Dr. Susan Slipacoff, ND
Luscious locks. Flowing tresses. Who doesn’t want to have a full head of shiny hair? Our culture certainly gives us the message that beautiful hair symbolizes youth and beauty.
However, particularly as we age, many of us find that the soft, full hair we may have taken for granted in our younger days starts to fade and becomes thinner and more brittle. These changes can happen to both men and women and are commonly seen by my patients experiencing hormone imbalances. The issue can be related to nutrient deficiencies, thyroid function, the adrenals (stress glands) and/or the sex hormones (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone and DHEA).
In the article below you will find information on key factors including related nutrients, the gut hair connection along with the top 10 tips for making your hair as healthy and thick as it can be.
If you need additional and more personalized advice, make an appointment with one of the naturopathic doctors so that we can help put together the best treatment plan for you.
Of course, it makes sense that hair can be damaged as we age. Because hair grows so slowly (less than half an inch every month), the hair on your head may have experienced years of sun exposure and damage from the elements. It also is affected by hormonal changes in our bodies which play a role in both hair growth, texture, and those pesky grey hairs of course!
What’s the solution? The beauty industry tells us the secret to beautiful hair is finding the right “products.” And it’s definitely possible to spend hundreds of dollars trying to find the perfect match.
However, no matter how many shampoo reviews you read, you can only find so much hair magic in a bottle. In fact, many shampoos and other hair products can actually damage your hair because they contain harmful substances.
The truth is that beautiful hair starts from within. As a result, what we put into our bodies is far more important than what we put on our hair.
To fully understand the impact of lifestyle choices on your hair, it helps to know more about its composition - the main building blocks that give hair its strength and structure.
Hair strands are composed of a protein called keratin (in fact, so are your nails). One of the primary components in keratin is choline, an essential nutrient with many roles in the body that is found in a variety of foods such as eggs, salmon and cauliflower.
Vitamin B7 (also known as biotin) contributes to the formation of keratin. Because of this relationship, it’s not surprising that scientists have found that being deficient in biotin can lead to hair loss. In fact, one study found that supplementing with biotin helped slow hair loss in women with thinning hair, leading to fuller, shinier hair as well as smoother skin after 6 months.
Interestingly, scientists have also found that the amount of bad bacteria in our gut affects the formation of biotin. That means that beautiful hair isn’t necessarily as simple as making sure you have consumed enough biotin. Your digestion and absorption need to be working right too.
Factors that can positively influence the delicate balance of gut bacteria, and in turn improve biotin production, include managing your stress levels, keeping sugary snacks in check and ensuring your nutrition is balanced.
Now that you have a clearer understanding of the factors behind healthy hair, how can you overcome the effects of aging and environmental damage? Check out these tips for a healthy head of hair.
Cortisol isn’t the only hormone that can impact your hair health. If you’re experiencing hair loss or changes to hair texture, you should check the levels of your other hormones as well.
For example, low levels of thyroid hormone can indicate a stressed-out thyroid. One of the thyroid’s “lesser” jobs is to regulate hair growth, however in times of stress the body will focus all of the thyroid’s energies on more important functions such as regulating the body’s temperature and metabolism. Hence thinning hair is one of many possible symptoms of lowered thyroid function.
Low estrogen, which may be a sign of perimenopause or other hormonal imbalances, can also lead to hair troubles. While slower growth of pubic and underarm hair might easily go unnoticed, an estrogen imbalance can mean that androgens have a stronger effect on hair follicles, leading to thinning hair on the head, and even rogue chin hairs.
These are just a few reasons why the best start to improving your hair’s texture and fullness begins with testing to see where your hormonal levels are and ensuring you are balanced.
Good sources of biotin include:
(Bonus: Biotin will also strengthen your nails!)
This may seem like a no-brainer, since hair is composed of protein. Keep in mind that your protein sources don’t have to be meat-based, since the protein found in plant sources are just as effective.
In addition to biotin, the amino acid cystine assists in the formation of keratin. Good sources of cystine include garlic, onions, broccoli, brussels sprouts, oats, wheat germ, sprouted lentils and eggs.
One of the many roles of minerals in the body is growth, and iron and zinc in particular contribute to keratin formation which helps your hair to grow strong.
Zinc can also protect your hair from sun damage just as zinc oxide in sunscreens can protect your skin from sunburn, and zinc helps your body flush out excess insulin too. Good sources of zinc include shellfish, beans, and seeds.
When you eat a lot of sugar, your blood sugar rises. In response, your body produces more of the hormones insulin and androgens such as testosterone, which have a shrinking effect on hair follicles. That means your hair could start growing finer and more brittle.
Smoking increases the speed at which your body breaks down and excretes biotin, reducing the amount of biotin in your blood and leading to weaker hair and nail growth.
Consumption of food with high levels of mercury has been linked to hair loss. Some kinds of tuna, swordfish and mackerel can all contain high levels of mercury.
To protect your hair, you want to reduce the damage that can be caused by free radicals. Those are compounds that can damage your cells, and they’re often created by environmental factors and the internal processes that can be triggered by stress.
Choline, one of the building blocks of keratin, is found in collagen. Collagen can also strengthen the layer of your skin that contains hair follicles. (This layer of skin is called the dermis). With a stronger anchor point, hair is less likely to fall out.
Many shampoos, conditioners, and styling products contain ingredients that can be hard on your hair and unhealthy for you. The reality is that many of them don’t address hair problems where they originate - in the protein structure of the hair itself. Instead, they “gloss” over any problems with superficial coverings. Plus, many substances used in hair products can be absorbed by your skin, and have been linked to cancer. In addition, many are harmful to the environment. So avoid products with sulfates, parabens, and silicones. Your hair will thank you!