As human beings, that shock of hair on top of our heads is difficult to miss, and so our health and beauty is often tied up with how it looks – is it a good colour? Is it well styled? Is it healthy?
This last question is a big one. Despite the fact that hair cells are technically dead, we do have an idea of what ‘healthy hair’ looks like. Shiny, thick, not frizzy or broken, and – generally speaking – the more the better. This isn’t just aesthetics either; hair loss, dull hair, and brittle hair can each be signs of other underlying health problems and nutritional deficiencies.
In order to give your hair what it needs to look its best, and therefore help you to look your best, you’ll need to ensure you take in the right vitamins and other nutrients for healthy hair growth. Here are five of the key vitamins to take in, and a few other nutrients to help your hair grow strong and healthy-looking.
1. Vitamin A
Vitamin A helps cells grow. Since hair cells are the fastest-growing cells in the human body, vitamin A is obviously a major player in hair health. The benefits happen not just in the hair cells themselves, but also at the scalp, as skin glands use vitamin A to produce sebum, and oily substance that helps lubricate and moisturise the scalp. Vitamin A is so important to hair health, that a deficiency of it actually causes hair loss. Use caution though, especially with supplements, as getting too much of it can cause the same problem.
The best sources of vitamin A include milk, eggs, yogurt and cod liver oil. You could also eat carrots, kale, spinach, and pumpkin. These don’t actually contain vitamin A, but they do contain beta-carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A after we’ve consumed it.
Bottom Line: Hair uses vitamin A to stay moisturized and to grow – but too much can be a problem too, so be careful with supplements.
Among the vitamins most associated with the process of hair growth is biotin, one of the B-vitamins. A lack of this vitamin had been scientifically linked with hair loss in human beings.
Though some people take biotin to promote hair growth, the results are not as apparent as they are when it is given to people with actual biotin deficiencies, and the hair loss related to it. This condition is relatively rare though, as biotin is found in a wide variety of common foods, and therefore most people take in enough through the course of a regular diet.
Biotin isn’t the only B-vitamin that is important to hair growth though. Others play a part in creating red blood cells, and these in turn circulate oxygen throughout the body, including to the scalp and the hair follicles.
B-vitamins are found in a wide range of foods, like meat, fish, whole grains, and dark, leafy greens. The only B-vitamin that only occurs in sufficient amounts in meats, if B12. If you’re on a vegetarian or vegan diet, make sure you include B12 as a supplement, to keep your hair growth healthy.
Bottom Line: B-vitamins play a part in oxygenating the body, including the scalp and follicles. Most B-vitamins are in plentiful supply, but if you are vegetarian, take a B12 supplement.
3. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is perhaps the most commonly known vitamin and is attributed with all kinds of properties – some accurate and others not. One of the accurate ones, however, is that is an antioxidant. That means it blocks the damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals can block hair growth and cause your hair to deteriorate more quickly, appearing old and unhealthy.
Vitamin C also assists in the process of collagen production. Collagen is a key part of the structure of hard body parts such as fingernails, toenails, teeth – and hair. It also helps the body to absorb and retain iron, which is also needed for healthy hair growth.
Vitamin C is found in many common foods, from the obvious ones like oranges, to less obvious ones like broccoli, strawberries, and peppers.
Bottom Line: Vitamin C blocks some free radical damage, helps make collagen, and can help prevent hair from looking old and damaged. Good sources include broccoli, peppers, citrus fruits and strawberries.
4. Vitamin D
Deficiencies in vitamin D can be very detrimental to hair growth and have even been linked to alopecia, the clinical name for hair loss. Sufficient levels of vitamin D may have the opposite effect though, playing a part in the development of new hair follicles. We don’t yet know how it does this, but there does seem to be a link.
Unlike most vitamins, the body can produce its own vitamin D, through exposure to sunshine. We can also get it from dietary sources, like some types of fish and some mushrooms.
Bottom Line: The part vitamin D plays is not understood, but some hair loss is linked to a lack of it in the body. Vitamin D can be increased through exposure to sunlight and by eating certain foods.
5. Vitamin E
Vitamin E is also an antioxidant, and studies seem to show substantial increases in hair growth in response to regular supplements for eight months or more.
As well as supplemental sources, vitamin E can be found in avocadoes, spinach, and almonds.
Bottom Line: Vitamin E boosts hair growth when taken as a regular supplement. Almonds, spinach and avocados all contain good amounts of vitamin E.
Iron is a major component of red blood cells, which carry oxygen all over the body. A lack of oxygen results in hampered cell development, including a reduction in hair follicles and a slowing down of hair growth. Low iron is especially common in women.
Excellent dietary sources of iron include meat (especially red meat), seafood, eggs, spinach and lentils, and it is also available in a variety of supplemental forms.
Bottom Line: Iron deficiency causes of hair loss, and is more common among women. Excellent sources of iron include red meat, seafood, eggs, spinach and lentils.
Zinc keeps the oil glands around hair follicles healthy, which means the system is properly moisturised and functions as it should. It also plays a role in the growth and repair of the hair itself.
A deficiency of zinc has been linked to hair loss, and zinc supplements have been shown to reduce this. Caution should be used, though, as some people report hair loss as a result of taking too much zinc – you should stay within the recommended daily doses, or to get your zinc from dietary sources.
Good sources of zinc include spinach, lentils, wheat germ, and red meats.
Bottom Line: Zinc can improve hair growth in people who have a zinc deficiency. Dietary sources include red meat, spinach, wheat germ and lentils.
Protein is a big factor in hair growth, partly because hair itself is made up almost entirely of protein. A lack of protein intake has caused decreases in hair growth in animal testing, and even hair loss in some cases.
Most people in developed countries get more than enough protein though, so although this is a serious problem if it occurs, it is very rare.
Bottom Line: Protein is needed for hair growth, but protein deficiency is very rare in developed areas.
Should You Take a Hair Supplement?
There is no doubt that the best way to get the vitamins and nutrients you need is through a good diet. If you are unsure if your diet is sufficient to bring in the nutrients you need, you may want to make sure by taking a supplement. Supplements work best for those who have deficiencies, but (taken in the recommended doses) they are not harmful to people without deficiencies.
If you are unsure if you have a deficiency or not, your doctor or dietician can help you determine if you need to alter your diet, or start taking a supplement.
Yumi Nutrition have a great hair growth vitamin supplement here.