There are so many supplements out there … how do you know what works? If effective, are the supplements even needed? Or can we “Eat the nutrients”? These are great questions! In fact, I started my research with some of the same questions in mind.
What I found in the answer is really quite simple, It depends!
In general, nothing replaces good nutrition, but in today’s food world, how do we really know what nutrition is “Good”? Food choices also matter, so what foods are even needed? If we skip meals, can we just add back the missing ingredients with pills?
There are many well established nutrients to support healthy hair growth. In fact, US News and World Report published a nice slideshow about great nutrition options that support healthy hair.
Let’s first discuss what hair actually is: Protein … protein … protein … and a little fat (few other miscellaneous ingredients) . My patients are very familiar with my expression, “the hair gets the left overs” … The body is very smart. If your body does not have what it needs for normal functioning, your hair will not take it first; it truly only gets the what is “left over”. Below are the 3 most important “food groups” for a healthy mane. Eat Well! 🙂
1) PROTEIN. Hair is over 90% protein, called keratin. Keratin, like all other protein is made up of small building blocks called “amino acids” (no surprise to body builders). But hair is unique in its organization. It is highly organized. Think of a rope of yarn, as you pull each section apart, you find yet another roped group of string. It is in this manner that hair is structured, a rope of ropes until you get to the smallest component, the amino acid.
Amino acids. There are 20 main amino acids, 9 are essential, meaning that you can only get these from your diet (what you put into your body), they are: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine; 11 are non-essential, meaning your body does make them.
Foods that contain all nine essential amino acids are referred to as complete proteins. Complete protein sources include:
- Dairy Products
Soy, quinoa and buckwheat are plant-based foods that contain all nine essential amino acids, making them complete protein sources as well.
Again, hair only gets “the leftovers”. So if you have a protein-restrictive diet (such as vegan), if you are not eating a complete plant-based protein source, your body could be missing one of the important amino acid building blocks of hair. I often ask, “How can your body build it (grow hair), if you are not putting in the ingredients (protein or amino acids)”. It is ok to be a vegan, in fact, I have followed a vegan diet in my lifetime; however, it is extremely important to work with a nutritionist to make sure that you have a vegan diet that is rich with good food choices, so that you maintain good/adequate nutrition. I have had patients, some who are not vegan but were definitely nutrient-deficient, change their diet and notice improvement in the texture and quality of their hair.
2) IRON. Iron is very important to maintain hair texture and density. For some groups of people, getting adequate iron usually is not a major concern. This includes:
- those that eat meat, especially red meat
- most men (higher testosterone level)
- some post-menopausal women
- hereditary hemochromotosis
For other populations of people, maintaining adequate iron levels in the blood can be challenging without supplementation. This group includes (but is not limited to):
- women with active and heavy menses (including those with diagnoses of fibroids, menorrhagia, etc)
- vegans and protein-restrictive diets
- those with chronic blood loss or bleeding abnormalities (stomach ulcers, inflammatory bowel disease, cancer, hemophilia)
- people who have had gastric bypass surgery
- people taking long term proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) for reflux, such as omeprazole
Discuss your personal health concerns with a medical professional and if you are feeling tired or easily fatigued, have poor body temperature relegation (always with cold hands and feet), or are more pale than usual (especially on your lower eyelid) – ask for your iron profile to be checked.
3) Healthy Omega 3 fat.
Healthy fats are the third most important component of a healthy, hair growth supporting diet. There are numerous articles in the medical literature citing omega 3 fatty acid supplementation as helpful for hair loss. Omega 3 fats are anti-inflammatory in nature and studies have reported various benefits in not only hair, but also overall health. Examples of foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids include: salmon and other fatty fish such as canned sardines, fresh (not canned) tuna, shellfish and oysters, and mackerel. Non-fish sources are also rich with omega-3 are: flaxseed, chia seed, walnuts, avocado, firm tofu, canola oil, and brussel sprouts. YUM! Don’t see your favorite here? Visit Myfooddata.com … it is a good reference site to find even more high omega-3 foods and even learn about the different types of omega-3 fat. There is currently no “daily recommended allowance” of omega-3 as with other vitamins; however, “adequate daily intake” is 1600 mg.
A word of caution: Be careful about oral supplements. Supplements are not regulated and many have very high levels of omega-3 fat. Consuming more does not mean that you have more of a benefit! In fact, omega-3 fat tends to have a blood thinning effect. This could cause an increased bleeding risk. Definitely discuss taking supplements with your primary care provider if you are taking blood thinners. Also, you certainly want to stop all supplements, but especially omega-3 supplements before elective procedures such as Botox or other aesthetic procedures, biopsies and surgeries.