Genetics, age, stress, and diet are a few factors that determine hair growth. While it's difficult (or downright impossible) to change many of the culprits on that list, you can definitely switch up what you eat—choosing the best foods for hair growth—for potentially longer, thicker hair.
"Lean protein, plant-based food intake with a lot of cruciferous greens, and healthy fats in nuts and avocados are the best for all organ health including hair, skin, and nails," says Mona A. Gohara, MD, associate clinical professor of dermatology at the Yale School of Medicine. "Focusing on these nutrients keeps pro-inflammatory hormones like cortisol under control, optimizing full body health."
What are the best nutrients for healthy hair?
Look for foods rich in "fat-soluble vitamins, B-complex vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, and iron to support hair health," says Valerie Agyeman, RD, dietitian and host of women's health podcast Flourish Heights. Incorporating these nutrients into your diet can improve hair loss symptoms in certain cases, per a review of studies published in the journal Dermatology and Therapy. Deficiencies in protein, minerals, fatty acids, and vitamins can lead to hair loss, found a study published in Dermatology Practical & Conceptual and a review in Dermatologic Clinics.
More research is needed to understand the exact connection between diet and hair loss, but it's smart to sneak in these nutrients to support your 'do. Pill or powder hair growth supplements may help, but you might as well start with what's on your plate.
Allow me to introduce the best foods for hair growth, packed with everything you need for a stronger, healthier mane.
Meet the experts: Mona A. Gohara, MD, is the Associate Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the Yale School of Medicine. Valerie Agyeman, R.D., is dietitian and host of women's health podcast, Flourish Heights. Andy Goren, MD, is a board certified dermatologist, trichologist, and hair loss expert.
Plate up this fan favorite, loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, to promote hair growth: A diet rich in essential fatty acids has shown to improve hair density and reduce the amount of dead hairs (called telogen) on your head, per a study published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology. Mackerel, tuna and herring are other star sources of the nutrient. Agyeman suggests trying sardine toast: "Just mash sardines with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and red pepper flakes. Spread this mixture on whole-grain toast and enjoy." Fatty fish, FTW!
"The healthy fats in nuts are great for all organ health, including hair, skin, and nails," says Gohara. Walnuts, almonds, cashews, and more of these tasty morsels contain a variety of vitamins plus zinc that can help you avoid a deficiency in any of these nutrients, which has been linked to hair loss. Agyeman loves pistachios, which contain biotin, a B-vitamin known for its role in maintaining strong and healthy hair. "Additionally, pistachios are rich in antioxidants, which can help protect hair from oxidative stress and damage," she adds. Incorporate them into pesto or crush them to coat fish fillets for a crunchy, nutrient-filled crust.
Another prime source of biotin? The almighty egg. For people experiencing hair loss, research has shown that supplementing with biotin may help (though the same hair-growth effects were not seen in healthy patients). Before turning to pill supplements, which are often loaded with more biotin than your body needs, try this biotin-loaded snack that Agyeman adores: "Make seaweed-wrapped eggs! Grab hard-boiled eggs, peel them, and wrap each with a sheet of seaweed." Eggs are also a great source of zinc and selenium, other hair-healthy nutrients.
Both Agyeman and Gohara clocked lean protein as a key nutrient for hair health. This makes sense, because the hair shaft is composed almost entirely of a protein called keratin. Beans, chickpeas, peanuts, soybeans, and lentils are all ace sources of the nutrient and happen to be plant-based—but feel free to lean into your love of chicken breast instead. Beans and lentils are also a great source of other hair-healthy nutrients, including zinc, iron, biotin, and folate. A deficiency in some of these nutrients has been linked to premature whitening of the hair, though more studies are needed.
Snack on this dark, leafy green (kale and arugula work too!) for your strands. It's loaded with vitamin A, which is necessary for the growth of healthy hair. Quick caveat: Too much vitamin A can actually lead to hair loss, so it's better to get the nutrient from your diet rather than a supplement (which may contain more vitamin A than you need). The vegetable is also a great source of iron, which may play a role in female pattern hair loss. One study published by the Journal of Korean Medical Science found that hair loss patients, especially those that were premenopausal, had much lower iron levels than their healthy counterparts.
Sweet potatoes can also help you sneak in vitamin A. The spuds contain beta-carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A. One review published in Biochimica et Biophysica Acta concluded that, because too much and too little vitamin A lead to defects in the hair follicle and sebaceous gland, optimal levels of vitamin A must be important for healthy hair. Just one more reason to avoid vitamin A toxicity by getting it primarily from your food instead of supplements. Try this flavorful plate of spiced sweet potatoes.
"Avocados are rich in Vitamin E, an antioxidant that provides nourishment to the hair. Consuming just a medium-sized avocado provides approximately 28 percent of your daily vitamin E requirements," says Agyeman. One study published in Tropical Life Sciences Research found that vitamin E supplements significantly increased the number of hairs in a group of 21 volunteers suffering from hair loss compared to the placebo group. This is most likely due to the antioxidant powers of vitamin E, which help reduce oxidative stress in the scalp. Gohara also notes that the healthy fats in avocados may contribute to overall hair health.
Flaxseeds, chia seeds, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds all contain nutrients necessary for hair health, such as vitamin E, zinc, and selenium. Flaxseeds and chia seeds also provide hair-loving omega-3 fatty acids. In one study on mice, the topical application of pumpkin seed oil was shown to promote hair growth, though studies in humans are needed.
It's no wonder yogurt—which is loaded with protein, probiotics, and other important nutrients—is a common ingredient in DIY hair masks. In a study published by the Public Library of Science, mice given probiotic yogurt for 20–24 weeks developed thick, lustrous fur, with differences in fur luster observed as few as seven days into the experiment. Yogurt also contains vitamin B5 (known as pantothenic acid), which was shown to promote hair follicle growth in one study published in Life Sciences.
Vitamin C is essential for the absorption of iron, so it may help people experiencing hair loss associated with iron deficiency. Bump up your intake with sweet peppers (bell peppers included), which are loaded with the antioxidant-rich vitamin. Their antioxidant properties may also help reduce oxidative stress, which can cause hair loss. The crunchy guys also contain vitamin A, another hair-healthy nutrient.
Prefer spicy over sweet? Capsaicin, the fiery component found in chili peppers, was shown to promote hair growth in one study on mice published in Growth Hormone & IGF Research.
Berries and Citrus
Include these fruits in your five-a-day for hair growth. Berries—such as strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries—contain vitamin C, which stands out for its antioxidant properties and starring role in the absorption of iron, both important for healthy hair. Citrus fruits contain limonin, which was shown to enhance anagen signaling, or the growth phase of hair, in rats according to a study published in the journal Nutrients.
A deficiency in zinc is associated with hair loss. Get a hefty dose of the mineral when you slurp down your half-dozen: One medium oyster provides about 8 mg, or 100 percent of the daily requirement of zinc for women. Just be sure to split your app with someone to avoid surpassing the tolerable upper intake level of 40 mg. In one case study published in Dermatology and Therapy, all patients experiencing hair loss due to zinc deficiency saw an improvement or reversal of their condition. However, information about the effect of zinc on healthy patients is limited.
This class of veg, which includes broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, and collards, to name a few, is rich in hair-healthy nutrients such as vitamin A, vitamin C, folic acid, and biotin. Just half a cup of raw, chopped broccoli contains 0.4 micrograms, or 1 percent of the daily value for biotin.
Consider adding this flavorless substance to your morning coffee or afternoon smoothie: Fish-derived collagen peptides were found to significantly enhance hair regrowth and the proliferation of the cells in hair follicles in one study on mice, published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences. Collagen also contains amino acids, which are necessary to build keratin, the protein found in hair. Another study found that collagen peptides present antioxidant activity, which may help reduce oxidative stress on the scalp and promote hair growth.
Warning signs of hair loss
Alarmed by the wad in your most recent everything shower? You may not have anything to worry about: "Hair loss is a normal part of the hair growth cycle. Typically, women shed 50-100 hairs per day," says Andy Goren, MD, board certified dermatologist, trichologist, and hair loss expert. But if you're noticing more shedding than usual (closer to 400 hairs), bald spots, or scalp inflammation, it may be time to consult a dermatologist, says Goren.
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