Nutrition and hair health

  • Introduction
  • Vitamins
  • Antioxidants
  • Trace elements
  • Aminoacids
  • Polyunsaturated fatty acids
  • Aging effects
  • Bioavailability
  • Circulation
  • The 10 top foods that are the foundation of healthy hair diet.
  • Patient education
  • References


Healthy looking hair is in general a sign of good health and good hair-care practices. Most healthy individuals have adequate nutrients in their diet; however some people do not have access to good nutrition, others have medical illnesses that predispose them to nutritional deficiency which influence scalp / body hair.

Nutrition is a complex subject – the effects of correct nutrition are indirect and often slow to appear. Hair in particular is slow to respond to any stimulus. Trials have indicated that correct nutrition is instrumental in healthy hair growth, and conversely many deficiencies correlate with hair loss.
Hair nutrition is therefore a vital part of any treatment regime. A truly systematic and rigorous approach must be taken when formulating a nutritional supplement for hair due the many factors that affect the eventual efficacy of the treatment.
Malnutrition, congenital heart disease, neuromuscular disease, chronic illnesses, malignancy, alcoholism, and advanced age can cause hair to change colour, be weakened, or lost.
Genetics and health are factors in hair wellbeing. Proper nutrition is important. The living part of hair is under the scalp skin where its root is housed within its follicle. It derives its nutrients from blood.  Health concerns e.g. stress, trauma, medications, medical conditions, heavy metals, smoking etc. can affect the hair.

Hair is the fastest growing natural tissue in the human body: the average rate of growth is 0.5cm – 1.7cm per month depending on ethnicity. Optimal growth occurs from age 15 – 30 and reduces from age 40 – 50. although men find beard hair grows faster beyond the age of 50 years.  Hair products (shampoos or vitamin supplements) have not been shown to noticeably change this rate. The cycles of growth of each follicle consist of creation followed by self destruction. During each new cycle the follicle is partially recreated.

The speed of hair growth is based upon genetics, gender, age, hormones. It may be reduced by nutrient deficiency (i.e., anorexia, anemia, zinc deficiency) and hormonal fluctuations (i.e., menopause, polycystic ovaries, thyroid disease).

It is important to mention that many of the metabolic requirements of follicle cells (minerals and vitamins) must be satisfied for optimal hair growth (not always derived from fast foods and punishing work schedules).
Nutritionists confirm that people with certain nutritional deficiencies tend to have dry, stringy and dull hair, and sometimes experience hair loss. Fortunately the latter can be restored once the deficiency is addressed.

Crash diets cause temporary hair loss due to incumbent nutritional factors e.g. anorexia, bulimia and other medical conditions.
Diets should contain protein, fruits, vegetables, grains, and an appropriate amount of fat.  Deficiency will typically show in the hair.  A mild case of anemia can cause shedding of hair.  B group vitamins are significantly important for healthy hair, especially biotin.
When the body is under threat it reprioritizes its processes – the vital organs will be attended first – hair follicles may not be considered a priority. While not all hair growth issues originate from malnutrition, it is a valuable symptom in diagnosis.

The essential omega-3 fatty acids, protein, vitamin B12, and iron, found in fish sources, prevent a dry scalp and dull hair color. Dark green vegetables contain high amounts of vitamins A and C, which help with production of sebum and provide a natural hair conditioner. Legumes provide protein to promote hair growth and also contain iron, zinc, and biotin. Biotin functions to activate certain enzymes that aid in metabolism of carbon dioxide as well as protein, fats, and carbohydrates. A deficiency in biotin intake can cause brittle hair and can lead to hair loss. In order to avoid a deficiency, individuals can find sources of biotin in cereal-grain products, liver, egg yolk, soy flour, and yeast. Nuts contain high sources of selenium and therefore are important for a healthy scalp. Alpha-linoleic acid and zinc are also found in some nuts and help condition the hair and prevent hair shedding that can be caused by a lack of zinc. Protein deficiencies or low-quality protein can produce weak and brittle hair, and can eventually result in loss of hair color. Low-fat dairy products are good sources of calcium, a key component for hair growth. A balanced diet is necessary for a healthy scalp and hair.

Healthy hair growth requires a complexity of nutrients and a ready supply of oxygen but comparatively few authoritive studies have trialled ingredients to maintain or promote hair growth.  However a balanced, bioavailable formula to protect and maintain hair growth is vital. Dietary supplements marketed to thicken hair or make it grow faster may prove of nil value.


A good multivitamin can be a foundation of health and nutrition. Changes in skin and hair can provide clues to the presence of an underlying vitamin deficiency.
Hair ultimately reflects the overall condition of the body. In health problems or nutritional deficiencies hair may stop growing or become brittle. If a body is in good health, it is possible to maximize genetic growth cycle through taking the proper blend of amino acids and B-vitamins.

Certain vitamins, minerals and amino-acids are crucial to the metabolic pathways involved in keratin protein (hair) metabolism., leading to a potential loss of hair and substantial degradation of hair health. There is a rather adequate research basis to justify product effectiveness claims for a vitamin, mineral and amino-acid complex designed to supply the nutrients needed by healthy growing hair.

B5 (pantothenic acid) gives hair flexibility, strength and shine and helps prevent hair loss and greying. Vitamin B6 helps prevent dandruff and can be found in cereals, egg yolk and liver. Vitamin B12 helps prevent the loss of hair and can be found in fish, eggs, chicken and milk.
It is also important to include B6, biotin, inositol and folic acid in the supplemental program. It has been found that certain minerals including magnesium, sulfur, silica and zinc are also very important toward maintaining healthy hair.

Vitamins B1, B2, Niacin & Pantothenic acid
Reduced levels of thiamin (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), niacin, and  pantothenic acid can contribute to the undernourishment of hair-follicle cells. A dosage range of 25-50 mg daily is recommended.

Folic acid
A decrease in folic acid may contribute to decreased hair-follicle cell division and growth. Folic acid is also essential for the maintenance of healthy methionine levels in the body. Signs of folic-acid deficiency include anemia, apathy, fatigue, and graying hair. A therapeutic dose of 400-800 mcg daily is recommended.

Biotin, part of the vitamin B complex, is another nutrient associated with hair loss. Biotin is required for a number of enzymatic reactions within the body, and is necessary for the proper metabolism of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Over time, poor metabolism of nutrients can contribute to undernourished hair follicle cells. Although rare, a biotin deficiency results in skin rashes and hair loss. A study conducted at Harvard University suggests that biotin is one of the most important nutrients for preserving hair strength, texture, and function.
People who are eating adequate amount of protein should not have a problem with biotin deficiency, though vegans may be at risk. Good food sources of biotin are eggs, liver and soy.
It’s not known if biotin supplements, which are marketed to help with male- and female-pattern baldness, can help with hair loss, and there are not any research indicating that the biotin in biotin hair products, such as shampoos, can be absorbed through the hair or scalp. The recommended dosage of d-biotin is 500-1000 mcg per day.

Vitamin C
One of vitamin C’s major functions is to help produce and maintain healthy collagen, the connective tissue type found within hair follicles. Vitamin C is also a strong antioxidant and protects both the cells found within follicles and cells in nearby blood vessels. A daily dose of 100-200 mg of vitamin C is recommended for hair and skin care. Vitamin C with bioflavonoids – one to two grams daily

Vitamin E
Vitamin E helps to maintain the integrity of cell membranes of hair follicles. The vitamin provides physical stability to cell membranes and acts as an antioxidant while promoting healthy skin and hair. A daily dose of vitamin E should be within the therapeutic range of 50–400 IU. Vitamin E and selenium work together to prevent attacks on cell membranes by free radicals by reducing peroxide concentration in the cell. Vitamin E – 400 to 800 IU daily


Beta-carotene is also important to hair growth. This is so because beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A as the body needs it, helps maintain normal growth and bone development, protective sheathing around nerve fibers, as well as promoting healthy skin, hair and nails. Dosage for Beta-carotene is 10,000 to 15,000 IU daily.


Vitamins A, C and E are antioxidants that enhance skin cell turnover and collagen synthesis. When applied topically these vitamins protect against premature skin aging from the damaging effects of ultraviolet light and environmental pollutants.
Vitamin C helps reduce the damage caused by free radicals and UV exposure. Over time, free radicals can damage collagen and elastin, the fibers that support skin structure.
Vitamin E also helps reduce the skin effects of free radicals and UV exposure.

Selenium is necessary for iodine metabolism. Case studies have indicated that selenium deficiency can lead to cancer, heart disease, and poor hair growth. Supplementation of 25-50 mcg of selenium per day is the recommended dosage.

Trace Elements

Calcium – a fraction of the body’s calcium stimulates cell mediators that act on cell-membrane phospholipids in hair-follicle cells. Most Americans fail to meet the recommended daily intake for calcium. Patients have to be advised to take magnesium with supplemental calcium to maintain healthy calcium levels in the body. Without extra magnesium to balance it, large doses of calcium may be harmful. The recommended dosage is 100-200 mg of calcium per day.

Zinc is essential for DNA and RNA production, which, in turn, leads to normal follicle-cell division. Zinc is also responsible for helping to stabilize cell-membrane structures and assists in the breakdown and removal of superoxide radicals. Zinc intake is generally low. Topical applications of zinc have been shown to reduce the hair loss activity of 5-AR type II. The recommended dosage is 15 mg of zinc (in the form of zinc amino acid chelate) per day.
Zinc deficiencies, and any associated hair health, may associate with low-calorie diets, especially young women. Zinc is found in meat, eggs and seafood.

Iron deficiency causes microcytic and hypochromic anemia. Moreover, most other organs including the skin and pilo sebaceous follicles are affected.

Iodine – Suboptimal thyroid functioning can lead to abnormal hair growth. Because iodine supports proper thyroid functioning, 112-225 mcg of iodine (in the form of kelp) per day is the recommended dosage.


L-Methionine, one of four sulfur-containing amino acids, supports hair strength by providing adequate amounts of sulfur to hair cells. Sulfur is required for healthy connective tissue formation. Hair requires sulfur for normal growth and appearance.

L-Cystein – supports hair strength by the provision of sulphur.  Skin, nails and hair are high in L-Cysteine. There is evidence that defficiency may be a factor in hairloss. Supplementing the diet accordingly may be helpful.

L-Lysine – It is interesting to note that male pattern baldness is less common in Asians than Americans. Is this in part due to he Asian diet being rich in L-Lysine -an enzyme inhibiting amino acid in vegetables and herbs affecting 5-alpha-reductase in some way.

Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs)

play an important role in cell structure, barrier function, lipid synthesis, inflammation and immunity. PUFAs help reduce dry, scaly skin. Most popular sources are walnuts, fish oil, flaxseed oil etc.
People on low-fat and non-fat diets are at risk for nutrition-related hair loss because hair needs essential fatty acids. Essential fatty acid deficiency causes a drying-up of the scalp and skin. These are vital nutrients that support follicular health. When the follicle is not healthy, hair loss or thinning occurs.

Ageing Effects

there is no solution for this. Even with outstanding nutrition, genetic blueprint is eventually going to take control and hair may change in colour, structure and density.
Contol of biological aging may be influenced by superfoods e.g. supergreen mixes, chlorella, spirulina, micro-algae extracts such as astaxanthin, broccoli sprouts fresh vegetables blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries etc also garlic, ginger and other culinary and medicinal herbs.

Water – is important in general bodily health and potentially good hair health. Water quenches thirst and aids food digestion.


Many common vitamins and all amino acids exist as multiple isomers; however it is rare that these are equally available to human metabolism. The chirality of amino acids is well established, as is the dramatic difference between left and right enantiomers in the human body. On the whole, humans can only metabolise left or L enantiomers, such as L-Cysteine. R-Cysteine is not taken up or commonly metabolised, therefore commonly used racemic mixtures of the two forms are only half comprised of useful amino acids.
Vitamins, such as vitamin B6 also have several forms, pyridoxine is the form of vitamin B6 most commonly used in nutritional supplements, however it is not the bio-active form. Instead it must be phosphorylated to become pyridoxal-5-phosphate, which is active as an enzyme cofactor for many reactions, and is important for uptake of other nutrients as well. The phosphorylation reaction to activate pyridoxine takes energy and a certain set of conditions, and therefore not all the pyridoxine taken in a supplement is used. A more efficient alternative is to use pyridoxal-5-phosphate in the supplement, so the bio-active form is immediately available, requiring no energy, and minimal wastage.
Bioavailability is not just controlled by isomeric forms. Nutrient uptake is complex, and there are many surprising instances where one nutrient is dramatically affected – either negatively or positively, by a completely different nutrient in the formula.


A final and often overlooked factor is the circulation of oxygen and nutrients to the hair. Even a perfectly balanced supplement would be ineffective without adequate blood flow to the hair. Hair loss may conceivably be caused or exacerbated by a deficient blood suppl,. therefore it may be beneficial to increase the circulation. This can be achieved through topical treatments that stimulate nitric oxide production or angiogenesis.
The stimulatory effects of caffeine and taurine on nutrient uptake and metabolism may also be beneficial. An added consideration is the possible effect of caffeine upon dihydrotestosterone and hair loss. Caffeine has been shown by several studies to reduce hair loss caused by dihydrotestosterone, the in vivo studies were successful topically, but the effects of oral caffeine have not been tested at this time. Taurine has also been shown by in vitro testing to protect the hair from TGFβ-1 induced apoptosis.
In spite of the paucity of clinical data in the area, it is possible through careful formulation to develop a potent, bioavailable, and balanced formula with combinations of ingredients that are likely to have good clinical outcomes. This is particularly true if supplements are used to support wider treatment regimes – even surgery.

The 10 top foods that are the foundation of healthy hair diet

Patients often ask a question – what food I really have to eat to have good hair?

Healthy Hair Food No. 1: Salmon

Salmon and Mackerel provide omega-3 fatty acids, protein, vitamin B-12 and iron.
Essential omega-3 fatty acids support scalp health. Deficiency can result in a dry scalp and dull hair.
Vegetarians may source plant-based omega-3 fats from ground flaxseed macadamia nuts and walnuts.

Healthy Hair Food No. 2: Dark Green Vegetables

Spinach, broccoli and Swiss chard, provide vitamins A and C used in sebum production (secreted by hair follicles)
Dark green vegetables provide iron and calcium.

Healthy Hair Food N. 3: Beans

Legumes (kidney beans and lentils) provide protein, iron, zinc, and biotin. Biotin deficiencies can result in brittle hair.

Healthy Hair Food No. 4: Nuts

Brazil nuts are a natural source of selenium.  Walnuts contain zinc and alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid that may help hair condition. Pecans, cashews and almonds also contain zinc.  Zinc deficiency can lead to hair shedding

Healthy Hair Food No. 5: Poultry

Poultry provides the high-quality protein and iron with a high degree of bioavailability.
Weak brittle hair may derive from protein defficiency.

Healthy Hair Food No. 6: Eggs

Eggs are sources of protein, biotin and vitamin B-12 – important beauty nutrients.

Healthy Hair Food No. 7: Whole Grains

Fortified whole-grain breakfast cereals, containing zinc, iron, and B vitamins are important.

Healthy Hair Food No. 8: Oysters

Provide zinc — a powerful antioxidant.
In addition to other sources e.g. whole grain, nuts, beef and lamb.

Healthy Hair Food No. 9: Low-Fat Dairy Products

Calcium, Whey and Casein are important minerals for hair growth sourced from skimmed milk and yogurt.

Healthy Hair Food No. 10: Carrots

Carrots are an excellent source of vitamin A.

For healthy hair and beauty, food variety may be the best option.
A balanced diet of lean proteins, fruits, and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and fatty fish (salmon) and low-fat dairy products are potential aides to hair.
Crash diets with rapid weight loss can affect the normal hair cycle causing increased shedding within 6-12 weeks. This temporary problem should recover with dietry improvements.

Patient education

People experiencing hair loss should take appropriate advice from a physician, registered trichologist and registered dietician to determine the cause and any appropriate treatment.
Whereas nutritional solutions may not currently cure hair loss, they may slowly assist its condition.



Nutrition and Hair Health

by Melissa Bent

Nutrition can have a big impact on the health of hair, Good nutrition can show in hair growth and hair fibre being thick, strong, shiny in appearance and poor or deficient nutrition typically correlates with hair loss symptoms, hair thinning, dull dry or brittle hair. 

Nutrients for hair are received from the blood supply which brings both the nutrients and oxygen to the dermal papilla which are projections based at the bottom of the hair bulb which supplies blood to the epidermis through a network of sensory nerve endings to which it is connected. 

Malnutrition can affect the hair cycle by slowing down the rate hair grows and by affecting the fragility of the hair shaft.

Nutrient Deficiency may occur by crash dieting, or eating disorders, medical conditions such as anaemia, thyroid disease or polycystic ovaries which will cause a diffuse hair thinning of the hair known as telogen effluvium. 

Like any other cell within the body, hair cells need a balance of proteins, complex carbohydrates, iron, vitamins and minerals to function at their best.

The following vitamins are important for hair health; 

  • Beta-carotene

Beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A as the body needs it. Vitamin A acts as a natural antioxidant and important to bone development and  hair growth and forms a protective sheathing around nerve fibers, promotes healthy nails and skin. If taken as supplement, the recommended daily dosage of Beta-carotene is 10,000 to 15,000 IU.

  • Biotin

Is one of the most important nutrients for hair strength, texture and function. It is found naturally in a high protein diet such as Liver, eggs and soy. If taken as a supplement, the recommended daily dosage of d-biotin is 500 – 1000 mcg.

  • Vitamins B1, B2, Niacin & Pantothenic acid

A Reduced levels of vitamin B1 (thiamin) , vitamin B2 (riboflavin), niacin and pantothenic acid lack of these vitamins can leave the hair follicles under nourished. 

  • Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid)

Contributes to hair strength,  hair flexibility and lustre. This vitamin helps to prevent hair loss and contributes to the retention of melanin which stops hair from turning grey. 

  • Vitamin B6 

This vitamin can naturally be found in egg yolks, liver and cereals and helps to prevent  seborrheic dermatitis (dandruff).

  • Vitamin B12 

This vitamin can naturally be found in chicken, fish, milk and eggs and helps to prevent hair loss. 

  • Vitamin D 

Low vitamin D can affect the severity of patients with Alopecia Areata a      non-scarring alopecia.

  • Vitamin E
    This vitamin acts as a natural antioxidant to promote healthy hair and skin. It provides physical stability to cell membranes by maintaining their integrity to hair follicles and teaming up with selenium to prevent attacks from radical cells by reducing the amount of peroxide present in the cell to maintain the cell membrane. 

If taken as a supplement, the recommended daily dosage of Vitamin E is 400 – 800 IU.

  • Selenium
    This vitamin acts as a natural antioxidant and plays an important role in iodine metabolism which is mostly located in the thyroid gland. A deficiency in selenium can lead to poor hair growth, cancer or heart disease.

If taken as a supplement, the recommended daily dosage of selenium is 25 – 50mcg.

  • Inositol 
  • Folic acid (Folate)

Folic acid is essential for the maintenance of methionine levels within the body. A lack of folic acid will result in a decrease in hair follicle cell division and growth. Other symptoms of low folic acid are fatigue, premature hair greying, apathy and anemia. 

If taken as a supplement, the recommended daily dosage of folic acid is 400 – 800 mcg.

The following trace elements are essential for hair health;

  • Calcium 

Cell mediators that act on cell membrane phospholipids in hair follicles are stimulated by a portion of the bodies calcium supply. High doses of calcium can also be harmful, therefore it is recommended that should you be calcium deficient and a supplement is required it is taken as magnesium with supplemental calcium as the magnesium creates a balance. If taken as a supplement, the recommended daily dosage of calcium is 100 – 200 mcg.

  • Zinc

Zinc plays an important role in mitosis as it is essential for DNA and RNA production. It also acts as a stabilizes for cell membrane structures and helps to break down and remove and superoxide radicals. Generally zinc intake is low, it can be found naturally in seafood, meat and eggs.

If taken as a supplement, the recommended daily dosage of Zinc in the form of zinc amino acid chelate is 15 mg.

Topical zinc applications have proven to be effective in the reduction of hair loss activity for 5 alpha reductase type 2 (5-AR type II), enzymes involved in steroid metabolism. 

  • Low calorie diets are usually an indicating factor in young females that zinc levels maybe low.
  • Iron

Iron deficiency causes anaemia, which affects the most organs and pilosebaceous follicles. Hair loss caused by a deficiency of iron, appears in the form of male or female pattern baldness, however, hair loss due to iron deficiency is not permanent.

A ferritin level blood test is used to assess the ferritin (protein) levels which helps the body retain iron. Iron can naturally be found in; liver which should be avoided during pregnancy, meat, beans, nuts, dried fruit, wholegrains, soy, fortified breakfast cereals, dark green leafy veg such as kale. 

Should levels be low then it can be taken as a supplement the 

recommended daily dosage of iron is 8.7mg for males over 18 years, l14.8mg females 19 – 50 years, 8.7mg for women over 50 years. 

Some patients may experience nausea, stomach pain constipation or vomiting. 

  • Iodine

Iodine supports thyroid hormone production, any disruption can cause slower hair growth. If iodine is needed it can be taken in the form of kelp tablets, the recommended daily dosage of iodine is 112 – 225 mcg. 

Amino acids

  • L-Methonine is one of four amino acids that contain sulfur. Sulphur is needed by the hair cells to support hair strength and growth. it promotes healthy connective tissue formation. 
  • L – Cystein is one of the four amino acids that contains Sulphur. High levels of this amino acid play a vital role in hair, nails and skin. Should a deficiency occur, hair loss may be an indicating factor.
  • L Lysine is one of the four amino acids that contributes to males pattern baldness should a deficiency occur. A typical Asian diet is rich in L – Lysine therefore affecting the 5 – alpha-reductase enzyme levels which reduces the effects of male pattern baldness.
  • L-Taurine is one of four amino acids, this is regarded as one of the most important for hair health. It is a building block for proteins such as keratin which is what hair fiber is made of. L – Taurine can be found naturally in fish and meat. A deficiency in L -Taurine can causes hair to lose its colour, keratin strength and even result in hair loss.
  • Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs)

Fatty acids are vital nutrients essential for hair growth, thus finding low or non fat diets can result in hair loss as the lack of fat causes the skin and scalp to dry up. Bad fats can also encourage the production of DHT. DHT derives from testosterone, in large quantities it can attack the hair follicles, causing it to narrow and shrink which causes hair loss and or hair thinning. PUFA’S can be naturally found in walnuts, flax seed or fish oil, they play an important role in cell structure, barrier function, lipid synthesis, inflammation and immunity.

Complex carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates play a major role in converting protein into the hair cells that hair is formed from. They provide the energy in which is needed as hair is the second fastest growing cells in the body. Hair is regarded as a non-priority organ, so should carbohydrate levels drop the hair is fed last as it’s not seen as a priority and this may show externally by a premature shedding of hair. 

Prolonged lack of carbohydrates may result in the body converting stored proteins such as muscle into energy, which causes stress on the kidneys and liver which can also result in hair loss. 

Complex carbohydrates can be found naturally in; baked beans, whole grain cereal , peas, parsnips, Jacket potatoes, barley, oatmeal, brown rice, pasta, legumes, fresh fruit. 

Once consumed energy to hair cells drops 4 hrs after eating, regular snacking on complex carbohydrates in between meals will sustain energy levels. 

Ageing Effects

Aging is an inevitable process in which our bodies functions start to slow down in their processing and the body begins to become undernourished. Hair then becomes may change in colour, structure and density. It is important to get regular checks to maintain healthy levels use supplements where needed and gain nutrients from foods which have been suggested within this essay for optimal hair health. Water is also essential for a healthy body as it quenches thirsts and aids the digestion of food.  Superfoods may be effective in the control of biological aging. Items such as blueberries, broccoli, sprouts, garlic, ginger, super green mixes or medicinal herbs are all beneficial to health.

Water – is important in general bodily health and potentially good hair health. Water quenches thirst and aids food digestion.

Treatment and Prognosis

A blood test combined with a clinical hair examination and questioning will ascertain which nutrients are deficient. It is a case of replacing those deficient to the levels in which they will function correctly. Once the optimal levels have been reached, the hair loss will cease, hair growth restored to normal functioning, hair will gain back it’s lutre, thicken and regain its strength. Should these levels relapse the hair loss, hair thinning, dull, dry or weakend hair will reoccur. 


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