By Ron Hunninghake, M.D.
What is the purpose of hair? One purpose is to keep our heads warm. Our brains are the most metabolically active organs in the body. Twenty percent of all of the calories that we burn every day is used by the brain. With babies, keeping the brain warm is important. If you go to a nursery to see a newborn baby, they have a little cap on their heads. That is because the baby’s body is so small that over 30% of the heat it generates comes from the head.
If you are starting to lose hair, think of that as an early warning signal that something needs attention in the body.
Beyond that, hair is considered the least-important appendage in the body. If there is a nutrient deficiency or some problem in the body, hair often gets nutrition last. When we are under stress, the hair may be the first area for the effects of stress to show up.
Hair is anatomically very thin-1/300 to 1/525 of an inch in males and 1/250 to 1/5OO in females. A strand of hair is stronger than a strand of copper wire of the same diameter. Hair follicles tend to occur in little groups. This is the root from which the hair draws nourishment from the blood vessels in the skin.
Hair grows approximately six inches per year. Obviously, this can vary from one person to the next. Hair follicles will periodically take a vacation and stop growing. That can be a reason why you start to lose some hair. Fortunately, the follicles don’t all go on vacation at the same time. Normal shedding is 50-80 hairs per day. On any given day, 90% of your hairs will be actively growing; only 10% will be resting. Most hair loss occurs in the morning so if you are a morning shower person, you are more likely to see hair in the bottom of the tub.
Blondes average 140,000 hairs compared to brunettes who average 60,000. The longer your hair, the less fallout you will have. Longer is stronger!
We get concerned when we start losing hair and we should. It is a symptom that things are not well in the body not just in the scalp. If you are starting to lose hair, think of that as an early warning signal that something needs attention in the body.
Some causes for alopecia (abnormal hair loss) are:
• Heredity … if you have a family history of diabetes. which cuts down on circulation
• Thyroid … people with high thyroid or low thyroid can lose hair
• Trauma … when women put their hair up into a really tight bun, this can cause hair loss
• Traumatic spot baldness … a central area with no hair growth can occur when bumped or bruised
• Local infections … ringworm, which is a fungus, can cause hair loss
• General infection … such as the flu, where you have a high fever can result in hair loss
• Drugs … taking drugs for a long time, like cortisone or antibiotics, may result in hair loss
• Stress … people under constant stress will tend to deplete their nutrient reserves and, as a long-term consequence, will tend to have accelerated hair loss
• Environmental stress … excessive sun exposure, excessive cold exposure, chemicals
• Food sensitivities … they are an unknown and an unappreciated cause for hair loss
• Hormonal problems … can also cause hair loss
• Birth control pills … will disrupt endocrine balance, which can contribute to hair loss
• Fibromyalgia … women who are having problems with dry hair and hair that has lost its shine, and who are feeling tired and depressed, with muscle aching and fibromyalgia, will lose hair.
• Menopause … one in two women going through menopause may have hair fallout.
Hair health is about nutrition. What we eat grows our hair. Hair is made up of protein and minerals. We don’t think of it that way when we eat food, but every hair that we have is a result of what we are eating.
Most people think that if I am eating well, then everything is fine and wonderful. Nutrition, however, is more complicated than “you are what you eat.” You are what you eat, digest, absorb, metabolize, and excrete. If any of these steps are disrupted, you can expect your hair to be poor.
Whole foods are the very best. Here at The Center, we don’t have one diet that we espouse. We aren’t pro-vegetarian, pro-macrobiotic, or anything along those lines. We are pro-whole foods. Eat whole foods and eat them according to the balance that works best for you and you are going to be better off.
Empty calories are slow starvation. Dieting is fast starvation. I’m sure if you talk to people who have been on calorie restrictive diets, they’ll almost always tell you that they’ve lost hair rapidly. When you’re starving yourself, you are also starving your hair.
We find that general recommendations about diet and nutrition become somewhat irrelevant when people are chronically ill. We believe it’s a whole lot better to assess the patient’s actual tissue levels of nutrients and then we can more scientifically help the patient discover for himself/herself what is the best way to balance out his/her unique biochemistry. ‘We do that with micronutrients-vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids. We do it with macronutrients which are carbohydrates, fats, proteins, and fiber. We also do this with antioxidants.
Here is an ABC fashion of arranging nutrition so it is easy to remember:
A stands for vitamin A, which has two forms. There is vitamin A, which is fat-soluble. There is also beta-carotene, which is water-soluble. We find beta carotene in a lot of fruits and vegetables such as carrots and melons-anything that is orangish or yellowish is pretty high in beta-carotene. We can make vitamin A from beta-carotene if we have a normally functioning thyroid. You can get vitamin A in butter, eggs, milk, cheese, liver, and salmon. There is some vitamin A in yellow and green vegetables, but much higher doses of beta-carotene.
Beta-carotene is an excellent antioxidant. It, along with C, E, and selenium, are the four big antioxidants. It is important to know that too much vitamin A, which is fat soluble, can result in hair dryness and hair loss. Nutrients are good, but anything good used in excess can have a detrimental effect. This is one reason why it should be measured.
B is for beautiful. All of the B vitamins are helpful to your hair, skin, nails, and the central nervous system. It’s kind of artificial to say that B vitamins are good for hair. Every cell in the body requires B vitamins to function normally.
People think, ”I’ll take C vitamins to prevent colds and B vitamins to help my skin and hair and I’ll take vitamin E to help my blood vessels.” In reality, every cell in the body, all 50 trillion cells, need all of the essential nutrients. We should think that we need to have these for all of our cells and not just for our hair. Folic acid and B 12 are good for hair. If you are under stress, you will have problems with hair loss. Vitamin B5, which will help you deal with stress, may help your hair in that way. B6 and biotin are helpful to the friendly bacteria in the lining of your gut and those, of course, are very important in terms of nutrient absorption and utilization.
C is for vitamin C. It is the premier antioxidant in terms of protecting the blood vessels and other tissues in the body from free radicals. It is a natural detoxifying agent. Vitamin C promotes healing. It helps us maintain a healthy blood supply.
D is for deficiency of hydrochloric acid (HCL). HCL is the acid your stomach makes to digest foods. If we are not digesting our foods properly, we are going to get improper breakdown and release of minerals from the foods that we are eating. Minerals are very important in terms of hair. Copper and zinc seem to play a big role in normal hair growth. If you have inadequate digestion, you are not going to break down proteins as well as you could. Partially broken down proteins are called peptides. Proteins should break down all the way to amino acids, but if they only break down as far as peptides and you absorb these peptides, they can trigger food sensitivity reactions and may contribute to hair loss. If you do not digest your food adequately in your stomach, it goes into the small intestine and if it’s not broken down properly it will start to putrefy and make a breeding ground for yeast overgrowth.
E is for vitamin E, the antioxidant powerhouse. It protects against lipid peroxidation, which is important especially in the area of cholesterol. If your cholesterol is oxidized, it becomes more detrimental to the lining of your blood vessels. That may cause the early stages of hardening of the arteries. By keeping your vitamin E level up, you may prevent the damage to the lining of the blood vessels and promote better circulation for a greater period of your life. Interestingly enough, the antioxidant dose of vitamin E is 10 times the recommended daily allowance around 200 units per day. If you try to get enough vitamin E in your diet, you would have to drink a quart of corn oil a day, which would be 7700 calories.
F is for essential fatty acids. This may be one of the most important things that you can do for your hair … the essential fatty acids. If you don’t have them, your body won’t function as well and your skin and hair won’t be as nice. They are a very common deficiency in today’s diet. Most of the fats that we do have in our diet have been chemically treated or heated to make them trans fatty acids. These are very difficult to be utilized by the cells and so a lot of these are just stored as fat. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are used to make prostaglandins, which regulate inflammation, circulation, and are beneficial in hair growth. Flax is one of the best ways to get the essential fatty acids. You can even give flax meal to your pet and you will find after a month that its coat and hair will be a lot softer and smoother. The same thing can happen to your hair if you use flax on a regular basis due to the oils that are in flax.
Finally, G … stuff that is great for your hair. Brushing your hair everyday when it’s dry stimulates the roots of your hair and promotes circulation. Use acid pH shampoo because the alkaline shampoos wash away the fatty acids on your scalp, which normally protect your scalp. Scalp massage is wonderful for the circulation of your scalp. Avoid excess chlorine and sun.
Love your hair, but don’t be too proud of it. Hair is a gift.