If you ever needed a reason to step up your nutritional game here it is: the
health of your hair depends on it. Diet, stress level, exercise and lack of sleep are all contributing factors to dull, breakable hair. “Your body can only do with what fuel it has and if you radically change your nutrition, your body now has a completely set of tools to work with,” explains naturopath Dr. Kate Whimster of Waveless Wellness in Toronto.
Eating a diet that’s high in antioxidants, having a low-stress environment and time will drastically increase the appearance of healthy hair (because hair is already grown out, it’s going to take a minimum of six to eight months to see an improvement at the hair shaft). And since there’s no better time to start than right now, we asked Whimster to share her ultimate healthy hair tips, beginning with diet and nutrition.
Boost your: Iron
“There’s couple big issues that can cause hair loss and one of them is deficiency in iron, so being anemic,” says Whimster. “Therefore making sure you have enough iron in your diet is pretty basic and important for growing hair at all.” Animal proteins—chicken, turkey, beef, lamb—are likely the easiest source and most absorbable in the body. But it’s also found in lentils, spinach and other leafy greens. Either way, ensure you’re regularly in-taking iron.
“Iron helps make hemoglobin and hemoglobin is what carries oxygen in your blood and nourishes cells,” explains Whimster. “So your hair is a low priority thing in terms of your body functions, so if you don’t have enough hemoglobin to carry oxygen, your
hair will suffer.” And this can translate into thinning hair and eventually falling out due to anemia.
More antioxidants and vitamins for healthy, shiny hair on the next page…
Boost your: Antioxidants
When it comes down to it, you—and your hair—are what you eat: both good and bad. “Antioxidants—what they do in your body is that they prevent damage,” says Whimster. “They prevent aging, greying, thinning hair, all that kind of stuff with regards to hair.” The most common antioxidant is Vitamin C, which is really important for the absorption of iron, but also helps to form collagen, which is the structure of hair, skin, and nails. Lycopene—found in naturally red food sources like tomatoes, watermelon and red grapefruit—helps prevent damage, greying, hair thinning, and
Need more reasons to load up on fruits and veggies—other than
shiny hair? “A lot of fruits and vegetables are high in antioxidants,” Whimster explains. Beta-carotene and carotenoids (part of a larger family of that type) are in most fruits and vegetables—kale, carrots, sweet potato—basically dark green and orange sources. Your best bet is to ensure five to six servings of fruits and vegetables daily (think one cup or a medium-sized piece of fruit per serving) from a variety of colourful sources. “That fills the body up with nutrients and helps your skin, your hair, your nails, but it tends to crowd out other foods that are less healthy,” she adds. “When you focus on what you are eating it helps diminish things that you want to avoid.”
Boost your: Omega-3
Load up on healthy fats such as Omega-3 to really
improve the overall condition of hair. “All of the cell membrane throughout your body have fat in the lining and so when you take Omega 3, the point is to change the composition of your cell membrane,” says Whimster. “So throughout your body that has an effect.” Those fats—found in fatty fish like mackerel, salmon, anchovies, sardines, herring, and also plant foods like flax, walnuts, pumpkin seeds—can give you shiny hair. They also hydrate your scalp, and a healthy scalp leads to healthy hair. “Once your hair has grown out of your head, there’s only so much you can do about it, but while its growing there’s a lot of influence from a nutritional standpoint.”
Read on to find out why protein is imporant for healthy hair…
Boost your: Protein
“Hair is protein all stacked together so the quality of the protein will affect the quality of your hair,” says Whimster. “Your hair is a non-essential thing so if you’re deficient in a nutrient, your body is very intelligent and will not bother with hair.” Again, it comes down to supplying your body with protein from a variety of sources for shiny hair: think animal protein, fish, eggs, nuts, beans and legumes.
Boost your: B-vitamins
Proper diet and hydration are the leading factors of healthy hair. The next biggest thing is vitamin supplementation, says Whimster. “It definitely takes a long time to see a change in your hair.” So supplementation will help speed up the process. “B-vitamins are really important for the formation of hair and skin and they support the health of the hair follicle.” They’re also key to helping the body cope with stress, which can cause dull hair as well as hair thinning and loss. “A good B-complex with an emphasis on vitamin B5 specifically is usually helpful.”
Biotin is another type of B-vitamin which, when lacking in the body, causes hair loss and
dull, breakable hair. Supplementing with foods like Swiss chard, carrots, nuts and eggs, can help
strengthen and thicken hair. “But the biggest thing that’s really interesting about biotin is that your body makes it—the bacteria that live in your intestine produce biotin on their own and that’s where you get most if it,” explains Whimster. “So a good environment for those bacteria is important because then they will do their job.” You can support healthy digestion by taking probiotics and also supplementing with biotin itself. “It just takes time,” reminds Whimster.
For the latest in fashion, beauty and culture, sign up to receive ELLE's daily newsletter.