Do hair supplements work? They can work, for sure. But only if they contain the right micronutrients. In this article I will tell you about what nutrients are scientifically proven to contribute to hair health, as well as what nutrition strategies you can use to boost your hair health.
The average person has 5 million hairs. Hair grows all over the human body other than on the lips, palms and soles of feet. In a month, healthy hair grows approximately 12 mm. Most hairs grow for up to six years and then fall out, and new hairs grow in their place. Hair keeps the body warm; it also protects the eyes, ears and nose from small particles in the air.
In women there are significant differences in hair growth characteristics, such as growth rate, density and diameter, between pre- and post-menopausal periods. Studies show that hair diameter increases from 20 to 45 years of age and then decreases, whereas hair density is the highest in the age group 20–30 years. It is normal to lose up to 100 hairs a day.
Important nutrients for hair
Women with iron anaemia may suffer from hair loss. However, iron supplements are only efficient for iron-deficient women with hair loss, so I do not advise to take iron supplements by default.
Hair is primarily composed of protein; sufficient dietary protein is therefore the basis for healthy hair. The essential amino acid lysine is considered to be a key amino acid for hair, perhaps due to the increase of iron and zinc uptake. All protein-rich foods, such as (if we are talking about vegetarian sources) dairy, tofu and tempeh are rich in lysine. Additionally, pseudo-grains quinoa and amaranth are also very rich in this amino acid.
The micronutrients biotin (vitamin B8), selenium and zinc are scientifically proven to be essential for the maintenance of normal hair. Biotin has the capacity to improve hair density. Apparently, if supplemented long enough, biotin can also restore hair colour. Foods rich in biotin include nuts, especially almonds and hazelnuts, sunflower seeds and peanuts. However, if you suffer from substantial hair loss, biotin should be supplemented in much larger amounts than found in foods. The recommended daily dose should be at least 300 mcg/daily.
Zinc deficiency can result in hair dryness, brittleness and hair loss. Valuable vegetarian sources of zinc include whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds, particularly sunflower seeds, and plain yogurt.
Deficiency in the essential trace element selenium can also cause hair fragility and loss. Brazil nuts are the richest selenium source on Earth. Consumption of as little as 2-3 Brazil nuts daily is as effective for increasing selenium status as a 100 mg Selenium supplement. Brazil nuts are also an excellent source of copper.
Copper deficiency is linked to premature greying of the hair, it is therefore important to get enough of this element for optimal hair pigmentation.
Deficiencies of essential fatty acids can cause changes in hair similar to zinc deficiency.
Practical recommendations for those with hair problems:
- Make sure to eat enough protein;
- Eat a few Brazil nuts every day;
- Use zinc supplements (3 x 15 mg/day) and biotin (300 mcg/day) for at least 3 months;
- Essential fatty acids: make sure to consume flaxseed, flax and hemp oil and walnuts on a daily basis.
The efficiency of all the other nutrients that are used in supplements “for hair health” are not scientifically proven. My advice when buying such a supplement: make sure that it does contain biotin, selenium and zinc, the rest is optional.