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What foods are best to promote healthy hair and prevent hair loss?

Unfortunately, no dietary interventions of any kind have been shown to universally guarantee healthy hair or prevent hair loss. Hair quantity and hair quality are whole-health, whole-person, and total-lifestyle issues. They also depend upon genetic tendency and family history. Diet can definitely be important in promotion of healthy hair, but there is no evidence for establishing diet as a primary approach to hair loss prevention.

The factors that can compromise hair health include severe stress, damaging effects of hair treatments, and the use of some types of prescription drugs such as blood thinners and medications for gout, arthritis, depression, heart problems, and high blood pressure. Excessive alcohol intake can also compromise hair health, as can decreased thyroid function. If you are concerned about hair loss that is presently occurring in your own health situation, we recommend a consultation with your healthcare provider to determine all the possible underlying reasons for this occurrence.

Our focus on the World's Healthiest Foods as the basis for a nutrient-rich, whole foods diet is an approach that we recommend for optimal health of all body systems, including the scalp and hair. With respect to the skin of the scalp, however, there would be specific nutrients that we would pay particular attention to as a foundation for health of this body system.

The first would be omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids aren't a part of your hair's composition, but they are a part of the scalp cells that are responsible for generating the hair follicles and sebaceous glands. You can optimize your intake of these important fatty acids by adding cold-water fish such as salmon, sardines, or herring to your diet two to three times a week. To increase your omega-3 intake, you can also add about two tablespoons of ground flaxseed daily to cereals or salads. (Since flaxseed is fiber-rich, you may want to start out slowly with the amount you consume, building up to the two tablespoons over time, so that you don't increase your fiber intake too quickly for your digestive tract to readily handle.) You can go to the section on omega-3 fatty acids on the website for a detailed list of foods rich in this important nutrient. We would emphasize the fact that omega-3 fatty acids will not help you grow hair. They can, however, improve the integrity of your skin cells, including the cells of your scalp. The health of your hair depends in part upon the health of these cells.

Optimal hydration is also very important to the health of your skin cells and scalp. For this reason, you'll want to drink optimal amounts of clean, filtered water (or clean spring water) to support the health of your skin and scalp. Mineral waters can also be a good choice in this respect since hair itself is highly mineralized and sometimes used in lab measurements of mineral status.

Although you will need exercise, and possibly massage or other approaches to assure good circulation to your head and scalp, good circulation can also be supported by complete nutrition. A full complement of vitamins and minerals is required for proper functioning of your heart and cardiovascular system. One of your best ways for obtaining a full supply of all vitamins and minerals is to increase your intake of fresh, minimally processed vegetables-trying to stick with organically grown vegetables as much as possible. These foods provide the greatest number of nutrients for the least amount of calories.

Additionally, since hair is made up primarily of protein, adequate protein can be an important factor for healthy hair. Most adults need a minimum of about 45 grams of protein per day, and in some cases where protein needs are particularly high or protein has been chronically deficient, 75-100 grams may be at least temporarily required. Animal-derived foods-such as lean meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, and eggs-are typically rich in protein and typically provide a complete array of amino acids. Plant-based food groups-whole grains, legumes/beans, nuts, seeds, and vegetables-can also support your protein needs and can provide a full array of amino acids if chosen properly and consumed in required amounts. If you eat a strictly plant-based diet, you may want to solicit the help of a nutritionist or other licensed healthcare practitioner to develop an optimal plan in the area of protein and amino acid intake. Protein metabolism can sometimes be hampered by low stomach acid, a condition also known as hypochlorhydria. Even though research studies have not shown that low stomach acid is in any way connected to hair loss, some healthcare practitioners have anecdotally reported hair loss as a symptom of low stomach acid in their patients. Any concerns you might have in this area should be expressed directly to your healthcare practitioner for evaluation.

Although we have not seen research documenting the relationship between multiple vitamin deficiencies or multiple mineral deficiencies and hair loss, we continue to believe that the full-spectrum of vitamins and minerals are important for scalp and hair health. In this context, we recommend that you try to evaluate your own potential dietary deficiencies in all vitamin and mineral areas and take steps to boost up intake of these nutrients in your meal plan. You can use our Food Advisor as a starting point for your dietary evaluation and our Recipe Assistant to help you identify the World's Healthiest Foods meals that match your needs.

One non-dietary step that's particularly important to remember is your choice of hair care products. You'll want to select products that are non-damaging to the hair, and you'll also want to use these products appropriately. Some hair care tips that you might find potentially helpful can be reviewed at the following page on WebMD's comprehensive website:


Gonzalez-Reimers E, Aleman-Valls MR, Barroso-Guerrero F, et al. Hair zinc and copper in chronic alcoholics. Biol Trace Elem Res 2002 Mar;85(3):269-75.

Lachat CK, Van Camp JH, Mamiro PS, et al. Processing of complementary food does not increase hair zinc levels and growth of infants in Kilosa district, rural Tanzania. Br J Nutr 2006 Jan;95(1):174-80.

Oken E, Wright RO, Kleinman KP, et al. Maternal fish consumption, hair mercury, and infant cognition in a U.S. Cohort. Environ Health Perspect 2005 Oct;113(10):1376-80.

Trost LB, Bergfeld WF, Calogeras E. The diagnosis and treatment of iron deficiency and its potential relationship to hair loss. J Am Acad Dermatol 2006 May;54(5):824-44.