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Valuable Vitamins for Strong, Shiny Hair

Many commercial vitamin and mineral preparations claim they will accelerate hair growth, make hair stronger and longer, help prevent hair loss, and so on. If you are eating a balanced diet, these products should not be necessary. In some cases they might even throw off the natural balance among the nutrients found in the food you eat. Following are some vitamins considered important to a healthy scalp and rich, luxuriant locks.

BETA-CAROTENE/VITAMIN A. Vitamin A plays a vital role in the growth and health of cells and tissues throughout the body, including the cells of the scalp and hair. A fat-soluble antioxidant, vitamin A also helps produce and protect the sebum (oil) in the scalp, and a deficiency can cause dandruff. Ironically, an excess of vitamin A (due to supplements) causes hair loss. My favorite way to get enough vitamin A is to consume plenty of beta-carotene, since the body can then syn- thesize all the vitamin A it needs. Among my Top10 Beauty Foods, you’ll find significant amounts of beta-carotene in sweet potatoes, spinach, kiwi, and tomatoes. You can also add beta-carotene to your diet with foods like pumpkin, carrots, chilies, mangoes, cantaloupe, and apricots. Among my Top 10 Beauty Foods, preformed vitamin A can be found in oysters, yogurt, and salmon.

VITAMIN B COMPLEX. Without vitamin B, hair growth slows and the hair shafts produced are weak and brittle. Some B vitamins are believed to help prevent hair loss, some are thought to assist with the production of keratin, and others are said to boost circulation to the scalp. Vitamin B6 helps create melanin, which gives hair its color. A major player in commercial hair products is biotin (B7), perhaps because a bona fide deficiency of this vitamin causes hair loss. On the other hand, studies have not demonstrated that people who already have adequate levels of biotin will benefit from ingesting even more. Some shampoos now contain biotin, but it is not certain this ingredient has any useful effect.

 Vitamins B6, B12, and folate (B9) all help to form red blood cells, which bring oxygen to the hair and allow it to grow at a healthy rate. As you have learned already, the B vitamins work together, so a deficiency of any one of them can affect the proper functioning of the whole group. Different foods have different amounts of each B vitamin, so eat a varied diet to obtain all of them.

Among my Top 10 Beauty Foods, the best source of thiamine (B1) and biotin (B7) is walnuts, the best source of riboflavin (B2) and pantothenic acid (B5) is yogurt, the best source of niacin (B3) is wild salmon, the best source of folate (B9) is spinach, and the best source of cobalamin (B12)—which is available only from animal sources—is oysters. Spinach, walnuts, and salmon are all good sources of pyridoxine (B6).

VITAMIN C. A nutrient superhero, vitamin C is essential to fabulous hair and a healthy scalp. It aids circulation to the skin and maintains the capillaries that support the hair follicles.If you are not eating abundant amounts of vitamin C–rich foods every day, you may not have enough to take care of your lovely locks. In fact, a deficiency of vitamin C can cause hair breakage. Among my Top 10 Beauty Foods, significant amounts of vitamin C are found in blueberries, kiwi, sweet potatoes, spinach, and tomatoes. Vitamin C is also found in foods like peppers, oranges, strawberries, lemons, and broccoli. (For more information on vitamin C, see body beautiful post.)

VITAMIN E. Because it is a fat-soluble antioxidant, vitamin E protects the scalp’s natural oils. Vitamin E also works well with other antioxidants to protect lipid membranes. This vitamin has also been reported to improve scalp circulation. Among my Top10 Beauty Foods, vitamin E can be found in blueberries, kiwifruit, spinach, tomatoes, and walnuts. Other good sources of vitamin E include wheat germ, sunflower seeds, safflower and sunflower oils, almonds, peaches, prunes, cabbage, asparagus, and avocados.

Must-Have Minerals for Lovely, Lustrous Locks
Good things come in small packages. If you’ve ever opened a blue gift box from Tiffany and Co., you know that a very big box is great . . . but a small box is better! For fabulous hair, you need certain minerals in tiny amounts. These trace minerals affect everything from the growth rate of your hair to its color and texture—and the ideal way to obtain them is by eating the variety of whole, natural foods included in my Beauty Diet.

IRON. Iron plays a role in hair health because it helps red blood cells carry oxygen to the hair follicles. While anemia is sometimes an undiagnosed cause of hair loss in women, even if you are not clinically anemic, you can experience hair loss simply from not getting enough iron in your diet. It has been well established that women with alopecia (hair loss and baldness) often have low levels of iron in their blood. For these women, supplementary iron helps hair growth. Iron deficiency can also leave you with lusterless, dry, brittle hair.

Among my Top 10 Beauty Foods, the best sources of iron are oysters, spinach, and tomatoes. Other animal sources of iron include clams, lean beef, turkey, duck, lamb, chicken, pork, shrimp, and eggs. Good plant sources of iron include soybeans, lentils, beans, and bran. (For more information on iron, see the end of this chapter.) Plant foods contain nonheme iron, which is not as well absorbed as the heme iron in chicken, fish, and lean beef; however, you can enhance your body’s ability to absorb nonheme iron by consuming vitamin C in the same meal.

COPPER. In addition to playing a role in the structure of hair shafts, copper is important to the color of your hair. Because copper is essential to the formation of hemoglobin, it also is involved in bringing oxygen to your hair follicles. If you follow my Beauty Diet, you will not need to worry about your copper intake. A deficiency usually comes either from genetic problems or from taking zinc supplements, which can inhibit the absorption of copper in the body.

SELENIUM. Any discussion of healthy hair has to include selenium, because this trace mineral is important to the scalp. Selenium helps keep skin supple and elastic by preventing cellular damage from free radicals. Ironically, too much selenium (selenosis) can cause hair loss. Among my Top 10 Beauty Foods, you’ll find significant amounts of selenium in salmon and oysters. Brazil nuts are an extraordinarily good source of selenium. Other selenium-rich foods include tuna, crab, whole wheat bread, wheat germ, garlic, eggs, and brown rice.

SILICON. This element is found in abundance in our environment, although as we continue to deplete minerals from the soil, our consumption of silicon has declined. In the human body, silicon is found in high concentrations in skin and hair. It is important to the health of your scalp, plus it helps strengthen your hair. High-fiber diets contain lots of silicon, which is widely distributed in whole grains. Silicon is also found in bananas, root vegetables, rice, soybeans, and many other foods.

SULFUR. This trace mineral matters because it is present in cysteine, an amino acid that is crucial to hair growth. This means sulfur helps your body create longer, stronger hair. Sulfur is readily available in a wide variety foods, including eggs, meat, fish, dairy products, onions, and garlic.

ZINC. We know zinc is important to terrific tresses and a healthy scalp because low levels of zinc can cause hair loss and even a loss of eyelashes. A zinc deficiency can also cause the scalp to become dry and flaky. As an antioxidant, zinc helps guard against free-radical damage to your scalp (and elsewhere). Many people are deficient in zinc, but taking zinc supplements can throw off your body’s natural balance between zinc and copper. Among my Top 10 Beauty Foods, oysters are an extraordinarily good source of zinc, and yogurt is also helpful. Other foods that contain zinc include seafood, beef, lamb, eggs, whole grains, and nuts.

Lemon Juice Will Lighten Your Hair
True or false? This beauty myth is actually partly true. If you put lemon juice in your hair and stay inside, nothing will happen, even if you use a hair dryer. To get the lightening effect of lemons, work a generous amount of lemon juice into your hair, then go outside in the sun. The UV light will lighten your hair. When lemon juice is applied to your hair, the citric acid in the lemon juice opens up the cuticle. Once the cuticle is open, the hair becomes more sensitive to changes such as sunlight. The combination of the acid in the lemon juice, the oxygen in the air, and the UV rays from the sun results in a bleaching process. The lemon juice acts as a catalyst, so you will see your hair lighten faster. This reaction is called acid-catalyzed oxidation.

The Lifestyle for Lovely, Luxuriant Locks
Follow these guidelines for thick, gorgeous, captivating hair:

*Get some exercise. Take some time to exercise daily, if only for a few minutes. Exercise improves the blood flow to your scalp, which hastens the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to hair follicles, which leads to healthier hair.

*Avoid rapid weight loss. A harsh truth is that dieting can make your hair fall out! Crash diets often lack proper nutrition, and rapid weight loss in itself is a stress on the body and can also trigger metabolism changes that affect hair growth. If you lose more than 10 percent of your body weight over a couple of months (e.g., more than 15 pounds if you weighed 150), you can lose hair. Additionally, nutritional deficiencies can contribute to increased hair shedding by weakening hair shafts that cause breakage to the hair and slow regrowth.

*Avoid low-protein diets. Hair is 97 percent protein. If you are vegan, make sure you are getting enough protein. Diets that are based on eating mostly rice or mostly fruits do not provide enough protein for beautiful hair.

*If you smoke, quit now. Smoking creates free radicals, fills your blood with toxins, and interferes with your body’s ability to deliver fresh nutrients to your scalp and hair follicles.

*Don’t stress! Stress is closely linked to hair loss. Chronic stress interferes with abundant blood circulation in the scalp, which restricts the amount of oxygen and nutrients that reaches your hair follicles. Severe stress—either physical or emotional—causes large numbers of hairs to stop growing and to shift into a resting phase. Two to three months later, all the resting hairs begin falling out. The good news is that eventually this hair grows back.

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