Boosting Hair Health - Ask a Nutritionist

February 8, 2024

In this second of a special two-part episode of Ask a Nutritionist, Brandy reviews diet strategies, nutrients and supplements to maintain and promote healthy hair growth.

Learn to identify behavioral triggers and food sensitivities that may impact the health of your hair, and how to counteract that with ways to care for your gut health, stress management, and changes to your diet.

Be sure to catch up with part one of this series, found in last week's episode of Ask A Nutritionist called "Reasons Why You Might Be Losing Your Hair."

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BRANDY: Welcome to Dishing Up Nutrition's “Ask a Nutritionist” podcast brought to you by Nutritional Weight and Wellness. My name is Brandy Buro. I'm a Licensed and Registered Dietitian. We are so excited to be celebrating 20 years on air, discussing the connection between what you eat and how you feel while sharing real life solutions for healthier living through balanced nutrition.

Thank you all so much for your support and listenership over all of these years. So if you tuned in last week, you know that we started a two part episode all about hair loss and hair health and nutrition solutions to promote hair growth. This topic was inspired by two questions that came in from our Dishing Up Nutrition listeners who have concerns about hair loss.

One listener was experiencing hair loss not only on their head, but also on their eyebrows and their limbs, on their legs. And our other listener had been experiencing some hair loss after COVID, and both listeners wanted to know how they can promote hair growth. So last week in part one, I reviewed some of the common causes of hair loss, which included nutrient deficiencies, poor gut health, autoimmune conditions, stress, hormonal imbalances, and insulin resistance.

So if you didn't listen to last week's episode, be sure that you check that out for all the details. There's also a great list of lab tests that you can request to help identify the root cause of hair loss if this is something that you're concerned about.

Now, this week in part two, I'll be reviewing some nutrition strategies to help stop hair loss and promote hair regrowth. And I'll also provide a list of key supplements for healthy hair near the end of this episode. The most effective strategy to treat hair loss will depend on the underlying cause of hair loss. So I do encourage you to check out last week's episode to try to zone in on what factors are most relevant to you.

Key nutrients & nutrition tips to support healthy hair

But even if you're not quite sure at this point what has caused hair loss, nutritionally there is still a lot you can do to support hair health and hair growth. So let's talk about some key nutrients and nutrition tips to build that foundation of healthy hair. So last week I talked about how undereating, especially undereating protein, could lead to hair loss.

Undereating can send a signal to your body that you're starving, triggering stress, and diverting nutrients from hair to tissues that are more vital for your survival. So it is important to make sure that you are providing your body with enough fuel from not just protein, but also from natural fats and real food carbohydrates like vegetables and fruit.

How do I know I’m eating enough?

So let's talk more about what is enough. How do I know I'm eating enough? Let's start with protein. Protein is packed with nutrients that we need to grow hair. So I do recommend that you start with a high quality animal based protein, like meat, fish, eggs, and seafood. And if you tolerate dairy, you could even think about doing some yogurt or cheese.

So these proteins all contain the amino acids that we need to build hair, but they're also very rich in some nutrients that are important in the hair growth process like iron, vitamin B12, and zinc. For most adults, I do recommend consuming at least four to six ounces of protein several times a day. So you think three meals with four to six ounces of animal based protein. For most people that means about 14 ounces or more of protein every day, and this is just to ensure that your organs, your bones, your muscles, they all have the protein that they need.

So I recommend that adults consume four to six ounces of protein three times per day. That means most people need at least 14 ounces of protein every day, and that's just to maintain your vital organs, maintain muscles and bones, so that your body does not have to borrow from these structures in order to survive.

And that means some of that protein is going to go towards your hair growth. So along with protein, we also want to be mindful of about consuming enough fat, natural fat. Fat is going to help hydrate your hair, making it soft and less prone to breakage and shedding. So add a serving of fat with each meal and each snack in order to get enough fats in your diet.

Some examples of a serving of natural fat would be a tablespoon of butter or olive oil or maybe half of an avocado or a quarter cup of nuts. So that's just a few examples. It's also important to get the right types of fat. The right types of fat and the balance of fats can help reduce inflammation in the body, even at the hair follicle.

So be very intentional about specifically adding essential fatty acids, particularly omega-3 fatty acids. These essential fatty acids can only be acquired through food, so you do have to be very intentional about getting these fats consistently every day. So some good sources of omega-3 fatty acids would be fatty fish or fish oil, pasture raised eggs, grass fed butter, walnuts and chia seeds. Those are a few of the food sources of omega-3s. And if you feel like you're not getting these types of fats in consistently every day, an omega-3 supplement would be recommended.

And another benefit of making sure you're adding fat with every meal is that it does add flavor to your food, especially those vegetables. It makes vegetables much easier to eat and as a bonus, those fats are actually going to help us absorb a lot of the vitamins in vegetables.

Let's talk more about vegetables. Those are the real food carbohydrates that we want in every meal, if possible. They are so rich in antioxidants, which can help reduce inflammation, but they also have key vitamins and minerals, and tons of fiber.

And I wanted to call attention to fiber because a fiber rich meal plan should be part of your hair health nutrition plan. Fiber is important for blood sugar control and good digestion. We learned last week about the connection between hair loss and poor blood sugar control and poor gut health.

This balance of fiber rich vegetables with natural fat and animal based proteins are going to provide not just the key nutrients you need for hair growth, but when you combine each of these things with each meal, it will stabilize your blood sugar. And when your blood sugar is balanced, you can help reduce stress in the body, help reduce inflammation in the body, and balancing your blood sugar is basically the very first step in treating or reversing insulin resistance.

Last week, we talked about how insulin resistance can lead to hormonal imbalances related to hair loss. So as you can tell, there is a lot hinging on this blood sugar piece. Just by balancing your blood sugar through the protein, natural fat, and vegetable combination, that is a key strategy to use for anybody concerned about hair loss.

I'll give you an example of a good blood sugar balancing meal. Maybe start with four ounces of a salmon filet, add a couple cups of vegetables like broccoli with carrots, maybe some red pepper, and a half a cup of wild rice. And then what I would do is add like a tablespoon of grass-fed butter.

Simple, delicious, and it is balancing your blood sugar. So plan a meal like that three times a day, maybe throw in a snack, and you are already doing a world of good for your hair health because you're stabilizing your blood sugar. And I work with clients every day to help them develop meal plans with this balance in mind.

Identifying potential food sensitivities

But also taking care to make sure we are identifying any potential food sensitivities that could be causing damage to the gut and triggering inflammation in the body. And I do recommend that to elevate your nutrition plan for hair growth, to think about potential food sensitivities and avoid them as much as you can to keep inflammation down and protect your gut.

One example of a very common food sensitivity among the clients that I see is gluten. Gluten is particularly irritating to the gut, which if it's in the diet and you don't realize you have a sensitivity, it could be causing damage to those intestinal cells and compromise nutrient absorption.

Food sensitivities can cause all sorts of symptoms, but some pretty uncomfortable digestive issues like heartburn, excessive bloating and gas, constipation, diarrhea. So if you're experiencing any of these symptoms, it is a sign that your gut health needs some attention. So that leads me to my last nutrition strategy for hair health.

Take care of your gut & digestive system

Simply put, you just need to take care of your gut and your digestive system. Without a healthy, well functioning digestive system, you just can't reap all the benefits from all the good foods that you're eating. And we need to be able to break down and absorb those nutrients so that our body has access to them.

Other than ensuring that you have good nutrient absorption, taking care of your gut is also going to protect your immune system. Protecting your immune system via the gut is not only going to help reduce inflammation, but it can also reduce your risk of developing an autoimmune condition or at least help manage the symptoms related to an autoimmune condition.

And we talked a little bit last week about how hair loss is sometimes a sign of an autoimmune condition. So healing your gut can be a very complex process depending on the person, depending on the state of their gut health. So I do recommend that you work with a dietitian or a nutritionist just to help figure out what the best steps forward are for you.

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Basic tips for good gut health

I'm just going to give you a few basic tips to get you started on good gut health. I think everybody could benefit from drinking plenty of water. So this can help prevent constipation. It can also hydrate your hair. So most people need at least 75, 85 ounces a day. Some people need more than that.

Fruits and vegetables, getting that fiber rich meal plan is also going to help your gut. Fiber feeds the beneficial bacteria in the gut, and that can help with digestion and nutrient absorption. And that bacteria also plays a role in protecting the health of those intestinal cells. You can also try to incorporate some natural sources of beneficial bacteria.

So that's going to be found in naturally fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi. full fat yogurt if you tolerate dairy. Those again are natural sources of beneficial bacteria also known as probiotics. And if those foods don't sound that great to you, maybe you consider taking a probiotic in supplement form.

And some people actually do much better with a probiotic in supplement form because you can get a more therapeutic dose and you can select specific strains of bacteria that work better with your biochemistry. So it would be helpful to get the guidance of a registered dietitian to help determine which probiotic is best for you.

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It's time for a quick break, but when we return, I'm going to share a few key supplements for healthy hair.


Key supplements for healthy hair

Welcome back. Now that we've covered some of the basic nutrition strategies for getting your hair health back on track, I wanted to point out a few basic but key supplements that can give you a little more support in addition to a good nutrition plan. I'm going to start with collagen. Collagen is the primary protein that strengthens and supports the structure of our hair, and we naturally lose collagen as we age and that's part of the reason we might see our skin start to sag or see wrinkles in certain areas or hair might start to become more brittle and more dull looking.

So you can supplement with some collagen powder to give yourself a little extra boost in that area. Collagen powder is really easy to use. It's relatively flavorless. You can mix it in a beverage, like a cup of tea, or maybe mix it in a smoothie. And like I said, relatively flavorless, so it's, pretty easy to take.

And the Key Collagen brand contains a specific peptide called Verisol that specifically targets hair and nail growth. Another great source of collagen would be bone broth. So bone broth is fairly easy to make on your own and we do have a great step by step guide on our website,, if that's something you'd like to try. There are a few good store bought options out there nowadays, too.

Next on my list is essential fatty acids. So I touched on this earlier when we were talking about incorporating fat into your meal plan to help hydrate your hair. Omega-3 fatty acids and another essential fat called GLA are both great for hydrating hair and helping reduce inflammation around the hair follicle.

Omega-3s, again, are particularly helpful in reducing inflammation. So, to get that anti-inflammatory effect, I recommend supplementing with around 3,000 milligrams of Omega-3 daily, and take that with food. GLA, or Gamma Linoleic Acid, is a special type of omega-6 fatty acid that helps maintain the moisture and the elasticity of our tissues, including the hair. So, great for hair health. I recommend doing about three to six capsules of the GLA-160 daily, and that equates to about 500 to 1,000 milligrams daily.

Next on my list is B vitamins. B vitamins help our bodies metabolize or basically process the protein, the fat, and the carbohydrates that we consume so that we can use those materials to build hair and keep it healthy.

And biotin is an important B vitamin in our hair health because it's involved in making keratin. Keratin is the primary protein in hair. So I recommend 300 micrograms of biotin every day for hair health. But honestly, there shouldn't be a reason to supplement with biotin if you have a high quality multivitamin.

So a good multivitamin should supply you with all the biotin you need, along with all the other B vitamins that support hair health. A great example of a high quality multivitamin is Nutrikey’s Twice Per Day. So it contains exactly 300 micrograms of biotin, and it also contains vitamin B12. So, great basic multivitamin that is great for just about anyone.

Iron is my next key supplement for hair health because iron helps supply oxygen to the scalp and the hair follicles. So, a supplement may not be necessary if you are not deficient. And you may not need iron if you are consuming enough protein and your gut health is in check. But I do recommend that you get your iron levels tested and your ferritin level checked just to rule out a deficiency.

The next supplement is zinc. Zinc is important for building proteins in the body. It's also important in normal cell growth. So you can picture how important that would be for growing hair. So I recommend about 30 to 50 milligrams per day. And you definitely want to take zinc with a full meal. Do not try to take that on an empty stomach because it can cause some nausea.

Vitamin E is another key nutrient for hair because it helps build the capillaries, those tiny little blood vessels that gets the blood to the scalp, gets the nutrients to the hair follicle. So, vitamin E is very important for promoting hair growth. I recommend about 400 international units of mixed tocopherols vitamin E daily.

And do take that with a meal that has some natural fat, because Vitamin E is one of those fat soluble vitamins that is absorbed in the presence of fat. So keep that in mind. My last key supplement for hair health is vitamin D. It's important for overall health, but it does play a role in regulating your body's inflammatory process, and it's involved in the function of your hair follicles.

So, most people actually do need to take a supplement to prevent deficiency, especially if you are living in a northern latitude, like we do here in Minnesota. But even if you live in a sunny state, if you are not outside and actually exposing yourself to that daytime sunlight most days out of the week, you may need a supplement.

I do recommend that you get your vitamin D level checked to determine if you need a supplement, how much you need to supplement. So when you get that test done, we want to see your blood level between 50 and 80 nanograms per milliliter. I think most people will do fine if they supplement with 2,000 international units. But if you are deficient, you probably need to bump that up to 5,000 international units every day.

Hormone imbalances & stress can cause hair loss

So these supplements are generally great for overall hair health, but again, the most effective strategy for growing your hair will depend on the cause of hair loss.

So for example, there are other therapeutic supplements that are helpful for hormonal imbalances. There's some specific dietary recommendations that would go along with that as well.

Stress management techniques, for example, will be particularly important if you are dealing with stress related hair loss, because that hair will not grow back if you are dealing with that same stressor that triggered the hair loss in the first place. So I do think it would be helpful to work with your nutritionist to zone in on the likely cause and figure out a plan your best steps forward.

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Well, that concludes our two part episode, all about hair loss and hair health. So I hope this information was helpful for all of you out there that do have a concern with hair loss and gives you some realistic tips in getting your hair health back on track.

Thank you all so much for listening to Dishing Up Nutrition’s “Ask a Nutritionist”. If you liked this episode and you found it helpful, be sure to leave us a rating or a review so that we can help more people discover the connection between what they eat and how they feel. And if you have a nutrition question that you'd like us to answer, we invite you to join our private Dishing Up Nutrition Facebook community.

Once you're a member, join that conversation and share your questions with us. Or, you could call us at 952-641-5233 and leave your question in our Dishing Up Nutrition voicemail inbox. So don't be shy. If you have a question, just let us know. We look forward to hearing from you.

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