As many of you know, I am super passionate about skin health, and this passion extends to all aspects of integumentary health. The integumentary system comprises the skin and its appendages (hair, nails and exocrine glands) which are designed to protect the body from various damages caused by the outside world.
When it comes to our bodies, integumentary health can sometimes be overlooked. It is typically of lower priority (compared to other organ functions) and is often the last organ or system to receive vitamins and minerals from our diet and supplements.
In fact, hair, skin and nails that are dull, dry, brittle or lacklustre can tell a lot about an individual’s internal health and nutritional status. Today I want to shed some light on hair health in particular.
First and foremost, let’s take a quick look at hair loss. Hair loss (or hair thinning) is a very common complaint in naturopathy clinics and can be quite emotionally distressing for the individual. It is important to thoroughly investigate all possible causes of hair loss in order to determine whether further or more advanced treatment is required.
Possible causes of hair loss include, but are not limited to:
- nutritional deficiencies, including iron deficiency anaemia
- thyroid causes
- hormonal changes – puberty, pregnancy, postpartum and menopause
- reproductive conditions, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome
- chronic health conditions, for example lupus (SLE), cancer
- autoimmune conditions
- certain medications.
Nutrition for hair health
Regardless of whether you are experiencing hair loss or not, enhancing the nutritional profile of your diet will assist with improving the appearance, thickness, amount and health of the hair on your head.
Protein (amino acids)
Over 95 per cent of our hair is made up of a fibrous structural protein called keratin (made up of amino acids) which is produced within the hair follicle. It is therefore important that we obtain adequate protein through our diet for hair growth and thickness.
Protein sources: beef, chicken, cheese, eggs, fish, lamb, yogurt, beans, lentils, tofu and tempeh
(Aim for a palm-sized portion of good quality protein with each main meal and snack.)
One of iron’s most important roles within the human body is to assist the production of red blood cells (RBCs). RBCs transport oxygen throughout the bloodstream to our organs and tissues, including our hair follicles, allowing them to function effectively.
Iron sources: red meat, liver, tempeh, kidney beans, cashews, spinach
Zinc is believed to play a crucial role in DNA and RNA synthesis, which is a requirement for normal and efficient division of hair follicle cells, ultimately leading to improved hair growth and thickness. Zinc is also critical for tissue repair, with deficiency being linked to weakening of the protein structure within hair follicles causing hair to fall out.
Zinc sources: oysters, beef, pumpkin seeds, cashews, mushrooms
Omega 3 Essential Fatty Acids
Omega 3 Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) nourish the hair, beginning at the hair follicle to enhance strength, lustre and thickness. The anti-inflammatory properties of omega 3 EFAs also help to reduce scalp inflammation that can contribute to hair loss.
Omega 3 EFA sources: oily fish (salmon, sardines, anchovies, mackerel), walnuts, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, flaxseeds
It is well known that vitamin B3 improves blood circulation throughout the body, including to the scalp. As a result, vitamin B3 increases oxygen and nutrient transport to the hair follicles, assisting with faster and thicker hair growth.
Vitamin B3 sources: tuna, turkey, chicken, salmon, oats, brown rice, mushrooms
Selenium is a potent antioxidant that helps to fight off any free radical damage to the hair follicles which causes them to become weak and brittle.
Selenium sources: Brazil nuts, beef, tuna, couscous, eggs, oats, walnuts
Silica is a trace mineral heavily involved in the repair and regeneration of collagen and connective tissue found within the hair. Silica therefore repairs damage to hair and hair follicles to improve hair strength and thickness.
Silica sources: cucumbers, sprouts, leeks, green beans, strawberries
At Health Radiant Body Protein Powder available in Kismet shop
Topical products/external practices
When it comes to hair health, our internal health and what we put into our bodies is just as important as what we are using and exposing our hair to daily. I like to implement a few practices to promote thick, healthy hair.
Select natural hair care products
Just like our skin care, we want our hair care to be free of nasties. Harsh ingredients, such as sulphates, parabens, silicones, preservatives, alcohols, fragrances etc, found in many conventional hair care products can negatively impact the health of your hair. These ingredients cause scalp sensitivity and inflammation, strip away natural oils creating dryness and block our hair follicles, which inhibits hair growth. A build-up of these ingredients over time causes the hair to become thin, weak, dull and prone to damage, breakage and split ends.
I strongly recommend using salon-quality hair care products. Speak to your hairdresser who will be able to recommend the most suitable products for your hair needs.
Avoid over-washing your hair
Over-washing or washing the hair too frequently strips away the hair’s natural oils, resulting in dry hair and scalp. It also throws out the balance of your scalp’s microbiome, which can allow overgrowth of bacteria and fungi, subsequently causing problems such as scalp inflammation and dandruff.
On the flip side, washing your hair too infrequently and over-using products such as dry shampoo may also cause damage to your hair and scalp, as dry shampoo builds up and blocks the hair follicles which can inhibit hair growth.
Avoid frequent use of heat or heated styling tools
When applied to the hair, heat or heated styling tools (i.e. hairdryer, hair straightener, hair curler) essentially burn the hair, altering its chemical structure leading to dryness, damage, breakage and split ends. It is recommended that you use heat or heated styling tools on your hair no more than once per week. Begin with a low-heat setting and work your way up and always apply a heat-protectant product to the hair before applying heat.
It is also advisable to avoid tying your hair up in the same way every day as this can cause unnecessary pulling on the hair shaft, which leads to damage and breakage. Scrunchies can be a good alternative to hair ties as they are slightly gentler on the hair.
Giving yourself a scalp massage (you can use some form of oil to assist, i.e. coconut oil, grape seed oil, essential oils) encourages scalp stimulation and increases blood (and nutrient) flow to the scalp which, in turn, helps to promote hair growth. You might like to finish the scalp massage by brushing your hair with a wooden bristle brush to help pull some of the scalp oils down through the rest of the hair shaft.
If you would like to improve your nutritional profile and give your hair and skin a nourishing boost, book an appointment today. We’d love to help you.
Written by Perri Baldwin BHSc