3 Healthy-Hair Nutrients You Need

A white woman in a tank top admires her long, dark, thick and healthy hair in a mirror

If you’re hoping to grow thicker, fuller, more radiant hair, the secret starts with proper nutrition. But what is the best nutrient for hair loss? And is there a hair-nurturing super food? Read on to find out!

Why Nutrition Matters
We all know that frying your hair with too much heat or too many harsh products can cause breakage that leaves hair looking damaged and thin. But being gentler with your locks isn’t the only way to improve your hair’s thickness and health.

As with all things health, what you eat can play a big role when it comes to your hair’s growth rate and appearance. For example, a poor diet can introduce free radicals into the body. While some free radicals are necessary, too many can contribute to oxidative stress.

What is oxidative stress? According to an article published in the journal Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, oxidative stress is “…a harmful process that can negatively affect several cellular structures, such as membranes, lipids, proteins, lipoproteins, and deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA).”

Drinking alcohol can lead to an increase in reactive oxygen species, which cause free radical damage, and may also make it harder for the body to defend itself against this oxidative damage. Consuming too much sugar can cause the body to generate more reactive oxygen species. Fried foods, processed foods, and foods high in fat have also been linked to a higher risk of long-term oxidative stress within the body.

As noted above, oxidative stress can affect the proteins in our bodies. This is especially important to consider if you’re focused on hair health, because hair is primarily composed of the protein keratin.

But oxidative stress isn’t the only side effect of a poor diet. It can also lead to nutrient deficiencies, which can affect things like hair’s shine and luster. Even more alarming, research shows nutrient deficiencies can impact follicle development and may even disrupt the hair growth cycle.

Eating Your Way to Better Hair
If poor nutrition is the problem, which foods and nutrients are the solution? Here are three you should add to your arsenal if you’re looking for improved hair growth and better overall hair health.

Antioxidants
We know oxidative stress can negatively affect our hair, so one solution is – of course – antioxidants. Antioxidants are substances that help protect the body against free radicals and the damage they can wreak on your cells. Antioxidant-rich foods include berries, melons, dark chocolate (at least 70% cacao), green olives, leafy green vegetables, pineapple, and oranges.

Coffee and green tea are two more potent antioxidant providers.

Finally, spices – even in small amounts – can also pack a powerful antioxidant punch. Cinnamon, clove, Allspice, oregano, and mint leaves have a particularly high antioxidant content.

Supplementing with l-theanine (an amino acid), ashwagandha (a plant extract), vitamin C, and vitamin E can also help bump up your antioxidant intake.

A charcuterie board covered with salmon, shrimp, avocado, spinach, walnuts, and hummus

Healthy Fats
Omega-3 and omega 6 fatty acids have been shown (in limited studies) to increase the number of hairs in the growth phase and increase hair density. Our bodies don’t produce omega-3s, so we have to get them from our diet. If you prefer to get yours from food rather than through a supplement, avocados, nuts, and salmon are all great sources.

Keratin
Because hair is primarily made of keratin, many women often turn to keratin supplements to help improve their hair health. The problem? Keratin supplements made from animal horns or hooves are not easily digested by the body. In essence, the nutrient passes right through you, which doesn’t do your hair any good.

Instead, look for a clinically validated, hydrolyzed form of keratin. This means the keratin has been broken down using water, which makes it more bioavailable – easier for our bodies to break down and use. When you’re shopping for a hair supplement, look for the words “hydrolyzed keratin” or “keratin hydrolysate” on the label.

Being mindful of things like overstyling and avoiding harsh dyes and hair products can definitely have a positive impact on the way your locks look. But don’t forget the importance of eating for healthier hair.

For more information on hair loss, check out our Combatting Women’s Hair Loss article.