Get to the root of hair loss with the right diet and nutrients
We often think of hair loss as an inevitable part of aging. To some degree, that’s true—as many as 50% of Americans over the age of 40 experience some hair loss. However, as with any health condition, it’s a little more complicated than that. Whether or not we retain healthy hair follicles can depend on genetics, nutrition, hormones, circulation to the scalp, and other factors.
This is actually good news for people suffering from hair loss, termed alopecia. It means we don’t have to accept thinning hair as a fact of life. There are a number of natural approaches that can potentially halt—and possibly even reverse—the process of hair loss. Even better, by addressing underlying issues linked to alopecia, we can improve overall vitality while growing healthier hair.
Nourish Your Scalp from Within
Sometimes, hair loss can be linked to a vitamin or mineral deficiency—no surprise, as our bodies simply don’t function effectively without good nutrition. A basic nutrient-dense diet that emphasizes lean proteins, lots of vegetables, fruit, healthy fats, and sprouted whole grains is key. Hair is made up of protein, so eating more high-quality protein, such as wild salmon, sprouted legumes and grains, and free-range meats and eggs, can be helpful. And increasing your intake of omega-3 fatty acids (found in wild salmon, sardines, walnuts, and flax and chia seeds), is also good for scalp and hair health.
Hair loss can also stem from an iron deficiency. Green leafy vegetables are a good source of iron. (Beef can provide iron, but can also drive production of sebum, which has been linked to hair loss, so it’s best eaten in moderation.) Some people experiencing hair loss may also have a zinc deficiency. This essential mineral can be found in cashews, spinach, beans, mushrooms, oysters, flax seeds, and other foods.
Taking a quality multivitamin/mineral and omega-3 supplement ensures adequate intake of the nutrients you need for lustrous locks.
Are you so stressed that you feel like pulling your hair out? You may be losing hair anyway. Chronic stress can actually thin your hair by fueling inflammation and hormone imbalances, which can contribute to hair loss. Meditation, yoga, tai chi, and other stress-reduction techniques can reduce inflammation and lower stress hormones, while also increasing circulation—another hair health benefit.
Hormone imbalances commonly lead to hair loss. Often, the cause of hormone imbalance is an underactive thyroid. This small gland in the throat secretes hormones that govern cellular energy, as well as how the body reacts to other hormones. Sea vegetables, such as kelp, nori, and dulse, are loaded with iodine, which can help regulate the thyroid and promote healthy hair growth. Because hair loss is a hallmark symptom of thyroid hormone imbalances, have your health care provider test your levels.
Hormone changes that occur with age are another factor in hair loss. Aging can bring imbalances in androgenic hormones, with elevated dihyrdrotestosterone (DHT), triggering “male pattern balding” in both men and women. The Traditional Chinese herb shen min is often included in both supplement and topical formulas to block DHT and thereby help prevent hair loss in men and women. And look for supplements specially formulated for men and women that blend targeted herbs, vitamins, and minerals; botanical antioxidants; and biotin and other B vitamins, all of which are important for healthy hair and scalp. Gender-specific multinutrient formulas can help balance hormones and nourish hair follicles.
Fight Baldness with Botanicals
For both men and women, there are a variety of herbal supplements that have been shown in preclinical studies to increase hair growth and provide other benefits. Here are some of the most effective.
- Eclipta Alba, also called false daisy, has been used to support liver and eye health. A number of studies have shown that it can also encourage hair growth.
- Cuscuta reflexa has been used as a muscle relaxant, antioxidant, and antiviral. It’s also been found to help grow hair.
- Tectona grandis Linn seeds have long been used by Ayurvedic practitioners to increase hair growth. One study found they are at least as good as the drug minoxidil, available in over-the-counter topical treatments to treat hair loss in men and women.
- Indian gooseberry (amla), applied topically, has been shown to regulate local hormone levels in hair follicles.
- Fighting hair loss is part of a holistic approach to good health. As we focus on nutrition, healthy stress relief, and hormone balance, we are also rewarded with other benefits: Greater energy, vitality, and sense of well-being. Add in the extra confidence afforded by healthy looking hair, and your overall well-being can really “take root.”
NIX YOUR RX?
Some prescription drugs can play a role in hair loss. For example, birth control pills and antidepressants have been linked to alopecia. Generally, these only impair hair growth temporarily. After the prescription is stopped, hair will often grow back. Visit rxisk.org to search drug side effects.
Isaac Eliaz, MD, LAc, MS, is an integrative physician, and founder and medical director of Amitabha Medical Clinic in Santa Rosa, Calif. Visit dreliaz.org to learn more.
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