Guys, if you think you're losing your hair, you're not alone. Two in every three men experience some hair loss by the age of 35, and by age 50, that number jumps to 85 percent, according to the American Hair Loss Association. While heredity certainly plays a role, nutrition, hormones, and environmental toxins are other key players - players that you can control, to some degree.
"Hair follicles are a time-lapsed picture of the health of your whole body,'' says Alan Christianson, NMD, medical director of Integrative Health Care in Scottsdale, Ariz., and author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Thyroid Disease. In particular, eating too little protein, using toxic grooming and household products, and ignoring hormonal malfunctions are key contributors to hair loss, as well as non-optimum health in general.
A Hidden Protein Shortage
When you eat food or take supplements, the human body allocates nutrients to different areas, based on what you need most to survive. First, the vital organs get fed, then muscles and bones, connective tissue, skin, nails, and hair - in that order. Hair is last because physically, you can get along just fine without it.
Protein is the key building block of hair, but a dietary imbalance often creates a hidden deficiency. When we eat, about 10 percent of the protein we take in is used to break down our food, and the leftovers may not be enough to support healthy hair growth.
Christianson recommends getting 20-30 percent of your daily calories from protein, which is significantly more than many popular meals provide. Pizza, for example, contains only 17 percent, and extra breadsticks and soda drive that percentage even lower. Eating a lean piece of poultry or meat instead will help nourish your hair. Grilled or broiled coldwater fish, such as salmon, is another good option.
Hormones and Toxins
Elevated DHT (dihydrotestosterone), a hormone made from testosterone, contributes to both hair loss and prostate enlargement. Some supplements (and hair-loss drugs) block the production of DHT.
Low levels of thyroid hormone, which Christianson is seeing more and more often among men, is another hair robber. He recommends getting a total of about 300 mg of iodine per day to help maintain healthy thyroid levels. Be aware, however, that too much iodine can actually depress thyroid levels, so pay close attention to the amount you're getting from both supplements and food.
Toxins, especially those in personal grooming products, can increase the production of DHT and suppress thyroid hormones. Non-toxic versions of shaving cream and other men's skin and hair care products are widely available in health food stores. Switching to toxin-free household cleaners and natural pesticides and herbicides in the garden can also help reduce exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals.
Supplements for Healthy Hair
A combination of minerals and biotin, found in a good quality multivitamin, support hair growth, and overall health. Silica, naturally present in horsetail, is used to enhance skin, hair, and nails. In addition, these supplements target specific areas:
DHT Blockers: One key ingredient is He Shou Wu (also called foti), an herb commonly used to restore hair in traditional Chinese medicine. Others include saw palmetto and phytosterols, both of which offer prostate benefits in addition to helping lower DHT levels. He Shou wu is also found in topical hair treatments.
Keratin: Found in some combination formulas that contain DHT blockers, keratin is the main type of protein that makes up hair. A special form, called "solubilized keratin," is designed to be well absorbed and boost hair health. Some shampoos and conditioners also contain keratin.
Millet Seed Oil Extract: Miliacin, the key active ingredient in millet seed oil, has been found to enhance the health and appearance of hair by increasing cell turnover and regeneration.
No matter what you choose, be sure to give it plenty of time to work. The cells in hair follicles take about three months to regenerate, and hair grows about one-half inch per month. Because of this slow turnover, it will take three to four months before the results of an improved diet or supplement regimen start to be visible near the roots of your hair.