Alopecia is the medical or technical name for hair loss. The loss of hair can occur on the scalp or on any part of the body that normally has hair, such as eyebrows or eyelashes. A certain amount of hair loss is normal. The average person normally sheds 50 to 100 hairs every day. The hair shed daily is not necessarily permanent hair loss. Most of the hair we shed grows back. All hairs have a life expectancy of three to six years. At any given time, some of our hair is growing, some is done growing and in the resting stage, and some is in the falling-out stage. Everyone sheds hair at about the same rate, but there are some people, through genetics, who have fewer new hairs that grow to replace those that shed. Pattern baldness or permanent hair loss is simply the result of genetic programming. Increased hair shedding, or temporary hair loss can be caused by a host of different reasons. Some of these reasons include poor nutrition and diet, genes, hormones, age, medications such as chemotherapy, radiation treatment, infections, stress, chemicals used for certain hairstyles, and rapid weight loss. Certain illnesses and diseases can also cause hair loss or hair shedding. Examples include anemia, low thyroid hormone levels, lupus, and sometimes cancer. In most of these cases, hair loss is not permanent.
Nutrition and Dietary Recommendations
Nutritional deficiencies can contribute to increased hair shedding by weakening hair shafts that cause breakage to the hair and slow regrowth. Hair problems that are caused by nutritional deficiencies can be corrected by a proper diet. Principal nutrients that are involved include vitamin A, certain B vitamins, the vitamin biotin, vitamin C, copper, iron, zinc, protein, and water.
Adequate intake of vitamin A is vital in helping to promote the growth and health of cells and tissues throughout the body, including the hair and scalp. Prolonged vitamin A deficiency can lead to hair loss and dandruff caused by the buildup of cellular debris in the hair follicles. The daily intake of vitamin A for adults is 5,000 IU (international units). The body actually gets vitamin A in two ways: from plant sources in the form of carotenoids, such as beta carotene, that convert to vitamin A in the body. These sources include red, yellow, and orange fruits and vegetables as well as some dark green leafy vegetables. The body also gets vitamin A from animal sources in the form of retinol. Good animal sources include:
other foods fortified with vitamin A
Vitamin B6, Folic Acid, Vitamin B12
All three of these B vitamins are essential to the normal formation of red blood cells or the hemoglobin (iron-containing) portion of red blood cells. The primary function of hemoglobin is to carry oxygen from the lungs to tissues in the body, including the hair. Healthy and strong hair is dependent on a constant supply of blood and oxygen. A deficiency of these B vitamins can cause reduced blood and oxygen supply to the hair, leading to increased hair shedding, damaged hair, and slow regrowth. The reference daily intake of vitamin B6 is 2.0 milligrams per day for the average adult. The best sources of vitamin B6 are protein-rich foods such as:
Whole grains, cereals, nuts, and legumes also contain reasonable amounts.
The reference daily intake of folic acid is 400 micrograms for the average adult. Sources of folic acid include:
some fortified cereals
Most enriched grain products, such as bread, flour, rice, macaroni, and noodles, must be fortified with folic acid according to a new law.
The reference daily intake of vitamin Bl2 is 6.0 micrograms for the average adult. B12 is found mostly in animal foods such as:
other dairy foods
For people who eat a healthy diet, biotin deficiency is rare. Besides getting biotin from select food sources, biotin is also manufactured in our intestines by gut bacteria. In rare instances though, biotin deficiency can cause hair loss. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition researched two adult patients receiving TPN (total parenteral nutrition, which is a form of nutrition used by the very ill who cannot use their gut for digestion and must have specialized nutrition through a large catheter inserted directly into the vein) on a long-term basis. Both patients had severe loss of hair. These patients, due to their medical condition, did not manufacture biotin in their gut and consumed no biotin orally or parenterally. Daily supplementation of biotin resulted in the gradual regrowth of healthy hair.