Most of us desire a head of strong, healthy, and manageable hair, after all it is one of the first things that people notice about us. We all accept that age, hormones, stress and genetics can affect hair quality and growth but what role does diet and nutrition play? 
 
As it turns out, quite a large one. 
 
Consuming a diet low in important nutrients can actually result in hair loss and thinning, while eating a well-balanced diet helps feed your hair as well as your body and thus encourages hair growth. 
 
There are a number of different types of hair loss. Alopecia areata is a potentially reversible auto-immune baldness on the scalp (sometimes including the entire body). Androgenetic alopecia, female pattern hair loss and chronic and diffuse telogen effluvium are other common types of hair loss. Interestingly, and worryingly, there has been a recent spike in the number of people reporting cases of hair loss following COVID-19. In fact, a number of people have taken to social media to highlight their plight with hair loss following COVID-19 infection. 

So what does the research say about nutritional status, micronutrients and hair loss? 

Research indicates that sudden weight loss, bariatric surgery or decreased protein intake can lead to marked hair loss 12. Low iron stores, or iron deficiency, are commonly seen in patients, especially women, with hair loss. Low vitamin D and B12 levels are also associated with many types of hair loss.34 Interestingly taking too much of certain vitamins can be problematic and over-supplementing with vitamin A can actually cause hair loss so finding the right balance of these vitamins is not only good for your hair, it is vital to help keep your body functioning optimally. Gut health and dietary patterns also appear to be incredibly important. 

My tips to support hair growth 

When you experience hair loss or thinning it can be very distressing. My recommendation would be to firstly consult a hair loss specialist or your GP. They can help with initial diagnosis and discuss treatment options.That said, there are some steps you can take to look after your overall nutrition to help promote healthy hair growth. 

Supplements and dietary choice 

If you are found to have low iron storage, low vitamin B12 levels or you aren’t currently taking a vitamin D supplement then you may well benefit from upping your intake of these nutrients. Supplements can be a good first choice to quickly boost levels. 
 
IRON 
When it comes to hair health iron is a highly significant nutrient, especially if you’re female. You don’t necessarily have to be anaemic though. Low levels of the iron storage protein ferritin are often linked to marked changes in hair health. 
 
Iron supplements 
Iron supplements come in a number of forms and it’s important to find one you can tolerate because they can cause gastric side effects. Taking iron with an acid, ideally vitamin C, is the great way to ensure good absorption. Once levels have been boosted a diet rich in iron should be the focus to maintain levels. 
 
Iron rich foods 
Seaweed, liver, dried apricots, chickpeas and beans, cashew nuts, spinach and spring greens. 
 
VITAMIN D 
Vitamin D is technically a hormone known as the sunshine vitamin because we make it through our skin’s exposure to UV light. 
 
Vitamin D supplements 
In the UK vitamin D supplementation is recommended for everyone over the age of 4 from September through to April and if you are dark skinned or you spend lots of time inside, supplementation is something you should continue all year round.8 1000-2000 IU of vitamin D3 should meet the needs of most UK adults. Some vitamin D can be stored for about 3 weeks but regular top ups are needed. 
 
Vitamin D rich foods 
It’s very tricky to get what we need from food but foods rich in vitamin D are free range eggs and fish. 
 
Vitamin D through sun exposure 
Just 30 minutes in the UK sunshine in a t-shirt and shorts should be sufficient time for the body to make enough vitamin D. The body is very clever and production shuts off once levels are sufficiently high meaning further sun exposure will be of no additional benefit. 
 
VITAMIN B12 
Hair health and Vitamin B12 status and strongly linked. B12 levels tend to drop with age as our ability to absorb it declines. Deficiency is also common in vegans and in individuals with inflammatory bowel disease. Certain medicines can also impact our vitamin B12 levels such as antacids and metformin. 
 
Vitamin B12 supplements 
Supplementing with oral B12 or B12 injections can be a good way to boost levels with choice of supplementation depending on the reason levels are low. 
 
Vitamin B12 rich foods 
Animal foods and fortified are rich in B12. These include eggs, dairy, fortified plant milks, fish and meats. 

What about gut health and dietary patterns? 

For optimal hair health we all need a good, balanced diet that not only feeds us but also feeds our gut microbiome. But what is the definition of a good, balanced diet? 
 
Ideally 8-10 portions of fruit and vegetables daily, and 30 different plant foods each week. Include whole grains, nuts and seeds to provide vitamins, minerals, fibre and phytonutrients.alth. 
Eat a rainbow daily. Variety and a range of colours are really important for nutrient balance and gut health. 
Add quality oils and fats like omega-3 fatty acids such as fatty fish, olive oil, avocados and nuts. 
Build into your daily diet a mix of rich protein sources such as dairy/dairy alternative, meat, fish and eggs.· Add probiotic/fermented foods like kefir, kimchi and sauerkraut into your daily diet. 
Limit your intake of sugar, fried and processed foods. 
 
These are great steps, but it is important to recognise that these are the building blocks. Good nutrition comes from building an eating plan and it is not enough to just think about what you eat, you also need to understand the impact of WHEN and HOW you eat. 

My tips on patterns of eating 

Aim to eat two to three main meals a day with a good period of time in between each meal to allow insulin levels to settle back to normal. Ideally aim to eat within a 12-hour window- for example consuming all food between the hours of say 8am and 8pm. 
 
Take time to sit and eat slowly without distractions. This allows you to focus on your hunger and feelings of fullness and mindful eating has also been shown to be incredibly beneficial for helping balance hormone levels which can indirectly affect hair health. 
 
Nutritional needs can vary widely depending on your activity levels, genetic make-up, your culture beliefs and of course any underlying medical conditions but these are great first steps on the road to hair recovery. It may take a little while for results to become apparent but even if you just manage to incorporate a few of the changes I’ve mentioned and focus on the quality of the foods you eat you should see a marked improvement in your hair health and hopefully feel a lot better as a result. 
 
Guo, E. L. & Katta, R. Diet and hair loss: effects of nutrient deficiency and supplement use. Dermatol. Pract. Concept. 7, 1–10 (2017). Şen, O. & Türkçapar, A. G. Hair Loss After Sleeve Gastrectomy and Effect of Biotin Supplements. J. Laparoendosc. Adv. Surg. Tech. (2020) doi:10.1089/lap.2020.0468. Almohanna, H. M., Ahmed, A. A., Tsatalis, J. P. & Tosti, A. The Role of Vitamins and Minerals in Hair Loss: A Review. Dermatol. Ther. (Heidelb). 9, 51–70 (2019). Deloche, C. et al. Low iron stores: A risk factor for excessive hair loss in non-menopausal women. Eur. J. Dermatology 17, 507–512 (2007). Rushton, D. H., Norris, M. J., Dover, R. & Busuttil, N. Causes of hair loss and the developments in hair rejuvenation. Int. J. Cosmet. Sci. 24, 17–23 (2002). INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF MEDICAL BIOCHEMISTRY. (2018) doi:10.14744/ijmb.2018.75047. Cani, P. D. Human gut microbiome: hopes, threats and promises. Gut 67, 1716–1725 (2018). SACN vitamin D and health report - GOV.UK. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/sacn-vitamin-d-and-health-report. 
 
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