The Ingestibles: Taking Care Of Your Hair From The Inside Out
Healthy hair from within. Not just what you massage into it. The premise is simple: the things you ingest affect your health. It’s your primary source of nourishment. The foods you eat. The liquids you drink. The supplements you take. The nutrients, or lack thereof, within them all. It’s the first link, no - spark - in a chain reaction of health - for good or for bad.
It affects the structure and function of every part of your body. All of your organs. All of your muscles. Your bones. Your nerves. Your skin. Your nails. Your blood. Your connective tissues. Your hair. All of its systems. Their parts and pieces and how they all interact.
Not to mention the less tangible effect - your mood. Eat unhealthy? Look unhealthy. Feel unhealthy. Function sluggishly. Be unsettled. “You’ll feel better, when you feel better”. It’s not a real quote, but to us it makes perfect sense. Push your body in the right direction and your mood will follow. Remember, it’s all connected.
Our focus on proper nutrition, for this particular blog, will pertain to the health of your hair.
Nutrients: The Basics
Nutrients are substances used for us to survive, grow and reproduce. Non-essential nutrients are nutrients the body naturally synthesizes and therefore are not required to be obtained through food. Essential nutrients are nutrients the body does not naturally synthesize and must be obtained through food.
There are two major classes of nutrients. Macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients are the nutrients your body needs in large amounts - hence, macro. Micronutrients are those your body requires in smaller - micro - amounts. These are usually delivered within the foods you get your macronutrients from.
Macronutrients are the cornerstone of your diet. The nutritional components of food that the body needs for energy, and uses to maintain its structure and systems. There are 3 categories: Carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. For the sake of simplicity, we’ve included water as an honorary fourth. After all, you need a lot of it.
Carbohydrates. Sugar molecules. Your body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose - blood sugar, and uses it as its primary source of fuel. Carbs provide energy to your muscles and central nervous system during movement and exercise. Glucose can be used immediately, or stored for future use in your liver or muscles.
There are 3 main types of carbs. Sugars: simple carbohydrates - their most basic form. Some are additives - the sugar added to soda, or that you add to coffee. Some are natural - like those found in fruits and vegetables. Starches: complex carbohydrates. These are made of a number of simple carbs strung together that your body breaks down back into sugars to use as energy. More refined carbs include pasta, bread, and cereals. Fiber: Another complex carbohydrate. However, your body doesn’t break down most fibers into sugar for fuel. It simply passes them - relatively intact - through your digestive system. Fiber normalizes your bowel movements. It’s crucial to proper gut-health. It regulates weight fluctuations. It lowers your risk of diabetes and heart disease. Fiber is either soluble - dissolves in water, or insoluble. High fiber foods include: whole grains, chia seeds, oats, fruits and vegetables. Some food sources of good carbohydrates: vegetables, fruits, and legumes. Yes, even potatoes.
Fats. Your energy reserves. Your body’s natural insulation - protecting your vital organs. Carrier of fat-soluble vitamins. They’re the backbone to any number of normal body functions. It’s important to remember that all foods that contain fat, have a mix of specific types of fats. There are 3 types of fat.
Unsaturated fats. Good fats. They improve blood cholesterol. They’re anti-inflammatory. They regulate your heart’s rhythm and much more. There’s 2 types. Monounsaturated fats: olive oil, avocados, almonds, sesame seeds. Polyunsaturated fats: soybeans, flaxseeds, fish, walnuts. Polyunsaturated fats: The most important of these is Omega 3. Omega 3 fatty acid is a polyunsaturated fat that your body cannot produce on its own. It must get it through diet. It’s found in high doses in virtually all fish - especially salmon. Omega 6 fatty acid is another polyunsaturated fat of note. In moderation, it can be quite beneficial. However it’s a thin line. It’s the type of fat found in vegetable oils, nuts and seeds. It is always preferable over saturated fats.
Saturated Fats. Ok fats. Not great fats. They increase bad cholesterol. They’re pro-inflammatory. Strongly linked to increased risk of coronary heart disease. Saturated fats are primarily animal fats. Some sources contain these fats in larger amounts - beef, cheese, and whole milk. Even some plants - coconuts and palm oil. Some healthy sources contain saturated fats in smaller amounts - chicken, and even nuts. Replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats, and keeping that ratio high, is the best way to maintain good cholesterol.
Trans Fats. Trans fatty acids. Very Bad Fats. Most are made by heating vegetable oils through hydrogen gas - hence, hydrogenated oil. Look for that on any ingredient list - and avoid those products. Hydrogenated oils are a mainstay in the fast food industry as these oils can withstand repeated heating without breaking down - making them ideal for frying foods. Trans Fats can also be found in beef fat and dairy fat - although in trace amounts. These are the worst types of fats. They raise bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol. They’re pro-inflammatory. They contribute to insulin resistance. Even in small amounts, the effects on your health are harmful.
For each 2% increase in calories obtained through Trans Fats, your risk of coronary heart disease increases 23%. No brainer.
Proteins. The building blocks to virtually every tissue in your body. They’re made up of different amino acids that provide structure to all your cells. Protein helps maintain weight. It stabilizes blood sugar levels. Boosts energy. Improves brain function. Supports muscles and bones. It also aids in the absorption of other nutrients. Some food sources of good proteins: lean meats - wild fish, grass-fed animals and free-range poultry or wild birds. Some plant based options - lentils, almonds, broccoli, and hempseed.
Water. Your body uses water in each of its cells, tissues and organs. There isn’t a bodily process water isn’t directly involved in in some way. It makes up over 60% of your body mass. It regulates temperature. It lubricates and protects your tissues, your spine, and your joints. It aids in digestion. You’re not drinking enough water. You know it and we know it. Drink more water. Eat your fruits and vegetables.
Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals. Although required in much smaller amounts, they are absolutely vital to good health. There are 4 categories of micronutrients: water-soluble vitamins, fat-soluble vitamins, macrominerals, and trace minerals (microminerals).
Water-soluble vitamins. Vitamins that dissolve in water. B Vitamins, Vitamin C and Folic Acid. Other than B12, none of these vitamins are stored by your body. Unused amounts simply pass through your urine. This means they must be replenished regularly. These vitamins produce energy. They prevent cell damage. They’re necessary to produce red blood cells. Some food sources: whole grains, eggs, leafy greens, lean meats, citrus fruits and bell peppers.
Fat-soluble vitamins. Vitamins that dissolve in fat, not water. These are stored in your liver and fatty tissues for future use. They include Vitamin A, D, E and K. They protect vision. They strengthen the immune system. They support blood clotting. They provide antioxidants to fight inflammation. Some food sources: leafy greens, almonds, sweet potatoes, kale, and eggs.
Macrominerals. Common minerals needed in larger amounts. Some of these include calcium, magnesium, potassium, and sodium. Essential to proper bodily function - Bone density. Muscle strength. Blood pressure. Some food sources: leafy greens, black beans, bananas, nuts and seeds.
Microminerals (Trace Minerals). Minerals needed in very small amounts. Some of these include iron, copper, zinc, manganese, and iodine. These feed oxygen to muscles. They support your nervous system. They help to heal wounds. Some food sources: oysters, spinach, pecans and seafood.
Important Nutrients for Healthy Hair
Vitamin A represents a group of fat-soluble retinoids that includes retinol, retinal, and retinyl esters. It serves a number of roles in your body. It’s critical for vision. It’s nvolved in immune function. And every cell in your body needs vitamin A for growth. This includes hair - your fastest growing tissue. Vitamin A is also included in the production of sebum - the oil your skin produces. It’s this oil that moisturizes your scalp and helps keep your hair healthy. Among other problems, Vitamin A deficiency can lead to hair loss. But, too much Vitamin A can also lead to hair loss. Like everything else, balance is crucial.
Top foods for Vitamin A: Sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkins, spinach, and kale are all high in beta-carotene, which is turned into vitamin A.
Vitamin A is also found in animal products such as milk, eggs, and yogurt. Cod liver oil is a particularly good source.
The vitamin B complex includes eight water-soluble vitamins—thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), vitamin B6, biotin (B7), folate, and vitamin B12. They all aid in cell metabolism. B vitamins in general help create red blood cells. These carry oxygen and nutrients to the scalp and hair follicles, which is important for hair growth.
Of all the B vitamins, B7 aka Biotin is the most important for hair growth.
Even though biotin is used as a hair loss treatment, it’s really only people who are deficient who see measurable results. And deficiency is extremely rare. Biotin occurs naturally in a very wide range of foods.
There’s a lack of evidence surrounding whether biotin is effective for hair growth in non-deficient, healthy individuals. Most supplements marketed as “hair, skin, and nail” far exceed the recommended daily intake of biotin anyways. So don’t bother.
Top Foods for Vitamin B Content: B1 (Theamin) - Pork chops, Salmon, Flax Seeds, Navy Beans, and Green Peas. B2 (Riboflavin) - Skirt Steak, Tofu, Skim Milk, Salmon and Mushrooms. B3 (Niacin) - Tuna, Lean Chicken Breast, Lean Pork Chops, Skirt Steak, and Portobello Mushrooms. B5 (Pantothenic Acid) - Shiitake Mushroom, Salmon, Avocados, Lean Chicken Breast, Skirt Steak. B6 (Pyridoxine) - Salmon, Lean Chicken Breast, Tofu, Lean Pork Chop, and Sweet Potato. B7 (Biotin) - Egg yolks, Liver, Legumes, Almonds, and Sweet Potato . B9 (Folate) - Edamame, Lentils, Asparagus, Spinach, Broccoli B12 (Cobalamin) - Clams, Tuna, King Crab, Swiss Cheese, and Eggs.
Additionally, animal foods are the only good sources of vitamin B12. So if you’re vegetarian or vegan, you’ll have to supplement.
Also known as L-Ascorbic Acid. A powerful antioxidant that works hard to counteract the oxidative stress of free radicals. This type of stress and damage can block hair growth and cause your hair to age. Your body also needs vitamin C to produce collagen — an important protein for hair structure. Vitamin C aids in the absorption of iron, an absolutely crucial mineral for hair growth.
Top foods for Vitamin C: Strawberries, peppers, guavas, and citrus fruits.
Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to hair loss - specifically, alopecia. Most people don’t get enough vitamin D. Increasing your intake is always a good idea. Get some sun, take a supplement. Whatever.
Top food sources of vitamin D: fatty fish, cod liver oil, some mushrooms, and fortified foods.
Another powerful antioxidant that can help prevent oxidative stress. In one study, people with hair loss experienced a 34.5% increase in hair growth after supplementing with vitamin E for 8 months. The placebo group had only a 0.1% increase.
Top foods for Vitamin E: Sunflower seeds, almonds, spinach, and avocados.
Iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency in the world. Iron helps red blood cells carry oxygen to your cells. This makes it an important mineral for many bodily functions, including hair growth. Iron deficiency, which causes anaemia, is a major cause of hair loss. It’s especially common in women.
Top foods for iron: clams, oysters, eggs, red meat, spinach, and lentils.
Zinc is important for hair tissue growth and repair. It also helps keep the oil glands around the follicles working properly. Hair loss is a common symptom of zinc deficiency. Studies have shown that supplementing with zinc can reduce deficiency-related hair loss. However, similar to Vitamin A, too much zinc can also contribute to hair loss. So, as with most nutrients, it’s recommended you get your zinc from whole foods.
Top foods for Zinc: oysters, beef, spinach, wheat germ, pumpkin seeds, and lentils.
Your hair is made almost entirely of protein. Consuming enough is important for hair growth. Animal studies show that protein deficiency may decrease hair growth and even lead to hair loss. However, actual protein deficiency is extremely rare in Western countries.
Top foods for protein: beef, poultry, fish, seafood and beans.
The Role Of Vitamins and Minerals in Hair Loss. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6380979/
Diet and Hair Loss. Effects of Nutrient Deficiency and Supplement Use https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5315033/
Nutrition and Hair Health. The Trichological Society. https://www.hairscientists.org/hair-and-scalp-conditions/nutrition-and-hair-health
The Nutrition Source. Harvard Health. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/
Endogenous retinoids in the hair follicle and sebaceous gland. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21914489/
Biotin and Biotinidase Deficiency. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19727438/
Oxidative Stress In Aging of Hair. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2929555/
Iron Plays a Certain Role In Patterned Hair Loss. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3678013/