Loving Your Locks
A well-balanced diet can help keep your hair where it belongs—on your head.
by Naomi Mannino
Before Cherie Calbom was the “Juice Lady,” a clinical and celebrity nutritionist, she was a desperate woman suffering from constant illness. But when she started juicing as a last ditch effort to improve her health and save her life, she never expected to see the results show up in her hair.
On the typical American diet high in fat, salt, sugar, red meat and processed foods, hair just doesn’t have a fighting chance, says Calbom. “It’s no wonder hair loss and hair thinning is such a problem in our culture. When your body has to go into overdrive to supply body systems with the necessary nutrients just to survive, the first areas to suffer are hair, skin and nails, and I saw that first-hand,” notes Calbom, MS, author of The Juice Lady’s Guide to Juicing for Health (Avery).
Make the Cut
“I have noticed a direct correlation in my practice between people who have a high sugar intake and hair loss and thinning issues, so if this is a problem for you, I recommend cutting out sugar immediately,” advises Calbom. She suspects that anything that is acidic in your body such as sugar, red meat, coffee, soda, processed saturated fats and highly refined grains—none of which provides the body with crucial nutrients—hampers oxygen delivery from blood to cells, including those found in hair follicles. “Eating these substances fills your body with empty calories instead of what it needs, and caffeine and soda actually leach nutrients from your blood,” cautions Calbom.
Calbom suggests eating a diet that provides the raw ingredients from which hair is produced. Hair is made up of a rigid protein called keratin; a diet deficient in protein can cause hair loss and thinning. So can a very-low-calorie diet of less than 600 calories per day, which is lacking in nutrients.
Keratin has a high sulfur content. This means you should eat a diet rich in not only protein but also sulfur, such as broccoli, brussel sprouts and cabbage in addition to eggs, legumes and lean meat or poultry, advises Calbom. By eating a variety of healthy whole foods, you will get all the essential amino acids (protein building blocks) an adult needs.
In addition, Calbom explains, hair needs essential fatty acids to support shiny, healthy hair growth. But these acids are not produced within your body and must be taken from your diet. Use cold-pressed nut and seed oils, such as flax seed and extra virgin olive oil, daily on salads and in any dishes that do not require heating to get your essential omega-6 fatty acids (also available as borage, evening primrose and black currant seed oils). Add to that omega-3 fatty acids from fish at least once a week (found in supplement form as fish oil).
Dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale, alfalfa and parsley, as well as other vegetables such as green pepper and broccoli, affect hair growth because they deliver the free radical-fighting antioxidants vitamins E and C, plus the B vitamins hair needs to flourish. In addition, vitamin C supports the formation of collagen. This tough, flexible protein is found throughout the skin and connective tissues, including those of the scalp.
Eric Schweiger, MD, board-certified dermatologist and hair transplant surgeon at Bernstein Medical in New York City, says that although the quality, quantity and distribution of your hair is
genetically pre-determined, solving hair malnutrition problems can make a difference in the health and appearance of your hair.
“I commonly see thin, menstruating women in my practice showing an increase in shedding and hair loss due to low iron storage levels, specifically feritin. By increasing iron intake through a basic iron supplement, the hair grows back, although slowly,” Schweiger says. For brittle, easily broken hair, Schweiger recommends also supplementing with biotin, one of the B vitamins, at 1,000 to 5,000 micrograms per day. MSM, a form of organic sulfur, promotes healthy development of both keratin and collagen.
Don’t abandon hope just because your hair is abandoning ship. Improving your diet with foods that provide key hair-growth nutrients can make a world of difference.