A great deal of hair loss stems from vitamin deficiency and malnutrition. While we direct much of our focus on the improper use of particular hair-care products (relaxers, dyes) as culprits to hair loss, diet actually takes precedence. Sufficient intake of essential vitamins plays a crucial role in healthy hair—a fact that applies equally to African Americans as it does to other ethnicities (as all hair types require the same nutrients for healthy hair growth). Healthy hair growth (of any ethnicity) begins with a consistent and well-balanced diet, along with vitamins that produce healthy hair growth.
The ABCs of Hair Growth
A myriad of vitamins and food items exist on the market today for one's choosing, claiming greater benefits than the next. For the purpose of simplicity, vitamins A through E are always essential. Vitamins A and E induce blood circulation to the scalp (and other parts of the body), which effects the regeneration of cells; the vitamins' antioxidant component also helps deter bacterial infection of the scalp, which, if untreated, can cause hair loss. Vitamin B reverses hair loss. Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) also aids blood circulation, serves a "detoxifier" and helps the body form collagen, which promotes elasticity, thus preventing breakage. Vitamin D regenerates skin cells, which can help reduce hair loss.
Biotin, Folic and Pantothenic Acid and Niacin
Biotin, an essential water-soluble B vitamin, promotes elasticity of the hair follicle and shaft, thus preventing dryness and breakage. Biotin also delays graying of the hair and discoloration due to sun exposure.
Folic acid (B6) aids in the regeneration of cells, thus preventing hair loss. Folic acid is also beneficial to skin and nails, as well as the nervous system. People with significant deficits of folic acid reportedly experience premature balding and other forms of hair loss.
Pantothenic Acid (B5), also an essential water-soluble nutrient, stimulates the metabolism for synthesis of various food components (carbohydrates, proteins). It also reverses natural hair loss. (Some hair loss is irreversible, as with alopecia.)
Niacin (B3), also known as nicotinic acid, is a water-soluble co-enzyme that aids in the metabolic process of various food components (carbohydrates, proteins). Though usually taken orally (as with other vitamins), B3 can also go on as a topical application.
Beta-carotene expedites healing within the body and promotes the regeneration of cells, reversing some hair loss. Beta-carotene also strengthens the hair, further adding natural shine.
Protein ranks high as a food source essential to hair growth. While not a vitamin, it represents the very essence of hair, as hair is made of protein. Consuming protein replenishes particular hair compounds ilost with overprocessing (relaxers, dyes, direct heat). Protein basically "feeds" the hair from the inside. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, the consumption of soy products and other nuts (almonds, walnuts) and legumes (beans) provide sufficient sources of protein.
According to Alastair Hall of SearchWarp.Com, studies have linked the deficiency of certain minerals/metals to hair loss. Sufficient doses of copper and other essential minerals reversed hair loss in laboratory mice. Copper and zinc deficiencies produce a sudden "breakdown" of protein. For this reason, some tend to frown upon vegetarianism. But copper, zinc and iron are also traceable in other food sources besides meat. According to Dr. Pickart of the Hair Site, "hair shedding often stops within one month [of copper intake], and hair shafts are often thicker."
Cod Liver Oil: Omega-3 Fatty Acid
Omega-3 fatty acids promote scalp health, which systemically produces healthy hair follicles. Dry scalp and brittle hair often result from a deficit of "good-fatty" oils in the diet. Dry hair sabotages the possibility of hair growth, as moisture supports the root, follicle and scalp. According to Alastair Hall, "the essential fatty acids help eliminate eczema, psoriasis and dandruff [and] help prevent hair loss by controlling the flow of oils and nourish collagen, the supporting structure beneath the skin."
Suggested Food Sources
While supplements are good, whole foods are better. Hillary Parker of WebMD highly recommends choosing natural food sources for our daily intake of vitamins over supplements. The Vegetarian Society lists sunflower seeds, pinto beans, lentils, black-eyed peas and enriched whole-wheat pasta among a multiplicity of whole foods high in folic acid. Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, tomatoes, strawberries, oranges, papaya and grapefruit are high in Vitamin C. Finally, for those practicing a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, high-protein foods include peas, baked beans, tofu, lentils, soy milk and muesli.