What your tresses say about your health and four ways to improve your hair
Our hair is not just something that has historically been viewed as a sign of fertility or beauty, but it can also be a helpful indicator of changes in our health. Hair treatments such as keratin applications, warm oil and even hair extensions are commonly done in salons across the globe. Fortunes are spent on hair care, coloring and styling, but the key to healthy hair is more intricate.
In Traditional Eastern Medicines, our hair is a reflection of the health and nourishment of our blood. Commonly, hair suffers when there are nutritional deficiencies, high levels of stress that deplete the blood and too much exposure to the elements. Even in the Western medical paradigm, our hair can indicate concerns over thyroid, menopause and other hormonal imbalances. Iron deficiencies, radiation exposure (intended or not) and malnourishment are a few other causes for hair to not live up to it’s beauty potential. While there is little we can do about the genetics that predispose us to the hair we have, there is quite a lot we can do to maximize the health and vitality of our tresses.
While there are numerous lifestyle adjustments that can be made to improve hair health, we will focus on four of the big ones.
- Eat as though your hair depends upon it. Pack your diet with veggies and fruits that provide essential vitamins and minerals. Be sure to eat enough, as dieting has been shown to have a negative impact on providing the vital nourishment the hair needs to thrive. Iron rich foods like dried fruits, apricots, cherries, beets, kale and dark leafy greens are excellent sources of needed minerals and vitamins. If you eat meat, grass fed lean meats strengthen the blood and hair as well. Be sure to have sufficient levels of protein from varied sources: eggs, fish, dairy if appropriate, tofu and beans are good examples. Anti-inflammatory fatty acids like flax seed oil, evening primrose oil, and organic purified fish oils are all important for reducing the inflammation around the hair follicles to prevent hair loss. A varied diet is crucial in the quest for healthful hair. Silica, a vital mineral, helps with the strength of the hair. Herbs like Horsetail, Equiseti Arvense, naturally have high levels of silica and can be excellent additions to the diet of hair health seekers.
- Reduce stress with blissful vengeance. We all know stresschews away at our peace of mind and sense of well being. Practicing yoga, qi gong, tai chi or any form of meditation can rebalance our bodies, aid in the absorption of nutrients and provide the relaxation needed for the body to heal and regenerate. This, in turn, has beneficial effects on hair, nails and skin. The bottom line is to have a practice that reduces the negative impact of stress. Proper rest, gentle exercise, mental timeouts, and even a spiritual outlet that can bring calm, focus and assist the body to maximize nutrition and positively express health. Herbs like Melissa, Ashwagandha, Kava kava, and Valerian help to bring in calm and reduce stress.
- Get out and enjoy nature, but take care with exposure to the elements. Long hikes, cross country skiing, and ocean swims are all wonderful activities but, when out and about, protect your skin and hair. Sun hats and natural protective products can save your hair and skin from the power of the natural elements like wind, sun, dryness and cold. After exposure to salty water or a lot of sweat, be sure to rinse with a gentle, natural shampoo or rinse. As an athlete, I used to enjoy the Ayurvedic treatment called “Shirodhara”. The treatment is an oil stream that flows over your third eye, over your forehead and into the hair. The therapist then massages the oil into your scalp and head. It’s not only a heavenly treatment of epic relaxation, but it also made my sun dried tresses shiny and stronger. When I no longer had access to the center where I received these treatments, I continued using the oils in my hair and it has made a big difference in keeping my hair shiny and healthy. Sesame and coconut oils are very nice bases and therapeutic essential oils of lavender, rosemary or others can be used to enhance the base oils. Doing this once every two weeks to a month is fine for thinner, dry hair. Oily hair that is highly processed can benefit from this treatment once every six weeks to two months. Being cautious to not wash hair too frequently and to use natural products without sodium laureth sulfate and soaping agents is also key in keeping hair healthy and not overly processed.
- Our hormones are key in most vital body functions. Balancing hormones is crucial in overall wellness and health let alone the health of our hair. Speaking with your primary care doctor to test your hormones is a good way to get a general baseline and to know if there are any imbalances. Taking extra care and paying attention to symptoms like heavy, scant or irregular menstrual cycles, hot flashes, irregular sleep and crashing fatigue can serve as a tip off to possible hormonal fluctuations. Saw Palmetto, Maca, Licorice, Red Raspberry, Black Cohosh, the amino acid L-tyrosine can be just a few of the natural ingredients that can help in regulating hormone activity. A practitioner well versed in testing and natural supplementation can make a huge difference in balancing out the delicate hormonal balance that can lead to optimal health including hair health.
Clearly, there are numerous factors that impact the health of our locks. It also comes down to not over processing and not using too many harsh chemicals on our hair. Making sure the water used to rinse the hair is clean, pure and not too hot. Taking care when brushing hair and not pulling and tearing if there are knotty areas in longer hair is important. Scalp massage and red light laser treatments can help promote hair growth. Peptides in newer products can also be useful. Conditioning hair with natural products can be useful as well. Reading labels with hair products is just as important as with our food ingredients.
When it comes to hair health, it’s good to “make virtue of necessity.” Perhaps we genetically didn’t receive the head of hair we wish for, but there is a lot we can do to keep our hair shiny, healthy and reflective of overall health.