By: Nutrition expert- Vidula Kozarekar, Mumbai.
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Healthy-appearing hair is a sign of excellent general health, as well as good hair care practices. Most healthy individuals have adequate nutrients in their diet; however, many people do not have access to good nutrition, and others have medical illnesses that predispose them to nutritional deficiency. This is often reflected in changes of scalp and, at times, body hair. Malnutrition, congenital heart disease, neuromuscular disease, chronic illnesses, malignancy, alcoholism, and advanced age can cause hair to change color, be weakened, or lost. Changes in skin and hair can provide clues to the presence of an underlying vitamin deficiency (1).
Following are the most common types of alopecia: (2)
Androgenetic alopecia (AGA)-
Most common type of hair loss in both men and women
Onset may be as early as puberty: 50% of men affected by age 50, 40% of women by age 70
Male pattern: Thinning of the frontal hairline, bi-temporal recession, hair loss at the crown
Female pattern: Hair loss at the crown with preservation of the frontal hairline
Caused by the effect of dihydrotestosterone on hair follicles leading to miniaturization
Telogen effluvium (TE)-
Acute Telogen effluvium is characterized by diffuse scalp hair loss lasting <6 months, whereas the duration is >6 months for chronic Telogen effluvium
Women between ages 30 to 60 are most commonly affected
A stressor event may or may not be present, usually occurring 2–4 months before onset of hair shedding
20%–50% of scalp hairs transition prematurely to Telogen phase and are shed with normal hair shafts
Other causes of hair loss: (3), (4)
Any drug that affects the body’s hormone balance can have a pronounced effect: these include the contraceptive pill, hormone replacement therapy, steroids and acne medications.
Such as childbirth, major surgery, poisoning, and severe stress may cause a hair loss condition known as telogen effluvium, in which a large number of hairs enter the resting phase at the same time, causing shedding and subsequent thinning. The condition also presents as a side effect of chemotherapy – while targeting dividing cancer cells, this treatment also affects hair’s growth phase with the result that almost 90% of hairs fall out soon after chemotherapy starts.
Nutrients for healthy hair:
- Various studies demonstrated reversal of hair loss and improvement in alopecia following oral zinc supplementation (5), (6).
- Non-scarring diffuse hair loss (DHL) is a multifactorial condition with highest incidence in 21‐ to 40‐year age group. Serum ferritin, serum vitamin B12, and D3 levels seem to have a contributing role in the pathogenesis of hair loss, and their supplementation may be needed for a faster regrowth of hair in all cases of hair loss irrespective of the pattern (7).
- Vitamin C promotes hair shaft elongation in cultured human hair follicles (8).
- L-lysine is responsible for hair shape and volume. With insufficient supply of lysine in food, hair becomes brittle, thin and limp (9).
- Low consumption of linoleic and linolenic acids and long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are important ingredients of horny layer of epidermis, causes decrease in hair hydration and to lose hair (10).
- Niacin influences water transformation of skin, detoxifies skin and is necessary for hair fullness and benefit in female alopecia (11).
- Copper is essential for keratin fiber strength (12).
Food sources of…
- Zinc- meat, shellfish, legumes, whole grains
- Iron- poultry, eggs, fruits, green vegetables, fortified bread
- Vit. B12- Meat, poultry, fish, milk, cheese, fortified soymilk and cereals
- Vit. D3- Fortified milk and cereals, fatty fish
- Vit. C- Citrus fruit, potatoes, broccoli, bell peppers, spinach, strawberries, tomatoes, Brussels sprouts
- Lysine- Meat, specifically red meat, pork, and poultry, Cheese, particularly Parmesan, Certain fish, such as cod and sardines, Eggs, Soybeans, particularly tofu, isolated soy protein, and defatted soybean flour, Spirulina, Fenugreek seed
- Omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids- fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, arctic char and trout, eggs (including omega-3 enriched), flaxseeds and flaxseed oil, Walnuts, soybeans, tofu, canola oil.
- Niacin- meat, poultry, fish, fortified and whole grains, mushrooms, potatoes
- Copper- shellfish, nuts, seeds, whole-grain products, beans, prunes
If you notice significant changes in your hair that concern you, consult your doctor to discuss possible causes, like a nutritional deficiency, stress, underactive thyroid or hormonal imbalance.