Diet: Its Effects on Hair Growth

Have you ever wondered how what you eat affect the health of your hair? I do! Right from when I was about 8 years old, I have been reading a lot of literature on healthy foods, healthy habits, healthy skin and hair care products.

I'm OBSESSED with healthy living. That was the major reason I decided to stop relaxing my hair. The other reason being the havoc relaxers wreck on my scalp each time I applied a relaxer. Relaxers aren't so healthy you know. 

What we eat has a BIG effect on the health of our hair. Diet plays a very important role in hair growth. Healthy hair growth requires a balanced diet containing all the essential nutrients needed for hair growth. 

Hair grows at an average rate of 0.5 inches per month and 6 inches per year (Wikipedia). Hair growth rate can be affected by factors such as age, genetics, health and diet. Age and genetics cannot be controlled but our diet can be. Consuming a diet lacking essential nutrients can lead to hair loss while a balanced diet does the complete opposite - fuller, strong, and healthy hair growth. 

The body treats the hair as just an accessory when it comes to distributing available nutrients because the hair is not an essential or vital organ. When there's deficiency of a particular nutrient in the body, the body channels the little available to vital organs like the heart, liver and kidney leaving the hair, nails and skin to suffer. That is why most times a deficiency is first noticed by hair loss or dry and flaky skin.

Key Nutrients Required for Hair Growth
Here are some of the essential nutrients needed for healthy hair growth;

Hair is made up of keratin, a fibrous protein also found in fingernails. Our body requires a good supply of proteins to form new hair strands so it is important to consume an ample amount of protein along with a balance of carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.

Protein consumption is crucial for growing strong and healthy hair. Protein deficiency can lead to weak and damaged hair, receding hairline, dry scalp and hair loss. Common sources of protein includes egg, fish, meat, chicken, turkey, beans, diary products etc.

Biotin is a water-soluble B vitamin. The B vitamins are known to improve hair growth growth. Biotin helps the body metabolize amino acids for the production of keratin hence important for healthy hair growth. It also strengthens and gives elasticity to the hair strands.  Biotin supplements are sometimes recommended as remedy for treating hair loss and alopecia. Dietary sources of biotin include egg yolk, banana, potatoes, spinach, yeast, liver etc. 

Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are unsaturated fatty acids needed for proper functioning of the body system. Omega-3 fatty acids cannot be produced or synthesized in the body, we can only obtain them from the food we eat.
They enhance hair growth, give shine to hair, fight hair loss, increase hair density and prevent dry and flaky scalp. Foods rich in omega-3s include salmon, sardines, peanuts, walnuts, flaxseeds, avocado etc. Omega-3 fatty acids can also be taken as supplements. Fish oil is a good example of such supplements. 

Zinc is a trace mineral that plays a very important role in growth and repair of body tissues. Zinc has been shown to promote hair growth. It helps the body process carbohydrates, fats and proteins, all of which are important for healthy hair growth. Zinc also help keep the sebaceous glands in good condition. The sebaceous glands are responsible for secreting sebum, a natural oil which help moisturize and protect the scalp and hair. Zinc deficiency can lead to rapid hair loss. Examples of food containing zinc includes oysters, milk, beef, beans, lentils etc. 

Iron aids the formation of haemoglobin, a red protein responsible for transporting oxygen in the blood. Haemoglobin carries oxygen to the body cells (including the hair follicles) for growth and repair. Oxygen stimulates the hair follicles and aids hair growth.

Iron deficiency will lower the chance of oxygen reaching the hair follicles and can lead to hair loss. An iron-rich diet is essential for growing strong and healthy hair. Foods containing iron include eggs, green vegetables (spinach, broccoli, pumpkin leaves, etc.), nuts, beans, liver, red meat, etc. 

Vitamin A
Vitamin A is required by all cells for growth. Hair is the second most fastest growing tissue in the body (after intestinal cells) so it needs a good supply of Vitamin A. Vitamin A also helps the sebaceous glands produce sebum, an oil which moisturizes and keep the hair in good health. Vitamin A can be found in fish oil, eggs, milk, yoghurt, peanuts, etc. 

Vitamin C
Vitamin C is a powerful anti-oxidant. It helps protect the hair and skin cells from oxidative stress that can be caused by free radicals. Free radical damage can inhibit healthy hair growth and cause premature aging. Vitamin C helps the body in producing collagen, an important protein which is part of the hair's structure. Vitamin C also aids iron absorption in the body. Dietary sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits, pineapple, peppers, broccoli, sweet potato, strawberry, etc. 

Vitamin E
The role vitamin E play in hair growth is quite similar to that of vitamin C. Vitamin E is also an anti-oxidant that helps prevent oxidative stress and ensure healthy hair growth. Foods rich in vitamin E include avocado, almonds, spinach, broccoli, etc.

The key to achieving long, strong, lustrous and healthy hair lies on eating a balanced diet. Snack healthily. Instead of snacking on junk foods all day, replace with with fruits and vegetables. Instead of drinking sodas, drink fruit smoothies and water. And if for one reason or the other, you don't have access to foods containing certain nutrients, make up for them by taking multivitamins and mineral supplements.

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