Nutrition Expert Editorial Team April 01, 2008

We all have bad hair days, but what if a good cut and shampoo just don't do the trick anymore? Angela Dowden looks at how you can help your hair from the inside out.

Having a bad hair day?

Hair that that no longer shines, looks dull, thin, lifeless, or starts to fall out can speak volumes about your general health, say hair specialists (trichologists).

And, though greying and thinning hair is to be expected as we get older, looking after yourself with the right diet and lifestyle can make the best of the locks you've got.

Enemies of healthy hair include:

• Stress

• Over-enthusiastic dieting (which can mean you miss out nutrients)

• Illness

• Infection.

What should I eat for healthy hair?

Did you know that your hair reflects not your current nutritional status, but a few months ago when it was developing in the follicle? This means that it’s important to maintain a healthy diet at all times. So, what´s the best way to give your hair a boost?

Our hair is made up mainly of keratin - a type of protein. To keep it healthy, a good starting point is to eat enough good-quality protein in the form of lean meat, fish or soya products like tofu (one to two portions daily should suffice), as well as the following…

1. Fats

It is so important to include foods rich in unsaturated fats - such as seeds, unsalted nuts, avocados and oily fish – in your diet. These supply the fatty acids that make up the physical structure of cell membranes and keep moisture ´locked´ in. A lack of essential fats can lead to dry and brittle hair and less-supple skin. People who don´t like oily fish should consider taking an omega 3 supplement

2. Vitamin A

Vitamin A is important for healthy oil glands, responsible for keeping your hair moisturised. Too little vitamin A can cause hair to become dull, dry and lifeless. You can get the recommended intake of less than 800 micrograms per day from 1.5 litres of full-fat milk (not a healthy choice!) or from a daily multivitamin. Your body also forms vitamin A from carotenoids found in fruit and vegetables such as carrot and mango.

3. B vitamins

B vitamins, or a lack of them, can affect the lustre of the hair. One often-overlooked vitamin, biotin (vitamin B7) is thought to help prevent hair from turning grey. Because B vitamins have other functions within the body, they tend to be used up for other purposes, so boosting your intake with a supplement can help prevent your hair paying the price.

4. Iodine

Iodine is especially important because a deficiency can contribute to an under-active thyroid gland, which, in turn, can cause sluggishness, weight gain and hair loss. You can boost your intake by including low-fat dairy products and seafood in your diet, or by taking a kelp supplement.

5. Iron

Temporary hair loss in women with heavy menstrual periods is often a symptom of iron deficiency. Even if you aren´t anaemic (your GP will run a blood test to see), you could still have low iron stores, so it pays to eat lean red meat at least a couple of times a week or to keep topped up with a multivitamin that contains the RDA of iron. In short, give your hair a little attention from the inside out and you´ll be rewarded with fewer bad hair days.

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Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn’t possible supplements can help. This article isn’t intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.

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