As a clinical nutritionist, I focus on health from the inside out. When I have a patient struggling with dry, brittle, dull or thinning hair, the first thing we examine is diet. Nutritional deficiencies can be incredibly damaging to your hair health. Correcting deficiencies through diet, or supplementation, if indicated, is crucial. Unfortunately, if you’re highly deficient, it may take up to six months to see your hair bounce back. That’s why prevention is the best intervention.
Here are five nutrients that play a critical role in hair health. Plus, which supplements you really should be using to encourage the maintenance of normal hair.
Vitamin A and Hair Health
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that is incredibly important for your hair. Vitamin A stimulates the production and activity of your white blood cells, which regulate cell growth and division. Your hair is one of the fastest-growing tissues in your body. Research has shown that retinoids may be important in changing the status of refreshing follicles, although the precise mechanism is not fully understood (6).
Vitamin A also supports sebum, an oily substance that moisturises the scalp and helps keep your hair healthy.
Foods rich in beta-carotene (a precursor to vitamin A) include spinach, sweet potatoes, bell peppers, carrots, pumpkin and kale.
Pro Tip: Since vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, try to eat these foods with a source of healthy fat like avocado, extra-virgin olive oil, or some nuts and seeds.
Biotin and Hair Health
Biotin is part of the B vitamin family and is well-known as a nutrient that can help maintain normal hair (1). One of the most beneficial roles biotin plays is supporting the infrastructure of keratin. Up to 95% of your hair strand is made from the protein keratin. Biotin also helps with normal energy-yielding metabolism (2) and normal macronutrient metabolism (3) of amino acids (the building blocks of protein).
Many foods are rich in biotin, and most people can meet their needs through their diet.
My favourite vegan source of biotin is nutritional yeast. Nutritional yeast has the highest concentration of biotin out of all the non-animal sources. Other foods rich in biotin include legumes, nuts and seeds, bananas, cauliflower and mushrooms.
Pro Tip: Heat can reduce biotin efficacy, so try to choose raw or minimally cooked dishes for the best absorption.
Vitamin C and Hair Health
Vitamin C plays several essential roles when it comes to hair health.
As a powerful antioxidant, vitamin C helps your body protect its cells from oxidative stress (4) also known as free radical damage. Free radicals can damage proteins, weakening hair before it even emerges from your scalp. Vitamin C is also needed for your body to synthesise collagen, an essential part of your hair structure. Vitamin C can increase the amount of iron (also necessary for hair health) you absorb (5). Vitamin C uniquely supports non-heme iron (mainly found in plant sources) and stores it in a more usable form.
Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, meaning your body is unable to store it long-term. Fortunately, vitamin C is easily found in many foods. Citrus fruits are commonly thought to be the best sources of vitamin C, but many vegetables are equally rich sources. Consider rotating spinach, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, turnip greens, tomatoes, berries, mango and papaya into your meal plan too.
Pro Tip: Quick heating methods such as stir-frying are best if you’re going to cook vitamin C-rich foods. As a water-soluble vitamin, some of the value can be lost during long cooking times or with very high heat.
Vitamin D and Hair Health
Did you know that Vitamin D is produced in response to sunlight? Nonetheless, it plays a critical role in your hair health.
Unfortunately, it’s estimated that up to 75% of us are deficient in vitamin D. And research suggests that a lack of vitamin D in your body can lead to hair loss. When the body doesn’t have enough vitamin D, the keratinocytes (cells that produce keratin) are unable to facilitate new hair growth. There is also a link between chronically low vitamin D levels and alopecia.
Curious about your vitamin D levels? Ask your doctor for a 25-hydroxy vitamin D test. This simple blood test can give you an accurate look into your specific levels.
Vitamin E and Hair Health
Vitamin E is well known for supporting hair’s health. It plays several significant roles that support your #hairgoals.
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin. This means your body can effectively store it for use later. Some of the best food sources of vitamin E include nuts and seeds, extra-virgin olive oil and avocado.
Pro Tip: Vitamin E deficiency is rare, but you need a healthy gut to absorb it properly. If you have a fat-malabsorption disorder, talk to your doctor about your unique situation.
The Final Word
If you’re concerned that you may be deficient in any of these nutrients, talk to your doctor or qualified nutrition professional. Having a care team that is dedicated to your health and wellness goals is the best first step. A healthy, diverse diet can support you from within to help with your hair journey — and your care team can help tailor that diet to your unique life.
About Erica Zellner
Erica Zellner holds a Masters of Science in Nutrition and Integrative Health and a post-graduate certificate in Global Health Management. Erica additionally holds the prestigious designation of Certified Nutrition Specialist through the American Nutrition Association and is a Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist. Erica has been featured in various outlets including The New York Times, Women’s Health, and HuffPost. As a Clinical Nutritionist, Erica's focus is on wellness in every aspect of a person's life: mind, body, and spirit. Her goal is to empower individuals to take full control of each of these facets in healthful and fulfilling ways.
- Biotin contributes to the maintenance of normal hair.
- Biotin contributes to normal energy-yielding metabolism.
- Biotin contributes to normal macronutrient metabolism.
- Vitamin C contributes to the protection of cells from oxidative stress.
- Vitamin C increases iron absorption.