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African American female smiling broadly with her hands in her beautiful, healthy hair.

Building Better Hair

By:
Cheryl Myers

It has been my observation that even people with fantastic hair want better hair. Wanting your hair to look nice is not all vanity--the appearance of your hair is psychologically and sociologically important.

Hair not only keeps our scalp warm, it has been used since prehistoric ages to attract mates. Thick, lustrous hair is a sign of good nutrition and health, and both men and women are wired to be attracted to external signs of fertility.

Through the ages, hair has been a fashion accessory that is worn every day. Hair styles are used to denote holiness, like the Catholic monk's shaven tonsure, or the snail-shell curls of Buddha.

Hair can make a political statement and proclaim membership in the tribe. So while one can live easily and attractively with little to no hair, most people are quite concerned about their hair quality and quantity.

Hair Loss: Men vs. Women

Men experience more hair loss than women, and partial to complete baldness is more socially accepted. Baldness can be celebrated and admired--think Patrick Stewart, Duane "The Rock" Johnson, and Terry Crews. In fact, we expect some hair loss as men age because of genes related to male pattern baldness. Unfortunately, there isn't a cure for this problem.

Women, on the other hand, are not expected to become partially or completely bald. And while women experience hair loss with age and hormonal changes, it is most generally an all-over hair loss and not in a single pattern. While women can certainly be bald and beautiful, many are seeking interventions to reduce or reverse their loss of hair.

Hormonal Changes, Stress & Hair Loss

According to the American Hair Loss Association (AHLA), the two most common causes of female hair loss are hormonal changes and nutrition/stress. As women age and estrogen production decreases, testosterone exerts a greater influence. One of testosterone's metabolites can contribute to hair loss.

Also, thyroid hormones are crucial for healthy hair growth and quality. In women experiencing sub-optimal thyroid function, one of the first observed signs is hair dryness and hair loss. Unfortunately, without interventions, these hormonal difficulties usually do not return to a normal pattern of hair growth on their own.

Physical and psychological stress can greatly increase hair loss. For example, when you experience the birth of a child, malnutrition, severe infection, major surgery, or extreme stress,

it can shift up to 90 percent of the hair from the growing phase to the shedding phase. Huge amounts of hair loss can occur 6 to 12 weeks after the event. The good news is that if the problems are resolved, hair growth may return to normal.

Fortunately, there are interventions to help with female hair loss. However, it is important to visit your healthcare practitioner to make sure there is no underlying health concern that is causing or contributing to hair loss.

Iodine, Iron & Hair Health

From a nutrient perspective, iodine can be useful if the problem is sub-optimal thyroid function. Many integrative doctors are using between 12.5 and 30 milligrams (mg) of iodine to increase thyroid hormone production, which in turn can reduce hair thinning. Experts recommend a blend of more than one kind of iodine for better absorption and utilization, such as a mix of potassium iodide, molecular iodine, and sodium iodide.

Making sure you are getting proper amounts of the mineral iron can influence the health of your hair. In fact, a review article published in May 2006 highlighted the role iron plays in healthy hair: "We believe that treatment for hair loss is enhanced when iron deficiency, with or without anemia, is treated," Leonid Trost, MD; Wilma Fowler Bergfeld, MD; and Ellen Calogeras, RD, MPH, write in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.

Healthier Hair with Plant Silica

Silica is a very powerful mineral for healthy hair. There isn't very much silica in our highly refined diets anymore, so supplementing with this mineral makes sense.

Silica increases collagen production in the body and collagen is a critical component of hair, nails, and skin. Silica's impact is much more powerful than hair alone, extending to increasing bone strength and perhaps even helping to prevent dementia because of its ability to displace aluminum in the brain.

To get the best results, use silica from a plant called horsetail, blended with marine oils to increase absorption. There are synthetic silicas on the market as well, usually orthosilicic acid. The daily dose is 20 mg a day, but you can take up to 60 mg a day if you feel you need intensive support for your hair.

Silica will make your hair shaft thicker and stronger, and this increase in hair shaft size can cause your hair to appear thicker and have better scalp coverage.

Protect Your Hair with Millet Seed

Last, but certainly not least, there is an interesting millet-seed extract originally used in Europe that shows promise for protecting against hair loss and promoting the regrowth of hair.

A special plant compound in millet seed oil called miliacin increases the amount of keratin made by cells. Keratin is an important structural component in hair, and is strongly associated with hair growth. There are excellent formulas that contain millet seed extract along with other oils (like sunflower) and vitamins and minerals to improve hair health.

There may be no perfect cure for every kind of female hair loss, but there are powerful nutritional interventions you can use to improve your hair's health, quality, and appearance. The added benefit from using these important nutrients is that they also improve your overall health.

You will need to have patience--since new hair grows slowly, it may be two months before you start to see results. The biggest mistake women make when using nutrients to improve their hair is not allowing a long enough trial to see results.

Sources

"The antioxidant network of the stratum corneum" by J.J. Thiele et al., Current Problems in Dermatology, 2001

"A case-control study of Panicum miliaceum in the treatment of cancer chemotherapy-induced alopecia" by G. Gardani et al. Minerva Medica, 2007

"Chemoprevention of smoke-induced alopecia in mice by oral administration of L-cystine and vitamin B6" by F. D'Agostini et al., Journal of Dermatological Science, 3/19/07

"Clinical manifestations of zinc deficiency" by A.S. Prasad, Annual Review of Nutrition, 1985

"Clinical response of alopecia, trichorrhexis nodosa, and dry, scaly skin to zinc supplementation" by A.E. Slonim et al., Journal of Pediatrics, 1992

"Essential fatty acid deficiency in childhood" by H.S. Heymans, Tijdschr Kindergeneeskd, 1981

"Human skin condition and its associations with nutrient concentrations in serum and diet" by E. Boelsma et al., The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2003

"Immunolocalization of enzymes, binding proteins, and receptors sufficient for retinoic acid synthesis and signaling during the hair cycle" by H.B. Everts et al., 2007; "Organization and expression of hair follicle genes" by G.E. Rogers and B.C. Powell, 1993, Journal of Investigative Dermatology

"In search of the 'hair cycle clock': a guided tour" by R. Paus et al., Differentiation, 2004

"Physical fatty acid deficiency signs in children with ADHD symptoms" by N. Sinn, Prostaglandins Leukotrienes & Essential Fatty Acids, 2007

"Silicon and bone health" by R. Jugdaohsingh, The Journal of Nutrition, Health and Aging, 2007

"Skin signs of nutritional disorders" by J.S. Prendiville and L.N. Manfredi, Seminars in Dermatology, 1992

"Treatment of brittle fingernails and onychoschizia with biotin: scanning electron microscopy" by V.E. Colombo et al., Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 1990