Do you long for luscious locks? Do you feel like your hair won’t grow past a certain length, no matter what you do?
The fact of the matter is that the cycle of hair growth is predictable at the best of times and unforgiving at the worst. It is largely a combination of genetic, dietary and hormonal factors that determines the length of your hair and there may not much you can do to change it.
Unless, of course, you learn the secret to growing strong, healthy hair.
You are what you eat, as the saying goes. And while that may not literally be true, your diet has a significant impact on all aspects of your health—including your hair health.
If you want to strengthen your hair and maximize its growth, you’ll need to take a closer look at your diet. Let’s explore the hair growth cycle and the anatomy of your hair to better understand what nutrients are most important in a healthy hair diet.
When it comes to your hair, you probably think of it as a cohesive unit.
What you may not realize, however, is that you actually have hundreds of thousands of individual hair follicles growing from your scalp. The average person has between 90,000 and 150,000 individual hairs, each growing for an average of 1,000 days followed by a resting period before being shed.
There are three stages in the cycle of hair growth:
The anagen stage is the phase in which your hair grows, generally at a rate of a half inch a month, and it lasts for about 3 to 5 years. At the end of the anagen phase, your hair moves into an intermediate or transitional phase that lasts about 10 days. From there, it enters the telogen or resting phase in which the hair is shed, and the follicle goes dormant for 3 to 4 months before restarting the cycle.
On average, a full-length hair measures between 18 and 30 inches. The longer the anagen phase goes, however, the longer the hair. In some ethnicities, such as the Asian population, the anagen phase can last up to 7 years resulting in hair growth up to 1 meter in length.
Numerous factors impact the length of the anagen cycle, but one of the most significant is diet.
Before getting into the details of what nutrients your hair needs for optimal growth, let’s take a quick look at the anatomy of your hair. Understanding what your hair is made of will help you understand what nutrients are most important for optimal growth.
Your hair is largely made up of a hard protein called keratin. Keratin is also found in your fingernails and skin, and it is formed by amino acids.
Each individual hair is made up of two parts—the hair follicle and the shaft. The follicle is the part of the hair located beneath the skin where new growth occurs. The base of the follicle is called the bulb, and it contains the stem cells which produce the shaft. The bulb is nourished by a tight network of blood vessels in your scalp that supply oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood to support healthy hair growth. Each hair follicle also includes a sebaceous gland which produces an oily substance called sebum that keeps both your hair and your scalp properly moisturized.
Because your hair is primarily made up of protein, it should come as no surprise that protein is the most important nutrient for strong and healthy hair.
Some of the other nutrients your hair needs for strong and healthy growth include:
Now, let’s take a closer look at each of these nutrients and how they support healthy hair growth.
B-vitamins help the body create red blood cells which carry oxygen and nutrients to the scalp and hair follicles. Biotin is a particularly important nutrient for healthy hair. A water-soluble B vitamin, biotin supports hair growth by helping the body metabolize amino acids from the food you eat. Biotin also improves the strength and resiliency of your hair, defending it against dehydration and environmental damage. Dietary sources of biotin include egg yolk, yeast, soy flour, liver and whole grains.
Iron deficiency is a common cause of hair loss, so an iron-rich diet is essential for supporting healthy hair growth. Each hair follicle is fed by the blood supply in your scalp. When your iron levels drop too low, it can lead to anemia which may prevent your hair follicles from getting the oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood they need to grow. Iron-deficiency anemia is a particularly common cause of hair loss in women. Dietary sources of iron include oysters, clams, eggs, red meat, lentils and spinach.
This B-vitamin plays a role in repairing DNA in your hair follicles and it helps the body convert food into energy. Niacin deficiency may contribute to poor hair growth by limiting circulation to the scalp. Niacin also supports the moisture balance of skin for a healthy scalp. Dietary sources of niacin include beef, tuna, eggs, nuts and mushrooms.
The human body cannot synthesize omega-3 fatty acids, so they must come from your diet. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in the epithelial cells that line your scalp and they also play a role in sebum production to keep your scalp and hair healthy, hydrated and shiny. Dietary sources of omega-3s include fatty fish like salmon, sardines, herring, trout and mackerel, as well as avocado, walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds and pumpkin seeds.
All cells in the human body require vitamin A for growth. Because your hair is the fastest growing tissue in your body, it is in particular need of vitamin A. Vitamin A also plays a key role in supporting sebum production which moisturizes your scalp and hair follicles to keep them healthy and strong. Dietary sources of vitamin A include sweet potatoes, spinach, pumpkin, carrots, kale, red peppers, cantaloupe, milk, eggs, yogurt and cod liver oil.
A powerful antioxidant, vitamin C helps protect the cells against free-radical damage which can inhibit healthy hair growth and cause premature aging. Vitamin C also supports iron absorption and helps the body synthesize collagen, a protein that is involved in the structural makeup of your hair. Dietary sources of vitamin C include blueberries, broccoli, kiwi, oranges, guava, blackcurrants, papaya, strawberries and sweet potato.
Also known as the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D is thought to play a role in hair production and may also help create new hair follicles in the scalp. The body produces vitamin D in the skin with direct contact from sunlight, but it can also come from dietary sources such as fatty fish, cod liver oil, mushrooms and certain fortified foods.
Another antioxidant, vitamin E protects against oxidative stress. There is also evidence to suggest that vitamin E supplementation may support hair growth. Dietary sources of vitamin E include almonds, avocado, sunflower seeds, hazelnuts, broccoli, wheat germ and spinach.
A trace mineral that plays an essential role in tissue growth and repair, zinc is also essential for hair growth. This mineral keeps the sebaceous glands working properly as well which keeps the scalp moisturized and protected. Zinc deficiency can lead to a dry, flaky scalp as well as dull hair and hair loss. Dietary sources of zinc include whole grains, fortified cereals, oysters, beef, spinach, lentils, pumpkin seeds and eggs.
Now that you have a better idea which nutrients your hair needs for healthy growth, where do you find them? Keep reading to learn about the top 13 foods for healthy hair growth.
Generally speaking, the best way to ensure healthy hair growth is to follow a balanced diet. But what exactly does a balanced diet look like for healthy hair growth?
The foundation a healthy hair diet is lean protein.
Lean proteins include things like chicken, turkey, fish, low-fat dairy products and eggs. You can also find protein in vegetarian sources such as beans, legumes, nuts and seeds. Cold-water fish like salmon, halibut and tuna are also excellent sources of protein for healthy hair growth because they are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
In addition to lean proteins, a healthy hair diet contains whole grains, beans and legumes, fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds and healthy fats.
Antioxidants are also an important component of a healthy hair diet. In addition to protecting against the aging effects of free radicals, antioxidants also help reduce inflammation which can lead to both temporary and permanent forms of hair loss.
So, what are the best foods for healthy hair growth? Here’s are our top 13 picks:
As part of a balanced diet, these foods will help your hair grow long and strong, maximizing your growth cycle and minimizing the shedding phase. So, making an effort to include as many of these foods in your diet as possible is the best way to support healthy hair growth.
Remember, the key is to achieve an overall balance in your diet. You don’t have to obsess over specific nutrients on a daily basis.
To include more of these hair-supporting foods in your diet, try adding a protein shake with greens to your daily routine or enjoy a fresh salad for lunch. Enjoy whole-grain baked goods versus those made with refined carbohydrates. Choose lean proteins over red meat and try to include some plant-based proteins in your diet as well.
Simple changes like these can make all the difference when it comes to growing strong, healthy hair.