THE GROWTH CYCLE
The only living part of the hair is underneath the scalp – when the hair has grown through the scalp it is dead tissue. Hair goes through three stages of growth: the anagen phase when it actively grows; the catagen, or transitional phase when the hair stops growing but cellular activity continues in the papilla; and the telogen, or resting phase, when growth stops completely. During the telogen there is no further growth or activity at the papilla; eventually, the hair is pushed out by the new growth and the cycle begins again. The anagen phase continues for a period of two to four years, the catagen phase for only about 15-20 days, and the telogen phase for 90-120 days. At any given time, about 93 percent of an individual’s hair is in the anagen phase, 1 percent is in the catagen phase, and percent is in the telogen phase. Scalp hair, which reacts to hormonal stimuli just like the hair on the rest of the body, is generally programmed to repeat its growth cycle 24-25 times during the average person’s lifetime.
THE IMPORTANCE OF DIET
What you eat is soon reflected in the health of your hair. Like the rest of the body, healthy, shining hair depends on a good diet to ensure it is supplied with all the necessary nutrients for sustained growth and health. Regular exercise is also important as it promotes good blood circulation, which in turn ensures that vital oxygen and nutrients are transported to the hair root via the blood. Poor eating habits and lack of exercise are soon reflected in the state of the hair; even a minor case of ill-health will usually make the hair look limp and lack-lustre.
An adequate supply of protein in the diet is essential. Good sources include lean meat, poultry, fish, cheese and eggs as well as nuts, seeds, and pulses. Fish, seaweed, almonds, brazil nuts, yogurt, and cottage cheese all help to give hairs strength and a natural shine.
Whole grain foods and those with natural oils are highly recommended for the formulation of keratin, the major component of hair. Seeds are a rich source of vitamins and minerals as well as protein. Try to eat at least three pieces of fruit a day – it is packed with fibre, vitamins, and minerals. Avoid saturated fat, which is found in red meat, fried foods, and dairy products. Choose skimmed or semi-skimmed milk rather than full-fat varieties, and low-fat cheese and cream. Substitute vegetable oils such as sunflower, safflower, and olive oil for animal fats. These foods all provide nutrients that are essential for luxuriant hair.
If you eat a balanced diet with plenty of fresh ingredients you shouldn’t need to take any supplementary vitamins to promote healthy hair growth.
PROMOTING HEALTHY HAIR
- Cut down on tea and coffee – they are powerful stimulants that act on the nervous, respiratory, and cardiovascular systems, increasing the excretion of water and important nutrients. They also hamper the absorption of minerals crucial for hair health. Drink mineral water (between six and eight glasses a day), herbal teas, and unsweetened fruit juice.
- Alcohol dilates blood vessels and so helps increase blood flow to the tissues. However, it is antagonistic to several minerals and vitamins that are vital for healthy hair. Limit yourself to an occasional drink.
- Regular exercise stimulates the circulatory system, encouraging a healthy blood supply to all cells and nourishing and helping to regenerate and repair.
- Some contraceptive pills deplete the B-complex vitamins and zinc. If you notice a change in your hair after starting to take the pill or changing brands, ask your family doctor or nutritionist for advice.