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Q: Overtreating my hair with chemicals and heat has left it dull, lifeless, and prone to breakage. Help!
A: Most women I know look to conditioners and styling products to improve the appearance of their hair, and these can be helpful,
especially if they don’t contain harsh chemicals. However, the underlying health of hair is determined under the surface of the scalp, in the hair follicle, which looks like a tiny bulb when you pull a hair out by its root. And hair follicles are a time-lapsed picture of the health of your whole body.
All of our cells are continually dying off and being replaced by new ones, some quickly and others more slowly. Cells lining the small intestine, for example, take only 20 minutes to turn over. Skin cells take a few days. But the cells of hair follicles take a whopping three months.
What this means is that your nutritional state today affects the roots of your hair three months from now. And, since hair grows at the rate of a half-inch per month, today’s nutrition influences the first half-inch of your hair growth four months from now.
The Nutritional Hair Challenge
When you eat or take supplements, the human body uses nutrients in a certain order: vital organs get fed first, followed by muscles and bones, connective tissue, skin, nails and, lastly, hair follicles. Consequently, hair is the first to suffer from nutritional shortage.
It may surprise you that the most basic problem is a dietary imbalance between protein—the key building block of healthy hair follicles—and fats and carbohydrates. When we eat protein, it is first used to break down fats and carbohydrates, and whatever is left over repairs and maintains all the tissues in a body. If the percentage of protein is too low, the hair follicles are underfed and deteriorate.
A diet with 20-30 percent protein can solve the problem. Choose lean protein sources, such as lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, or plain Greek yogurt (20-25 grams of protein per serving).
Other beneficial foods include cruciferous vegetables, because they are rich in sulphur, which helps to produce keratin, the key protein in hair follicles, and fish and flax seed for healthy fats.
What to Do
• Check the percentage of protein in your diet with a free smartphone app at http://tracker.dailyburn.com.
• Take supplements to boost keratin, the key protein in hair follicles: Multivitamin with zinc, copper, selenium, chromium, and manganese; MSM (1,000 mg, twice daily); omega-3 fats; gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) for healthy omega-6 fats; and silica, 5 mg, once or twice daily of a purified form, such as BioSil (choline-stabilized orthosilicic acid, or ch-OSA). Silica is also naturally present in horsetail.
• Protein powders: Look for 20 or more gm of protein, low fat content, and no more than 3 gm of carbohydrates per serving.
• If you suspect a thyroid problem, take the test at www.thethyroidquiz.com.
MEET OUR EXPERT
Alan Christianson, NMD, is a naturopathic physician, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Thyroid Disease, and medical director of Integrative Health Care in Scottsdale, Arizona, which he founded in 1997. With a lifelong interest in natural healing that was sparked by personal health challenges as a child, Christianson takes a science-based approach to discover and treat the underlying causes of his patient’s symptoms.