Eat Your Way To Stronger, Healthier Hair
Please answer the following questions:
1. Building blocks of hair – characteristics of healthy hair vs weak hair
2. Methods to strengthen hair
3. Foods / food groups that will help hair grow stronger
4. Can you regrow your hair by just eating these healthy foods?
Hair is composed of a protein material called keratin. The hair follicles build hair by layering the keratin layer by layer, similar to how “kuih lapis” is made, and as the layers are compacted from below the skin, it pushes out the finished product known as hair out onto the surface where it receives such personalised and emotional attention by all of us.
Healthy hair is when there is continuous layering of keratin to build a strong bond for the hair shaft and has good diameter. It also produces natural oil that keep the hair moist and protected. Where else weaker hair tend to have variable sizes of hair shaft, some thick and some thin, is dry and brittle, and easily snaps off from its roots upon gentle brushing.
So how does one look after his/her hair? With the vast amount of information, products and advertisements it can be overwhelming to filter what is best for yourself. So here are some guidelines on how to strengthen your hair:
1. Expose you hair to less products.
Your hair contains natural oil that keeps it moist and prevents it from being brittle under normal conditions. In an overzealous pursuit to achieved fuller o shinier hair as advertised many have resorted to using multiple products and worse yet frequent changing of hair products. Shampoos, leave-on conditioners frequently strips the hair off its natural oil and replaces it with an artificial layer of oil, thereby causing damage on the long run. While you need to keep your head and hair clean, there is no real need for daily use shampoo and conditioner, especially those with fragrances as it contains even more chemicals.
Tip: Using natural or organic based shampoo with minimal ingredients will be safer and better for your hair. Remember, less is more.
2. Use a wide tooth comb or brush.
While there is some truth that brushing your hair improves the look as it stimulates the production of natural oils, this is only true for those who have healthy non-sensitive hair. If you suffer from sensitive hair, then over brushing will cause more harm and loss than bear its benefits. Using a wide tooth comb will carefully separate your hair strands without causing damage and minimises the change of hair tangles at the ends.
Tip: Using a comb instead of a brush and gently working your hair will reduce the unnecessary damage cause by “ripping” through tangles.
3. Drink plenty of water.
Honestly Malaysians in general do not drink enough water. It is bad enough that our climate causes dehydration because of the excessive heat and high humidity, but many people especially women give the excuse that they do not like to drink much water because it causes them the inconvenience of having to frequently use the ladies room. There are also a number of people who justify drinking coffee, tea, chocolate beverages, and alcoholic drinks as making up for the total volume needed per day. Caffeine and tannin that are contained in coffee and tea causes poor absorption of nutrients and also causes a diuretic effect, which potentiates water loss. Alcoholic beverages also have similar diuretic effects. As a result, dehydration occurs and the effects can be seen in brittle and dry hair, and also poor hydration of skin tone.
Tip: We need an average of 40ml of water for every kg body weight. So a 50 kilo person would need 2 litres of water per day. Plain water please.
4. Eat your way to stronger hair.
We have so much of food in Malaysia that it runs for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. However, not all food choices are created equal and the key is to make food work for you to maintain good health and a head of healthy strong hair. So keep calm and eat away (with knowledge):
Hair is composed of keratin, which itself is a structural protein. Unfortunately most of our Malaysian diet has a low ratio of protein to carbohydrate and fats. Simple example is chicken rice, nasi lemak, fried rice and mee goreng, there is a very low ratio of protein (meats or lentils) compared to carbs (rice, noodles). Good news is we have alot of protein rich food to supplement.
Food to eat: Eggs, lean meat, lentils, soy, peanuts, greek yoghurt, chicken.
Iron is an essential component in the formation of haemoglobin and plays a direct role in oxygen transport via blood to nourish your hair. Clinically it has been noted that people with iron deficiency suffer from thinning hair or hair loss.
Foods to eat: Red meat, dark leafy vegetables (spinach/bayam, brocolli, kailan), beans, eggs, cockerels (kerang), clams, oysters.
OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS
While on one hand the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids cannot be disputed, on the other hand Malaysian diet and food are generally low in the omega-3 content. This essential nutrient nourishes the follicles and promote healthy hair growth while adding elasticity to the hair shaft. And since your body cannot produce or synthesise omega-3, you will rely solely from your eating habits!
Foods to eat: Omega-3 enriched eggs, soy milk, ikan jelawat, tuna (ikan tongkol), sardines, atlantic salmon and atlantic mackerel (contains 5-10 times the omega-3 compared to local market fishes), OR take an omega-3 capsule!!
It may not be very common to have total biotin deficiency, but not having enough may leave your hair and skin looking dull and in suboptimal condition as biotin plays a role to improve keratin infrastructure. Foods to eat: Almonds, edamame, dairy products, lean red meat, eggs.
Zinc is a trace element that is essential for aiding the absorption of other nutrients, regulate hormones, and for DNA and RNA synthesis, leading to improved hair follicle growth and integrity of the hair follicles. Interestingly enough, zinc from foods of animal origin have higher bioavailability than that from food of plant origin. Foods to eat: Oysters, lean red meat, chicken, eggs, milk, almonds, pumpkin seeds.
VITAMINS A & C
Antioxidant rich food not only play an essential role in maintaining a strong immune system but it also aids in the “beauty” aspects of your outlook by improving skin, complexion, scalp health, and healthy hair.
Foods to eat: Peppers (Capsicum), guava, dark green leafy veg (spinach, brocolli, kailan), tomatoes, carrots, cassava (tapioca/ubi kayu).
– Healthy Foods That Bring Nutrients For Healthy Hair, ISHRS, September 2014.
– Recommended Nutrient Intakes for Malaysia, MOH 2005.
– Malaysia Journal of Nutrition