Q I am a 25-year old female and I have a major hair fall problem. Even if I just tie a pony tail, a bunch of hair comes out in my hand, and it is worrying me. How do I avoid it? Are there any supplements that I should be taking?
A Hair is one of the fastest growing tissues, growing at a rate of ½ inch per month. Unknown to many, hair is actually dead tissue, the most important function of it being to conserve body heat, thereby insulating against cold. Hair is continually shed and renewed by cycles of growth, rest, fallou, and renewed growth. The average life of hair varies from about 4 months for downy hair, to 3 to 5 years for scalp hair. If hair fall is your worry, rule out the obvious reasons that are responsible for it, first:
Alopecia: This is the most common form of hair loss in, both. men and women. Androgenetic alopecia involves the action of hormones called androgens, which are essential to regulation of hair growth, among other things. The condition may be inherited, and is likely to be related to increased androgen activity. In women, androgenetic alopecia usually starts with thinning at the part lines, followed by increased overall hair loss.
Hypothyroidism: An underactive thyroid gland leads to initially slow hair loss, and if left untreated, continued hair loss can occur.
Stress: Physical and emotional stress can both result in hair loss. Stress is known to shock the normal hair cycle, pushing more into the shedding phase than the growth phase.
Over-styling: When done too often and not treated properly, this can lead to root damage and hair fall. Heat-driven hair styling tools, harsh chemical-induced products, or tightly tied/pinned hairstyles are often bad for the hair over long periods of time.
Nutritional Deficiencies: A poor diet is often an overlooked cause of follicular challenges, and this is easily corrected with the help of dietary changes.
Two things to be informed about when we look at the nutrition-hair link:
Ø Foods/nutrients that accelerate hair damage
Ø Foods/nutrients that promote hair structure and growth
Your hair is a barometer of how well (or how poorly) you feed your body. While external products may help to a degree, the worst diet mistakes you could make for your hair are:
Ø High Glycemic Index Foods: Meals and snacks with a high simple carbohydrate content cause spikes in blood sugar; this results in increased insulin production which, in turn, raises levels of androgen, the male hormone that can make hair follicles shrink in both women and men.
Ø Too high an intake of vitamin A: While this nutrient is most essential for hair health, going overboard with it can cause thinning of hair.
Ø Alcohol: depletes the levels of zinc in your body, and zinc is a necessary mineral for healthy hair and growth. Drinking alcohol also dehydrates you, which can make your hair more brittle.
Do your hair a favour, and make sure that your daily diet contains the following nutrients from natural food sources:
Ø Protein: Your hair’s structure is made up of a protein called keratin. When your protein stores are low, amino acids needed to build this protein become unavailable, thus making hair grow slower and weaker. The amino acid, lysine, is one of the most important for keratin formation. Lean meats, eggs, beans, pulses, nuts and spirulina are must-haves in your diet.
Ø The B-vitamin, Biotin, helps in hair growth and strength by aiding amino acid production. Egg yolks, mushrooms, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, almonds and walnuts are smart choices on your meal and snack plate.
Ø Folate, B12 and B6 are B-vitamins that help create RBCs (Red Blood Cells), which carry oxygen and nutrients to the scalp. Dark green leafy vegetables such as broccoli and spinach, pork, and low-fat dairy should be your choices.
Ø Vitamin D – sunlight exposure for just about 15 minutes every day – will stimulate hair follicles that have become dormant.
Ø Vitamin E, present in nuts and seeds, reduces oxidative stress in the scalp, which is known to be associated with alopecia.
Ø Iron: Hair follicles receive nourishing oxygen from the iron in your RBCs. It would do you good to do a blood test to check your ferritin (iron stores) levels as low ferritin is associated with slow or halted hair growth as well as hair shedding. Iron-rich foods on your plate should include lean meats, sprouts, fish, ragi and rice flakes.
Ø Vitamin C not only enhances the absorption of iron from your diet but also strengthens collagen, a structural protein that makes up connective tissue which hair follicles require for optimal growth. Berries, oranges, limes, bell peppers, guavas, Brussels’ sprouts pack a punch of this vitamin.
Ø Omega-3 fatty acids counteract inflammation that causes hair shedding; they also prevent a dry scalp. Fish, flax seeds and walnuts are your best bet.
Ø Zinc stimulates oil glands, thus protecting your hair from dryness and dandruff. This mineral also strengthens hair follicles and prevents hair loss by binding hair proteins. Shellfish, sunflower seeds, whole grains, groundnuts are excellent sources of this essential mineral.
Ø Water is needed to maintain hair hydration to avoid dryness and breaking. In addition to drinking optimal quantities of water each day, make sure you load up on water-abundant fruits and veggies.
Supplements should not be your first line of treatment to deal with hair worries. Ensure a balanced, micronutrient-packed diet and do a blood test before you choose supplements as a source of nutrition for your hair. Do remember that your body absorbs natural nutrients better than those in supplemental form.
Sheryl Afonso E D’souza
Clinical nutritionist (Norbert’s Fitness studio) & Dept. Head (M.Sc. Food technology, Carmel college)