Most of us would love to have a full head of thick, shiny Rapunzel worthy hair. Our genes are partly responsible for hair growth and loss, as well as condition and quality.

But there are other factors in our lives that can also have a negative effect on hair quality and growth, causing our hair to become weak, dry, lacklustre, or triggering hair loss.

These factors can include nutrient deficiencies, stress, hormonal changes, poor circulation, thyroid problems and even over-brushing. Cassandra Barns, Nutritionist at NutriCentre.com gives us her top tips to encourage optimal hair growth and condition, taking you from hair despair to magnificent mane in 12 easy steps…

Protein Power

Keratin, a substance that provides the strength and structure of hair, is a protein, and our body makes it from the proteins that we eat. (Protein is also vital for the health of the thyroid gland – more on this later.)

So to ensure you have strong hair, eat a variety of protein-containing foods every day: meat, fish, eggs, beans and lentils, nuts and seeds, and dairy products are all good examples.

Great ways to get more protein include swapping your morning cereal for scrambled eggs on whole grain toast, adding a handful of nuts or seeds to your porridge, and swapping your usual snacks for a couple of oatcakes with tahini (sesame seed paste) or a natural yoghurt with added pumpkin or sunflower seeds.

Harmonise your hormones

Most women experience some hair loss as they get older. Balancing your hormones can help to minimise these changes. Diet, lifestyle and exercise can make a big difference here.

Herbs such as black cohosh and red clover can also help balance hormone levels naturally. Red clover is non-soya based and so is ideal for those who want to avoid soya.

Try vegan friendly, Flavanon 4 by Quest Vitamins (£9.49 from all good health stores and www.questexcellence.com).

Taking a little helping hand from Mother Nature, Quest has harnessed the natural healing powers of the red clover, which is used in both traditional Chinese and Western Folk medicine, to help balance oestrogen levels safely and simply.

Keep grey at bay with Biotin

Biotin is one of the group of B vitamins. All of them can have a role in hair health and growth, but none more so than biotin. Deficiency in biotin has been linked to greying of the hair and hair loss, and it is thought to be so vital primarily because of its role in the manufacturing of proteins such as keratin.

Specific biotin-rich foods include brown rice, soya beans, lentils, barley and oats, as well asnuts and seeds such as walnuts, pecans, almonds and sunflower seeds. So a breakfast of wholegrain oat porridge with plenty of nuts and seeds added is not only a good way to get protein, but also a fantastic biotin-booster.

Healthy fats for healthy hair

If you have dry or brittle hair, or a dry or scaly scalp, you could be deficient in essential fatty acids. As most of us know, fat is not all bad, and the essential fats have many vital roles in the body including maintenance of healthy skin, scalp and glossy hair. Oily fish, raw seeds and nuts, cold-pressed flaxseed oil and avocadoes all supply good levels of healthy fats. Try a mashed avocado with lemon juice and black pepper on a slice of toast for a healthy hair-loving snack.

Not a fan of fish? Try OmegaWise, a new fruit based fish oil from VeryWise that doesn’t have that fishy aftertaste. Take as a single shot or mix with a super smoothie for glossy locks. OmegaWise is £9.45 from www.verywisenutrition.co.uk

Iron for strong locks

One of the primary causes of hair loss in women before menopause is low levels of iron. This results in loss and thinning of the hair all over the scalp, although it can be worse on the top. If this matches your symptoms, ask your doctor to test your ferritin levels (ferritin is the ‘storage’ form of iron in the body): anything below 40 ng/ml can trigger hair loss, even if this is not considered to be below the ‘normal’ range.

The best sources of iron are meats, beans and lentils, green leafy vegetables and seeds such as sunflower and pumpkin seeds. You may also need an iron supplement if you are found to be deficient.

However, if you are not losing hair, or if you have a specific pattern or area of hair loss such as around the hairline or ‘male pattern’ baldness, iron deficiency is unlikely to be the main problem.

Try Quest Vitamins’ new Synergistic Iron, £4.69 from www.nutricentre.com

Address your stress

Stress and anxiety can also affect our hair and may trigger excess hair loss. Most specifically, a type of hair loss called alopecia areata, where hair starts to fall out in patches, is often related to stress or traumatic events. This could be because stress can disrupt our digestion and absorption of nutrients needed to nourish the hair, and also because stress can affect the circulation to the scalp.

So do what you can to avoid it – try yoga or meditation classes, listen to relaxing music, take time to do things you enjoy, and try to eliminate the main sources of stress from your life. Avoid coffee and other caffeine-containing drinks, which trigger the stress hormone adrenaline to be released.

 

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Avoid drastic weight loss diets

Very low-calorie diets are a common trigger of hair loss. Low-calorie diets often do not provide enough essential fats and protein, vitamins and minerals to nourish the hair. If you need to lose weight, it can be far better to choose a healthy eating plan such as a low-GL (low glycaemic load) diet, and make sure you are including protein with every meal and a source of essential fats every day. Taking a multivitamin and mineral can also support your nutrient levels while you are losing weight.

100 brushes a day?

It may go against the old wives tale, but too much brushing can actually break the hair and cause more to fall out. Never brush your hair when it is wet – use a wide-tooth comb instead, or ideally leave it to dry naturally before brushing. Tight ponytails or other hairstyles that pull on the hair can also affect its condition and increase hair loss, so avoid these if you can. Ensuring you have regular trims – especially if you have long hair – also reduces breakage and hair loss.