A certain amount of hair loss is normal. The average person normally sheds 50 to 100 hairs every day. The hair shed daily is not necessarily permanent hair loss. Most of the hair we shed grows back.
All hairs have a life expectancy of three to six years. At any given time, some of our hair is growing, some is done growing and in the resting stage, and some is in the falling-out stage.
Nutritional deficiencies can contribute to increased hair shedding by weakening hair shafts that cause breakage to the hair and slow regrowth.
Hair problems that are caused by nutritional deficiencies can be corrected by a proper diet. Principal nutrients that are involved include vitamin A, certain B vitamins, the vitamin biotin, vitamin C, copper, iron, zinc, protein, and water.
Adequate intake of vitamin A is vital in helping to promote the growth and health of cells and tissues throughout the body, including the hair and scalp.
Prolonged vitamin A deficiency can lead to hair loss and dandruff caused by the buildup of cellular debris in the hair follicles.
The daily intake of vitamin A for adults is 5,000 IU (international units). The body actually gets vitamin A in two ways: from plant sources in the form of carotenoids, such as beta carotene, that convert to vitamin A in the body.
These sources include red, yellow, and orange fruits and vegetables as well as some dark green leafy vegetables. The body also gets vitamin A from animal sources in the form of retinol. Good animal sources include:
- fish oil
- fortified milk
- other foods fortified with vitamin A
Vitamin B6, folic acid, vitamin B12
All three of these B vitamins are essential to the normal formation of red blood cells or the hemoglobin (iron-containing) portion of red blood cells.
The primary function of hemoglobin is to carry oxygen from the lungs to tissues in the body, including the hair. Healthy and strong hair is dependent on a constant supply of blood and oxygen.
A deficiency of these B vitamins can cause reduced blood and oxygen supply to the hair, leading to increased hair shedding, damaged hair, and slow regrowth. The reference daily intake of vitamin B6 is 2.0 milligrams per day for the average adult. The best sources of vitamin B6 are protein-rich foods such as:
Whole grains, cereals, nuts, and legumes also contain reasonable amounts.
The reference daily intake of folic acid is 400 micrograms for the average adult. Sources of folic acid include:
- leafy vegetables
- orange juice
- brewer’s yeast
- wheat germ
- some fortified cereals
Most enriched grain products, such as bread, flour, rice, macaroni, and noodles, must be fortified with folic acid according to a new law.
The reference daily intake of vitamin Bl2 is 6.0 micrograms for the average adult. B12 is found mostly in animal foods such as:
- other dairy foods
For people who eat a healthy diet, biotin deficiency is rare. Besides getting biotin from select food sources, biotin is also manufactured in our intestines by gut bacteria. In rare instances though, biotin deficiency can cause hair loss.
A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition researched two adult patients receiving TPN (total parenteral nutrition, which is a form of nutrition used by the very ill who cannot use their gut for digestion and must have specialized nutrition through a large catheter inserted directly into the vein) on a long-term basis.
Both patients had severe loss of hair. These patients, due to their medical condition, did not manufacture biotin in their gut and consumed no biotin orally or parenterally. Daily supplementation of biotin resulted in the gradual regrowth of healthy hair.
Seborrheic dermatitis is a common condition that results in excessive oiliness and dandruff on the scalp.
This condition usually occurs in infants and the elderly. In infancy this condition is known as cradle cap. Several case studies have shown successful treatment of cradle cap when the mother is given biotin if breast-feeding or given directly to the infant if she is not.
The beneficial effects of biotin on the health of hair possibly reflect an ability for the vitamin to improve the metabolism of scalp oil. The reference daily intake for biotin is 300 micrograms for the average adult. Biotin is found in a wide variety of food. Some of the best sources include:
- yeast breads
A vitamin C deficiency can cause the hair to be susceptible to problematic splitting and breaking.
This usually only occurs with severe deficiency and can be reversed when vitamin C intake is increased.
Vitamin C is essential to producing collagen, a connective tissue that gives structure by holding tissues in the body together, such as the tissue in hair.
The reference daily intake for vitamin C is 60 milligrams for the average adult. People who smoke need twice as much vitamin C as nonsmokers. Vitamin C is found in plant sources such as:
- citrus fruits
- dark green leafy vegetables
Copper is a trace mineral that is essential for the formation of hemoglobin and is needed to carry oxygen in red blood cells.
Hemoglobin is necessary for the maintenance of an adequate supply of blood to the hair shaft.
A deficiency of copper can weaken the hair shaft and cause increased hair shedding. A deficiency rarely comes from not getting enough copper in the diet; instead, it usually comes from genetic problems or from too much zinc in the diet.
Excess zinc from dietary supplements can inhibit the absorption of copper in the body. The reference daily intake of copper is 2.0 milligrams for the average adult. The best sources of copper include:
- organ meats, especially liver
Iron’s main job is to carry oxygen in the hemoglobin of red blood cells. Iron deficiency can lead to a condition called anemia and can lead to possible hair loss or increased hair shedding. Anemia can be easily diagnosed with a blood test and is characterized by fatigue, weakness, and general poor health.
Anemia can be caused by more than just iron deficiency. The reference daily intake for iron is 18 milligrams. The recommended daily allowance of iron increases during pregnancy and breast-feeding.
It also increases for women who are pre-menopausal due to blood and iron losses from the menstrual flow. There are two types of iron sources: heme and non-heme iron. Heme iron is absorbed in the body more easily. Heme iron sources include animal products such as meat.
Non-heme iron comes from mostly plant foods, such as spinach, red kidney beans, and bran. It is not absorbed as easily in the body as heme iron. You can enhance your body’s ability to absorb non-heme iron by consuming vitamin C sources and heme iron sources in the same meal.
Dandruff and hair loss are both conditions associated with zinc deficiency.
Zinc is a mineral that promotes cell reproduction and tissue growth and repair. Zinc also functions in the maintenance of the oil-secreting glands attached to hair follicles.
The reference daily intake of zinc is 15 milligrams for the average adult. Good sources of zinc include foods of animal origin, including seafood.
Eggs and milk also supply zinc in smaller amounts. Whole-grain products, nuts, seeds, and legumes contain zinc, but in a form that is less available to the body.
Protein is needed by every cell in the body, including the cells needed in normal hair growth. Without adequate protein intake, the body cannot efficiently make new hair to replace the hair that has shed. Protein comes from:
- soy products
All of these protein foods contain complete proteins or proteins that contain all nine essential amino acids (building blocks of proteins) necessary for optimal health.
Plant foods such as dried beans, seeds, nuts, grain products, and many vegetables also contain protein, but not in the complete form.
Eating a variety of plant foods helps to ensure you receive adequate amounts of amino acids.
Water is one of the most important nutrients essential for life. Proper hydration is an important factor in healthy hair and in promoting good health.
The recommended amount of water to drink each day is 64 ounces or eight 8-ounce glasses. Every cell and every system in the body uses water to function properly.
Water is involved in the transport of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and many other nutrients.
Most cases of balding or permanent hair loss results from genetic disposition or heredity influences.
Temporary hair loss or hair shedding can result from poor nutrition, among other conditions. Good nutrition can be potentially beneficial to the health of your hair and scalp.
If you consume a healthy diet, nutrient deficiencies, as described above, should not be a problem. A healthy diet includes eating most of your calories from the following:
- grain products
- reduced-fat dairy products
- lean meat
- unsaturated fats
Good nutrition also means eating fewer calories from saturated fats and sweets.
Experts agree that following the Food Guide Pyramid, which is a general eating guide that includes all of the daily food groups, offers a reliable and easy-to-follow plan to guide you through developing a healthy diet.
A healthy diet ensures the intake of essential vitamins and minerals that contribute to your health and a healthy head of hair.
Regular exercise and stress management, limiting alcohol intake, and avoiding tobacco are also essential to good health and are important for the prevention and treatment of temporary hair loss.