Children 10–18 years

How well do you feed your hair?

11057647_885486694880600_1216219489324966892_nOver the course of a lifetime most of us spend a great deal of time and money caring for our hair.

We take every part of our body for granted but have you ever considered how miraculous your hair growth really is? Do you feed it well?

Hair health

On a normal scalp there are about 120,000-150,000 strands of hair and around 50-100 of these are shed each day. About 90% of our hair is in the growing stage and for each individual hair this stage lasts for 2-3 years. At the end of this period the hair enters a resting stage for about 3 months before it falls out and is replaced by new hair. As people age their rate of hair growth slows.

Hair Loss (Alopecia)

There are many types of alopecia’s:

  • Involutional alopecia– the hair naturally thins with age
  • Androgenic alopecia– a genetic condition affecting men and women, hair recedes and is lost from the crown.
  • Alopecia Areata– often starts suddenly, due to an autoimmune disease, causing patchy hair loss in children and young adults which can lead to baldness although in 90% of people hair does grow back.
  • Alopecia universalis– all body hair falls out, including eyebrows, eyelashes and pubic hair.
  • Trichotillomania– a psychological disorder where a person pulls their own hair out.
  • Telogen effluvium– a temporary hair thinning where more hairs are resting than growing

Factors affecting hair loss

The hair cycle can be regulated by a number of factors:

Genetics and hormonal fluctuations

This may be seen in androgen alopecia leading to hair thinning in women and patchy baldness in men. While this can be due to hereditary it is mainly due to the fluctuations in the level of androgens and Dihydrotestosterone (DHT) which are male hormones. These hormones are  present in women in small amounts although higher levels can be associated with the development of ovarian cysts and can become elevated during pregnancy and menopause.


During pregnancy hair appears to thicken. This is because oestrogen levels increase which slows the hair growth cycle, resulting in a reduction of hair loss and some hair renewal. Once the child has been born the oestrogen levels fall leading to accelerated, temporary, hair loss. However prolactin which is the hormone released during breast-feeding can help to delay this hair loss cycle.


Researchers have found that men who smoke 20 cigarettes per day are twice as likely to suffer from moderate or severe hair loss compared to those who have never smoked. It is believed that smoking damages hair by limiting the circulation of blood and hormones to the hair follicle responsible for hair growth.

A trigger event

Hair thinning can occur over several months after a major physical or emotional shock. Such as may occur with sudden weight loss; high fever; burns; injuries; x-rays; surgery or death in the family.
This is normally only temporary hair loss however the psychological impact can be severe. Medication to treat hair loss is available so do discuss this with your doctor if it is a problem.

Scalp infections

Such as Ringworm that is caused by the same fungal infection “tinea capitas” that can affect nails and also cause athletes foot. If it develops on the scalp it begins as a pimple gradually expanding in size leaving scaly patches of temporary baldness. Usually it responds well to anti-fungal drug therapy so do see your doctor.


Some medications are associated with hair loss such as chemotherapy, anti-clotting and cholesterol lowering drugs; antidepressants; non-sterioid anti-inflammatories; oral contraceptives; antibiotics as well as drugs to treat high blood pressure and menopause.Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) has been proven to help reduce hair loss during menopause so talk to your doctor if this problem affects you.


Although hair doesn’t get sunburnt because it is composed of dead cells ultraviolet radiation of medium wavelength (UVA) can destroy colour pigments. This is why natural and coloured hair fades in the sun. Heat from the sun weakens the hair strands outer layer causing it to look dry, frizzy and causing split ends. Discuss the use of sunscreens for the skin and hair with your doctor and remember to also use a hat and limit time spent in direct sunlight.

Hair treatments

Excessive hair styling, colouring, styling that pulls the hair tightly into pony tails or corn rows can compromise hair growth. So choose your hair dresser with care and enquire about the hair products being used to ensure that efforts are being made to reduce the  unnecessary use of chemicals. These chemicals may include  parabens, sulphates and salts which some people are sensitive to and over time may damage hair health.

Nutrients important for hair health


If there is a lack of dietary protein a greater number of hairs enter the resting phase at the same time leading to noticeable hair loss. So ensure that you eat moderate servings of protein rich foods such as meat, fish, eggs, poultry, eggs, cheese, beans and lentils each day.

Energy deficiency

Often people trying to “make-weight” such as athletes or even healthy people just trying to avoid unnecessary weight gain may unwittingly restrict their energy and key nutrients that assist and promote hair growth. If this is happening to you a dietary assessment can make all the difference.


Iron is important for hair growth and deficiency will lead to hair loss. Good food sources of iron include red meat , particularly liver however  for vegetarians iron is also found in green leafy vegetables, fortified cereals, dark dried fruit, beans and lentils.

Omega 3 fatty acids

Foods that are good for your heart can also keep hair healthy such as salmon, tuna, sardines, polyunsaturated margarine, nuts and seeds .

Vitamin supplementation

All vitamins and minerals are important for hair health however this does not mean that they have to be provided by a dietary supplement. The use of zinc and biotin have not been proven by themselves to  conclusively aid hair health. Also excessive levels of Vitamin A have been associated with hair loss, so if considering dietary supplementation it is important to be guided by your doctor..

Hair analysis is not reliable

Some companies claim that they can analyse hair clippings to determine nutrient sufficiency. While hair testing can be used to detect the presence of poisons such as lead, arsenic findings can be inconclusive and varied according to the type of hair treatments being undertaken at the time such as shampoos and perming and colour treatments (all of which can weaken hair over time).

Weight loss can affect hair loss

Fast weight loss using very strict calorie deprived diets can be associated with hair loss so care should be taken. Any weight loss program undertaken should ensure nutrient adequacy throughout.

If you are needing to check the nutrient adequacy of your diet or would like direction to reduce weight in a healthy way then contact us today.


  • Rushton DH. Nutrition factors and hair loss. Clinic. Exp. Dermal 2002, July 27 (5) 391-414
  • Hairloss (alopecia) and information on the wigs and hair piece subsidy.Health info Hair loss Jan 2015 pg 61464
  • Information on hair health Dermnet NZ

About the author View all

Lea Stening

Lea is one of New Zealand’s leading paediatric dietitians and also specialises in Sports Nutrition. She has specialised in Paediatric Nutrition for 31 years and in 1985 was the first paediatric dietitian to enter private practice in New Zealand. Lea helps families through her private consultations, public lectures, newspaper and magazine articles as well as television and radio interviews. Read more »

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