Healthy Hair 101


In modern times, people tend to shave, tweeze, wax and laser unwanted hair. The hair on our heads, however, is a very different story.

In fact, a luxuriant, shiny, full head of hair has been regarded as a tell-tale sign of health and beauty in nearly all cultures spanning centuries.

Below we’ll explore some basic tips for easily improving the health of your own hair.

Hair Health Tip #1: Get Enough Protein

The elements that make up the hair originate in the food you eat. Sixty-five to 95% of the hair is made up of a protein called keratin, which is composed of amino acids: the building blocks of protein.

A rule of thumb for protein intake is to consume one gram per kilogram body weight. So a 120 pound woman, weighing 54.5 kilograms, would need 54.5 grams protein.

Men and women battling illness, recovering from surgery, or engaged in heavy exercise or labor may need more.

Many people who assume they're getting enough protein have never calculated how much their diet supplies. Consider the typical breakfast: An egg supplies 6 grams of protein and a glass of milk, 8 grams. So a high-protein breakfast consisting of a three egg omelet with a slice of cheese (5 grams) would provide 23 grams of protein—nearly half of our 120 pound woman's daily protein need.

However, most people don't consume high protein meals . . . and most adults weigh more than 120 pounds. Protein shakes made with whey, soy or pea protein are a good way to make up the difference. One serving of pea protein powder supplies 18 grams of protein and a serving of whey protein isolate provides 17 grams.

Hair Health Tip #2: Take Supplements

Also important to the hair are the B-complex vitamins, particularly biotin,1 pantothenic acid, and inositol. Panthenol, a precursor to pantothenic acid, is present in specific shampoos and conditioners to add thickness and improve the look of the hair.

Tocotrienols, which comprise four of the eight forms of vitamin E, have been associated with thicker hair when taken orally.2  

Iron plays a role in maintaining healthy hair. Vegetarians and women in their child-bearing years should have their blood tested to rule out low iron if they are experiencing hair loss.

Hair Health Tip #3: Investigate the Cause of Hair Loss

While diet plays a role in hair health, we've probably all known those who ate healthy, balanced meals and yet, for genetic or other reasons, had thinning hair or hair loss.

Increased or unusual loss of hair can be caused by a number of factors, including certain medications, stress, and hormone imbalances. For men, androgenetic alopecia with its characteristic bald spots is caused, as the name implies, by genetic factors beyond one's control.

There are, however, treatments such as dutasteride that can help.3 Minoxidil (Rogaine) is another drug that, when applied topically, has shown limited success for androgenetic alopecia.

About Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome

(PCOS) is a hormonal condition in women that can result in hair loss on the head and hair growth on the body (hirsutism). PCOS can be treated with weight loss, a low glycemic index diet and the drug metformin.

Menopause is another potential hormonal cause of female hair loss. Bioidentical hormone replacement therapy can help reduce or reverse thinning of hair that is often experienced by women during this transition.

Thyroid hormones should also be evaluated at this time, since both low and excessive thyroid hormones can lead to hair loss.

The Bottom Line

If you're someone who's struggling with hair loss, take heart. New research is investigating the use of stem cells, which may be able to aid in the growth of hair.

Due to the strong (even if misguided )priority put by humans on hair, research in the field of hair growth will develop more effective therapies than those currently approved, making the attainability of one's "crowning glory" within reach.

References:

  1. J Drugs Dermatol. 2014 Jul;13(7):809-12. 
  2. Yuen Kah Hay, B. School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Universiti Sains, Malaysia. Submitted for publication 2009. 
  3. Exp Dermatol. 2002 Feb;11(1):52-8.

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