Seeing more strands in your brush than usual? You're not alone. An estimated 80 million Americans experience male- or female-pattern baldness as they age, and countless others suffer hair loss from conditions like autoimmune disorders, diabetes, vitamin deficiencies, stress, and lack of sleep.
While contending with bald spots and thinning tresses is stressful, there is hope: Research shows that it's possible to thicken hair back up through dietary changes.
Fill your plate with the following foods, which are rich in proven hair-growth nutrients, as described in the new book Eat for Extraordinary Health & Healing.
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Hair is a protein fiber (as are nails), which means you need to eat protein to grow new strands and keep the existing ones strong. Protein is also required to produce keratin, a key structural component of hair.
A smart choice is marine-based protein, like salmon, which has been shown to boost hair health in women thanks to its omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin content.
When used as a topical treatment, honey can improve the look of thinning hair. In a study of patients experiencing seborrheic dermatitis, which includes scaling, itching, and hair loss, those who applied a solution of 90% honey and 10% water to their scalp every other day for 4 weeks reported an improvement in hair loss at the end of the study.
Nuts and seeds
Some of the most promising research on reversing female-pattern hair loss was released in January 2015 in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology. Subjects in the study received a nutritional supplement containing omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids and antioxidants for 6 months. The results were overwhelmingly positive: After 6 months, 90% of the subjects reported a reduction in hair loss, 86% reported an improvement in hair growth, and 87% reported thicker hair.
To achieve similar results, eat nuts and seeds high in omega-3s and omega-6s, like walnuts, flaxseed, and oils such as grapeseed, sunflower, and sesame.
One study found that women with hair loss have significantly lower iron and vitamin D2 levels than age-matched controls. Spinach is a good bet because it's rich in iron and high in vitamin C, which aids in iron absorption. Toss a spinach salad with hardboiled eggs or mushrooms, both of which are loaded with vitamin D, to give yourself the best shot at slowing hair loss.
Zinc seems to be a super nutrient when it comes to preventing and treating hair loss. In one study, researchers compared the zinc levels of 50 people with hair loss due to alopecia areata to 50 healthy controls and found that all of the alopecia patients had significantly lower zinc levels. Another study examined the zinc and copper levels in 312 men and women experiencing hair loss. No matter the cause of the hair loss, all subjects had significantly lower zinc levels than controls.
Fortunately, zinc supplementation and eating plenty of zinc-rich foods can slow hair loss in the majority of these cases, so it's a good idea to add it to your diet. According to the National Institutes of Health, oysters contain more zinc per serving than any other food. Other food sources of zinc include walnuts, spinach, eggs, sunflower seeds, green peas, wheat germ, oatmeal and chickpeas.
Pumpkin, rosemary, and coconut oils all act as nectar to the scalp. In one study, researchers gave men with hair loss 400 mg per day of pumpkin seed oil or a placebo for 24 weeks. Those who took the pumpkin seed oil experienced a 40% increase in hair growth.
And there's something to be said for oils even when you don't eat them: When used as a pre-wash and post-wash grooming product, coconut oil has been shown to protect hair against protein loss, and rosemary oil has been shown to increase hair growth comparable to minoxidil, the main ingredient in Rogaine—and with less scalp itching.
A recent study found that a supplement containing cistanche tubulosa (a desert plant used in traditional Chinese medicine) and laminaria japonica (an edible brown seaweed) promoted hair growth in people with mild to moderate hair loss. After 16 weeks of supplementation, volunteers saw a 13% increase in hair volume and a 27% increase in hair thickness. The supplement was also effective at treating scalp inflammation and dandruff.