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10 Natural Ways To Improve Hair Health and Growth

By Dr. Leigh Siergiewicz, ND

In this article:


Our outer appearance tells us something about our inner health. Underlying causes for thinning hair should be addressed first, but plenty of options exist for addressing re-growth! Talk to your doctor to have any underlying conditions tested and treated. Common causes of hair loss include thyroid disease, autoimmune disease, inadequate nutrition, stress or trauma, intestinal issues that lead to poor absorption of nutrients, and hormonal problems.

You can normally lose about 100 hairs from your body daily. Hair growth cycles typically allow for some shedding to occur. Ask your doctor if hair loss seems excessive or has changed from your normal. If you’ve addressed the underlying cause but still want more options, ask your doctor about some of these additional choices for optimizing the health of your hair.

‌‌‌‌Protein

The most basic need for proper hair growth remains adequate protein consumption. The average adult woman should consume forty-six grams, and the average adult male should consume fifty-six grams daily. Athletes, pregnant or breastfeeding people, or people recovering from an illness should consume more than average.

Meat and fish represent the best sources of protein. It can also be found in eggs, dairy, beans, nuts and seeds, and small amounts in grains. Eat a variety of freshly prepared foods daily. Protein powder can be used for those who have a difficult time consuming enough calories.

‌‌‌‌Stress Management

Stress remains a well-known reason for excess hair loss. Having elevated levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, can cause increased hair shedding. When one hormone stays too high, others often remain imbalanced as a consequence.

Increased stress can cause general hormone chaos, leading to generally feeling unwell and shedding more hair. Estrogen in particular can become unbalanced in this way and be the cause of hair loss. Stress can contribute to poor sleep, and elevated cortisol levels can contribute to blood sugar imbalances.

‌‌‌‌Blood Sugar Balance

Imbalanced blood sugar, feeling “hangry,” grumpy, or jittery when going too long between meals can lead to increased hair shedding. Try to minimize consumption of processed sugar and processed simple carbohydrates.

Keep protein snacks handy and eat meals at regular times. It is possible to have large swings in blood sugar throughout the day and not be diabetic. However, if you feel like your blood sugar fluctuations are impacting your day-to-day life, talk to your doctor.

‌‌‌‌Collagen

Collagen supplements have become very popular as a product to boost skin, hair, and nail health. Collagen can be produced from fish, poultry, or other livestock. It represents the main component of connective tissue in animals and humans. It comprises an important part of bones, cartilage, skin, tendons, and ligaments.

Research on the effectiveness of taking collagen as a supplement remains limited, but preliminary studies have found it to be beneficial for improving skin elasticity and hydration and to generally benefit aging skin. It can also support healthy wound healing. It remains generally safe to take and has no known adverse reactions.

‌‌‌‌Bone Broth

Bone broth offers a fantastic way to get important micro and macronutrients including vitamins, minerals, fat, protein, and collagen. You can make it at home easily or buy ready-made. It doesn’t have to be difficult — simply use bones and veggie scraps you already had from previous meals.

Save anything you want to use in the freezer until ready to cook. Put everything in a slow cooker covered with water for 12–24 hours. Add salt and fresh or dried herbs to add taste.

‌‌‌‌Zinc

Zinc represents an important micronutrient, primarily obtained from consuming meat and fish. Inadequate zinc levels remain common in people with digestive disorders and those who do not eat meat.

Numerous studies have looked into zinc insufficiency and hair loss or poor hair growth, with varying levels of effectiveness depending on the patient population. However, it represents a helpful treatment. Dosing zinc properly is likely important for optimal effectiveness. Ask your doctor about the right dose of zinc for your individual needs.

‌‌‌‌Iron

Low iron levels contribute to poor hair growth and abnormal hair loss as well as fatigue. Iron deficiency can lead to anemia or low red blood cells. When you don’t have enough red blood cells, oxygen and nutrients do not circulate around your body optimally, and hair growth becomes less of a priority for your body.

Ask your doctor about a blood test to see if you need iron, as taking too much iron can be harmful and people with certain conditions should never take iron supplements.

‌‌‌‌Vitamin C

Vitamin C deficiency — not tied to having hair loss by itself — remains helpful in other areas that assist with healthy hair growth. Taking vitamin C with iron helps iron to absorb better. If iron deficient, you may strengthen your iron levels faster by taking vitamin C. Collagen formation in the body also requires adequate vitamin C levels.

‌‌‌‌Selenium

Selenium represents an important trace nutrient essential for the production of the body’s most potent antioxidant, glutathione. Deficiency in selenium has been associated with changes in hair pigmentation. One study in chemotherapy patients found that there existed less hair loss with selenium supplementation.

Discuss any medication interactions with your doctor before taking supplements. Excess selenium proves toxic; please consult a medical professional for a proper dose. Brazil nuts offer an excellent source of selenium.

‌‌‌‌B Vitamins

B vitamins, often called the B complex, consist of a number of very different but overlapping vitamins. Four of them have important roles in hair health: Riboflavin (vitamin B2), biotin (vitamin B7), folate (vitamin B9), and cobalamin (vitamin B12). A balanced healthy diet does not require supplementation of B vitamins. However, deficiency can happen from poor nutrient absorption, inadequate intake, or excessive stress.

Riboflavin deficiency occurs very rarely in developed countries as it comprises a wide variety of foods. Supplementation is usually unnecessary, although high doses are sometimes used to treat conditions unrelated to hair loss.

Biotin can be made by the body, and supplementation is not necessary for healthy individuals; deficiency has never been found in people eating a normal diet with no health conditions. Deficiency may occur with alcoholism, pregnancy, and certain gastrointestinal disorders.

Therapeutic supplementation may be beneficial for hair, skin, and nail health. However, the evidence is mixed. Be aware that taking biotin supplements can interfere with blood test results. Tell your doctor if taking biotin supplements before having blood tests done. You may need to discontinue for some time beforehand to ensure accurate results.

Folate deficiency occurred more often until fortification of grains became common practice in developed countries. Stress, pregnancy, excessive alcohol consumption, and malabsorption signify the most common reasons for deficiency. Different forms of folate have different uses (best determined on an individual basis) and include folic acid, folate, and folinic acid. Folate interferes with some chemotherapy medications, so do not take this without your doctor’s approval while using chemotherapy drugs.

Vitamin B12 deficiency remains common with digestive issues, with vegan or vegetarian diets, and in the elderly. Healthy people with adequate diets generally don’t need to supplement.

B12 and folate are often taken together in supplements because they have similar functions in DNA synthesis — important for hair growth. A gene known as methyltetrahydrofolate reductase, or MTHFR, regulates folate metabolism. People with this genetic mutation may need specific supplements to process their folate and B12 better. Some studies have found people with low folate and/or B12 in their red blood cells have higher rates of hair loss.

‌‌‌‌A Well-Rounded Approach

Hair growth requires good nutrition, stress management, and properly addressing any underlying causes with your doctor. A well-rounded approach to healthy hair includes all of these things. As with anything, proper dosage remains essential. Doses too small proved ineffective, and doses too large can cause adverse effects.

Talk to a licensed naturopathic doctor or a registered dietician for help with individualized treatment plans for your unique needs.

References

  1. Alcock RD, Shaw GC, Burke LM. Bone Broth Unlikely to Provide Reliable Concentrations of Collagen Precursors Compared With Supplemental Sources of Collagen Used in Collagen Research. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2019;29(3):265-272. doi:10.1123/ijsnem.2018-0139.
  2. Almohanna HM, Ahmed AA, Tsatalis JP, Tosti A. The Role of Vitamins and Minerals in Hair Loss: A Review. Dermatol Ther (Heidelb). 2019;9(1):51-70. doi:10.1007/s13555-018-0278-6.
  3. Cakir E. Is prediabetes risk factor for hair loss?. Med Hypotheses. 2012;79(6):879. doi:10.1016/j.mehy.2012.09.014.
  4. Choi FD, Sung CT, Juhasz ML, Mesinkovsk NA. Oral Collagen Supplementation: A Systematic Review of Dermatological Applications. J Drugs Dermatol. 2019;18(1):9-16.
  5. Moeinvaziri M, Mansoori P, Holakooee K, Safaee Naraghi Z, Abbasi A. Iron status in diffuse telogen hair loss among women. Acta Dermatovenerol Croat. 2009;17(4):279-284.
  6. Rajoo Y, Wong J, Cooper G, et al. The relationship between physical activity levels and symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress in individuals with alopecia Areata. BMC Psychol. 2019;7(1):48. Published 2019 Jul 23. doi:10.1186/s40359-019-0324-x.
  7. Thom E. Stress and the Hair Growth Cycle: Cortisol-Induced Hair Growth Disruption. J Drugs Dermatol. 2016;15(8):1001-1004.

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