Everything we eat has a direct impact on our health at all levels, from physical or psychological state to cognitive performance.
But our diet can also influence something seemingly more trivial – like the shine of our skin or hair.
This is not a futile concern. The abnormal loss of our hair can be one of the first signs that something is not going well in our body. We cannot ignore this symptom.
Hair loss can be triggered by several reasons, such as chronic stress, genetic predisposition, hormonal changes or certain pharmacological treatments.
We will now focus on nutritional factors that can compromise the well-being of our hair and that can be controlled in a relatively simple way.
We know that certain nutrients are essential for hair health, such as those rich in proteins, B vitamins, trace elements or certain minerals, such as iron and zinc.
In fact, eating disorders, such as anorexia or bulimia, cause considerable calorie and vitamin restriction and are strongly associated with hair loss.
What perhaps not everyone knows are the specific components of the diet that can cause hair loss and impoverishment.
Foods high in sugar or saturated fats, for example, are not only associated with the development of cardiovascular diseases, but also “stress” and inflame our cells. This state makes our body more susceptible to the development of a wide variety of pathologies – among them, hair loss.
Therefore, many of the remedies on the market to prevent hair loss focus on the anti-inflammatory effects of some compounds.
Following this reasoning, prioritizing foods with these properties, such as extra virgin olive oil and fish rich in oil, and avoiding the consumption of foods that promote inflammatory states are actions that would help maintain the vigor of your hair.
Several studies confirm this statement. And some of them demonstrate, for example, that the Mediterranean diet – the prototype of a menu rich in foods with anti-inflammatory properties – can have a protective effect on hair health.
Stress, another great enemy
Stressful situations that arise in our daily lives increase levels of the hormone cortisol as a defense mechanism.
What if this “emergency” situation persists for a long time? Well, that’s where the problems start.
Produced by the adrenal gland, cortisol is directly related to hair loss. And, obviously, reducing the factors that trigger stress is the first measure that comes to mind to maintain this organic compound at its normal values.
Can we help regulate stress with eating? Of course.
Certain foods such as avocado, oily fish and certain types of seeds, rich in omega-3 fatty acids and various vitamins and minerals, can slow down the production of cortisol.
The microbiota factor
Finally, it has been proven that fermented foods have protective effects against hair loss. They regulate intestinal bacteria and their inflammatory properties.
This is where the intestinal microbiota comes into play – the set of microorganisms that inhabit our digestive system.
This microscopic ecosystem is directly associated with health and disease, through its interaction with the nutrients we ingest. So much so that our microbiota will be different depending on our diet.
Nutrients are metabolized or absorbed differently depending on our bacterial population. Therefore, they will generate different chemical and metabolic signals.
This can alter physiological functions, such as the reaction to stress, which is important for hair health, as we saw above.
The richer and more varied our diet, the better the community of bacteria we have in our intestines.
We can give bacteria a helping hand by consuming probiotics, such as yogurt, kefir and other fermented foods. They are associated with better mental and digestive health and our hair will thank you too.
Pilar Argente Arizón is a professor and researcher at the Faculty of Health Sciences at San Jorge University, in Spain.
*This article was originally published on the academic news website The Conversation and republished under a Creative Commons license. Read the original Spanish version here.