Written by Solaade Ayo-Aderele
Hair loss at any age is unflattering to the looks. For one, it is an unsolicited announcement that you are ageing. For another, it may be an indication of certain health challenges that you were hitherto unaware of.
Whichever way, we all treasure shock-full heads, such that, among women, the longer, shinier and healthier the hair, the better we deem it to be.
For men, while the average person may not expect a man to have long hair if he isn't a hippie or in showbiz, even the short or closely-cropped hair that a man wears is expected to be well groomed. In short, as healthy humans, we are expected to have hair on the scalp.
This isn't always the case, though; as people do go bald at one point or the other, due to many reasons, ranging from medical to emotional.
Experts say both men and women tend to lose hair thickness and amount as they age. "Baldness is not usually caused by a disease. It is related to ageing, heredity, and changes in the hormone, testosterone," experts say.
They note that inherited or "pattern baldness" affects many more men than women, because about one-half of men begin to go bald by the time they are 30 years old, and most are either bald or have a balding pattern by age 60.
Hair loss in women
Physicians say female pattern baldness can be as a result of changes in hormones, ageing or genes. However, dermatologists say beyond these, breaking of hair could be caused by certain skin diseases that lead to scarring of the hair follicles.
Epidemiologists say it could be due to certain autoimmune diseases, hormone problems, such as too much testosterone; or too much or too little thyroid hormone.
Dieticians opine that when the body suffers from too little iron, hair loss might occur. Ditto too little vitamin B (biotin) or other vitamin deficiency, which can lead to shedding of hair.
Physicians say medications such as chemotherapy and beta blockers could lead to hair loss; while untreated sexually transmitted disease such as syphilis can also make a woman suffer hair loss.
Eat for better hair
Experts say hair loss can be prevented in many cases, and that certain food groups actually nurture hair to good health. Such foods are rich in essential contents that not only sustain hair health but also nourish the body. In effect, the advantages of such foods are multi-pronged.
Omega-3 fatty acid
A nutritionist, Dr. Remi Omotunde, says omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids are vital to every cell in the body, as its benefits extend to the heart, breast, bone, brain, hair and skin.
A dermatologist, Dr. Godwin Osazie, gives omega-3 fatty acid a thumb-up for its ability to heal dry and brittle hair, prevent hair loss, or the dryness that could lead to flaky scalp.
"Omega-3 fatty acids therefore add luster, sheen and elasticity to the hair by nurturing the hair follicles. This will help in restarting hair growth, making hair to grow quicker and stronger," Osazie says.
Foods rich in omega-3 include fish such as salmon (Titus), tuna, sardines and mackerel; dairy such as cheese, eggs, soya milk and yoghurt; wild rice (available in stores), walnuts, and beans.
Zinc: A family doctor, Grace Oluwaseun, notes that lack of zinc causes an increase in a chemical messenger called Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha.
"This TNF-a causes the immune system to attack healthy tissues in the body, including the hair. Sufficient levels of zinc help preserve healthy hair," she counsels. A word of caution, though. Oluwaseun warns that heavy doses of zinc supplements can reverse the process and cause accelerated hair loss.
Zinc-rich foods include pumpkin seeds, eggs, cucumber, bell pepper, liver, mutton, dried watermelon seeds, crab meat, and peanuts.
Protein: Scientists say hair is made up of protein, and that's why a protein deficiency may lead to hair loss or dry and brittle hair. They maintain that poor diet occasionally causes excessive hair loss, particularly if you stick with diets low in vitamins, minerals, and protein.
To help your hair, eat foods rich in protein, such as the protein found in animal sources like fish, chicken, pork and turkey. Other sources of protein include beans, eggs, yoghurt, milk, soya milk, nuts, watermelon, etc.
Iron: Experts aver that if your hair is thinning, iron-deficiency may be to blame. They say that iron deficiency can make the hair to become dry, brittle, and lose shine and body.
To boost the amount of iron in your diet and give life to your hair, try these iron-rich foods: red meat, egg yolks, dark, leafy greens (spinach), dried fruit, iron-enriched cereals and grains, turkey or chicken giblets, beans, lentils, and soya beans, as well as liver.
Oluwaseun adds, "Using shampoos and moisturisers that are high in protein, and following your doctor's orders for diet, exercise, and iron supplementation, the look and feel of your hair will improve gradually over time."
Magnesium: Described as "nature's beauty enhancer," experts say this mineral plays a significant role in bone health and maintenance, as it is directly responsible for over 300 biochemical reactions in the body. It is also needed in order for hair to grow properly.
Indeed, scientists say the beauty of our hair, skin, and nails depends on how "mineralised" we are.
Magnesium-rich foods include dark green, leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds, fish, avocado, beans and lentils, non-fat yoghurt, bananas, dark chocolates, whole-wheat bread, coffee, sweet fresh corn, okro, peas, cucumber, watermelon, guava, and plantain, among others.
Selenium: Experts say selenium, a trace mineral, aids the body in processing and using proteins. "Hair is primarily composed of proteins; so, when the body is able to better process the proteins, hair growth will follow," scientists say.
They warn that deficiencies in selenium (and zinc) often lead to hair loss. Good natural food sources of selenium include nuts (like Brazil nuts and walnuts), many fresh and salt water fish such as tuna, cod, red snapper, and herring; beef and poultry; grains, liver, veal, shrimps, lobster, crab meat, bacon, etc.
Vitamins A & C: Described as "nature's hair conditioner," experts say these two vitamins contribute to the production of sebum - the oily substance in the hair follicles - and keeps the hair from breaking. Foods rich in these vitamins include dark leafy greens such as spinach, broccoli, sweet potatoes, pumpkin (ugwu), red and green peppers, guava, bell pepper, pawpaw, carrots, milk, tomatoes, eggs, bananas, boiled egg, sweet potato (baked), etc.