and blood supply at its roots. Your hair will be softer, more resilient and sufficiently moist, seeing you through day after day of styling, swishing and swirling.
After a thorough diet overhaul, you should be the proud owner of a headful of healthy hair. It’s all about maintaining it now and exploring together new realms of gloss and style. So ditch the sugar, watch your vitamin intake, and sustain your sleekness as your hair flaunts the natural beauty that you are.