In a culture with a high dependency on hair care products, it’s hard not to buy into a narrative that touts topical products as the only important factor when it comes to having healthy hair, and the only culprit when things go wrong. Haircare products are undoubtedly important, but for the most part, they function primarily to help maintain and preserve the level of hair health that you already have. Nutrition, and hair supplements when needed, are key if you want to focus on improving it.
The truth about our hair health
A lot of the damage our hair faces is inflicted on hair that has already emerged. However, it is important for us to note that a significant part of our hair and scalp health is predetermined by our body’s biochemistry, long before the hair even begins to sprout from our scalp, or comes into contact with any products. In addition to other things, your body needs the right balance of nutrients to function optimally. Any nutrient imbalance in your bloodstream (be it a deficiency or surplus) can possibly interfere with the scalp’s ability to produce good quality hairs.
Key nutrients that affect hair growth
With that said, here are some of the nutrients that research has shown to adversely affect healthy hair growth when imbalanced in the body.
Proteins are made up of amino acids which your body absorbs for the purpose of building tissue in the body. This goes for muscles, bones, skin, nails and (yep, you guessed it), hair. Protein accounts for roughly 90% of hair fibre, so it makes sense that protein deficiencies have not only been linked to poorer quality hair, but also hair loss.
A good rule of thumb for adults is to consume 1 gram of protein daily per kg of your weight. So, if you weigh 75kg, you should consume 75g of protein to minimise the risk of hair loss from protein deficiency. Those on vegan and vegetarian diets should aim to consume slightly more than this, due to the fact that the body has more difficulty absorbing amino acids from plant sources of protein than from animal protein.
Key amino acids found in the hair include cysteine, serine, proline, and glutamic acid. Supplements that contain these amino acids and/or proteins that contain high concentrations of them (e.g. keratin and collagen) can help to maintain a sufficient amount required for healthy hair growth.
When it comes to human biochemistry, few things work in isolation. In addition to adequate protein consumption, there are minerals that help support and maintain healthy hair.
We already know hair is largely made up of the protein keratin, and one of the key and most prominent amino acids in keratin is cysteine. Sulphur is a major component of the amino acid cysteine and consequently keratin, and it contributes to the formation of disulphide bonds that are responsible for the hair’s strength, elasticity, and structural shape. Though research remains inconclusive, many studies have found significant links between increased sulphur intake and increased density, growth and strength of the hair. This causal relationship is further supported by genetic diseases such as trichothiodystrophy, which is characterised by sulphur-deficient hair that is chronically short, dry and brittle.
Animal proteins, brussels sprouts, asparagus, onions, and garlic are all examples of sulphur-rich foods that can be incorporated into your diet to support the formation of quality keratin. Additionally, sulphur supplementation in the form of Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) can be taken in doses of up to 3g/day in an attempt to further boost the benefits of sulphur in the hair.
This mineral is key in the production of proteins (like haemoglobin) in your body. Now, iron is stored as ferritin in your blood, and this ferritin “store” is where your body draws the iron that it needs to supply blood and oxygen to your vital organs. Ferritin can also be found in the hair follicles, and when your body is low in iron or anaemic, some research suggests that your body will take whatever it can find from less vital sources (like the hair follicle) in order to supply more vital bodily functions. This has been known to result in an increase in hair shedding and poorer quality hairs.
Whilst the acceptable range for ferritin in the blood is 12-150ng/mL for females, trichological research suggests that levels of 70ng/mL and above are ideal for there to be sufficient iron to supply the vital organs without compromising the hair.
Vitamins are essential for several bodily functions, including growing new cells that make up new hair. If you have a deficiency of those vitamins which typically nourish and support healthy hair, you might notice that your mane starts to look dry and lacklustre.
Research has consistently shown that much like with iron, deficiencies in Vitamin D have also been linked to varying forms of hair loss. Hair supplements usually go up to 400IU of vitamin D, but because these doses are lower than the daily requirement, they can be taken in addition to getting more sun and eating foods that are rich in vitamin D, to minimise risk of deficiency.
Now, you might want to brace yourself because this one might require some recalibrating. Biotin aids the synthesis of other nutrients and vitamins, and thus in the health of your hair, skin and nails. This is even to the extent that key symptoms of biotin deficiency include brittle hair and hair loss.
However, the research supporting the use of biotin to promote increased hair growth is very minimal. Additionally, deficiency in biotin due to a poor diet is extremely rare due to the fact that it is found in a variety of commonly eaten foods: legumes, nuts, eggs, sweet potatoes, bananas, and broccoli. So whilst biotin continues to play an important role in supporting healthy hair growth, note that additional hair supplements are most effective in cases of deficiency.
The Game Plan
Arrange a blood test to get a clear picture of your current levels before you begin charting your course for improvement. Surpluses, as well as deficiencies, can be equally problematic for your body, and thus your hair health, so this is an important step.
Once you are aware of your baseline, adopting a balanced and nutrient-rich diet will always be the best place to kickstart a journey to better long-term hair health. Remember that hair supplements are only supposed to make up for what you are unable to get enough of through your diet, so focus on the minerals and vitamins you are low or deficient in. For an extra boost, you may wish to look into hair supplements that contain a cocktail of some of the key nutrients mentioned above. Curlsmith Ultimate Lengths 30-Day Therapy is an example of such supplements. They contain keratin, collagen and Biotin to help support healthy hair from within.
The truth about hair supplements
While many brands tout hair supplements as the be-all and end-all solution to make your hair immediately healthy, you are unlikely to see improvements overnight. Consider this approach to hair health a long term investment, as it can only affect the hair that is yet to emerge from the scalp - and not the hair that you can currently see. It takes roughly 4-6 weeks to grow half an inch of new hair, so be patient, and keep track of your progress over time, through quarterly to bi-annual follow-up blood tests. In the meantime, you can support your nutritional efforts by using scalp-focused products like Curlsmith Scalp Recipes, which will help supercharge your hair healthy journey.