Besides genetic reasons, chronic disease, stress and some medications, it is often dietary deficiencies; toxic hair care products and life style hazards that are the cause for severe hair loss. Many hair-restoration solutions are put forward by the industries, yet there is no overnight cure. Luckily, we can nourish our hair from the inside out by eating nutrient packed foods that promote strength and shine.
Hair is basically dead protein filaments, and hence protein is one of the most important nutrients that can ensure the growth of hair. Next to protein, hair needs number of minerals and vitamins to grow properly. Imagine our hair has an agricultural crop that has its roots in the blood-enriched lymphatic soil beneath the skin. The most important aspect of rehabilitating hair is to cleanse, purify, and nourish the body, blood, and lymphatic system.
So to maintain healthy hair, adequate nutrition and blood flow to the hair roots is necessary.
The primary cause of hair loss and premature graying is a lack of nourishment for renewing the living hair follicle. A deficiency of one trace mineral, tin, alone can contribute to make pattern baldness (other than genetic factors).
Eat Your Way to Healthy, Beautiful Hair
The foundation of all new hair growth is the nutrients that we eat. For maximum hair growth and health, step out of the shower and move into the kitchen. Starting a hair-healthy diet today will improve your locks in as little as six months. And since hair is a great marker of overall health, the benefits of a hair-healthy diet will go far beyond simply having a great hair day.
When it comes to healthy hair, what we put on our plate is more important than what we put on our hair. Now, let’s be practical, if you were born with fine and thin hair, you will never have thick hair no matter what you eat. But a well-balanced diet that includes plenty of growth-promoting protein and iron can make a difference. And improving your diet will not only boost the health of your hair, but also the rest of the body.
If we want a good hairline, the important thing for us to have is excellent circulation to allow nutrients to flow to the hair follicle. Healthy hair requires specific protein-building amino acids and sulfur in the diet because hair is almost entirely made up of protein (97%). Protein is necessary for all cell growth, including hair cells. Hair gets its structure from a hardened protein called keratin. When there isn’t enough protein for keratin, hair grows more slowly and the strands will be weaker. The diet rich in animal protein (heme iron) is easily absorbed by the body than the iron in plant foods (non-heme iron). Vitamin C plays a role in absorbing non-heme iron, so vegetarians should consider eating iron rich diet along with vitamin C loaded foods to ensure maximum absorption. Furthermore, Vitamin C is also needed to form collagen, a structural fiber, which supports optimal growth of healthy hair.
Iron rich leafy vegetables: collard greens, kale, curry leaves, moringa leaves (murungai keerai in Tamil), broccoli and spinach. Vitamin C rich foods: Citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruit, lemons); papaya, red peppers, strawberries and blueberries.
Premature Gray Hair
Graying before reaching 35 years is caused by a lack of B vitamins and too much of exposure to sun. Ayurveda identifies premature graying as a result of aggravation of pitta dosha; excessive consumption of coffee, tea, colas, alcohol and nicotine is believed to play a role in it. The best treatment for gray hair is to include B vitamin rich food. Drink the water left over from the process of sprouting grains. It is not generally available at stores, but one can fix it at home. Cumin seeds infused filtered water also helps to maintain the shine.
Indian gooseberry (amla)is prized for its ability to maintain hair color and flexibility. Add more grated coconut to your stir-fries. Using mature curry leaves for tempering is a great idea too.
Think about B-vitamins (folate, vitamin B-6, vitamin B-12). These vitamins are involved in the creation of red blood cells, which carry oxygen and nutrients to all body cells, including those of the scalp, follicles, and growing hair. Without enough B vitamins, the cells will not thrive, causing shedding, slow growth, or weak hair that is prone to breaking. Folate is found in whole-grain cereals, lentils, black-eyed peas, soybeans, oatmeal, turnip greens, spinach, green peas, and broccoli. Good source of vitamin B6 is garbanzo beans, potatoes, bananas, and lentils. Seafood is an excellent source for vitamin B12, soy milk and cottage cheese can also provide the same. Include a spoonful of fenugreek seeds, when you prepare sambar, tamarind based curry, and in idli-dosa batter. This spice is an excellent source of minerals like copper, potassium, calcium, iron, selenium, zinc, manganese, and magnesium. It is also rich in many vital vitamins including thiamin, pyridoxine (Vitamin B-6), folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, Vitamin-A and Vitamin C.
The mineral zinc is involved in tissue growth and repair, including hair growth. It also helps keep the oil glands around the hair follicles working properly. Low levels of zinc can cause hair loss, slow growth, and dandruff. Good sources of zinc are usually found in seafood (crab, oyster, shrimps); vegetarians can safely opt for more chickpeas, wheat germ, pumpkin seeds and peanut butter. Copper, which is necessary for formation of hemoglobin and sufficient blood flow to the hair follicles, include seaweed, nuts and seeds to your diet.
For overall hair health, include whole and organic foods. Choose diet rich in: sulfur foods (onions, radishes); silicon foods (cucumbers, red peppers, eggplants); vitamin A foods (carrots, papaya); zinc foods (nuts and seeds); vitamin C (citrus fruits); vitamin E (avocado and olives) copper foods (seaweeds). Other Ayurvedic foods for general hair health include whole milk, lentils (mung dal), green leafy vegetables, cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds, turmeric, sesame oil, fresh coconut, coconut oil, aloe vera juice, goose berries, curry leaves and and buttermilk.
While you plan ways to incorporate food for hair growth, also be aware that there are some culprits in our diets that are actually detrimental to our hair. Avoid refined sugar, bleached flour, caffeine, high-processed food and high fructose corn syrup.
Malar Gandhi is a freelance scholar and writer, who specializes in Culinary Anthropology and Gourmet Indian Cooking.