Nutrition guide

Laurann O’Reilly: Your nutritional guide to optimal hair health…everything you need to know!

Many of us dream of having flowing locks or full hair and we can often spend huge amounts of money on hair care such as expensive shampoos, conditioners and treatments.

But did you know that improving the health and quality of our hair often starts from within, coming from the foods we eat and getting the right source of nutrients.

Although factors such as age, genetics, hormones and stress also affect hair growth, optimal nutrient intake is essential and the condition of your hair and scalp can be a good indication of your overall health and well-being.

Here, nutritionist Laurann O’Reilly and owner of Nutrition By Laurann shares her top tips for taming your mane and optimizing hair health.

What to include

Good quality protein: Your body turns the protein you eat into building blocks called amino acids and reuses them to make other proteins, including the collagen and keratin that form the structure of your hair. Sources: Sources of animal origin include dairy products, meat, fish and poultry. Plant sources include rice, soybeans, peas, beans and lentils, nuts and seeds.

Iron: It is essential for transporting oxygen to our cells. It prevents hair loss and keeps your skin healthy and glowing. Sources: Red meat, lentils, green leafy vegetables, leeks, cashews, dried fruits, figs and berries. It is also available in supplement form (please only take an iron supplement if you know your iron levels are low)

Vitamin A and beta-carotene: important for dry hair because it helps make an oil called sebum which can help hydrate hair and hair follicles. Being an antioxidant, it also helps protect hair from damage. Sources: Liver, fatty fish, eggs, products fortified with vitamin A, carrots, broccoli, spinach, squash, red and yellow peppers

Vitamin B7 (Biotin): One of the B vitamins, it increases the elasticity and thickness of your hair, making it fuller and fuller, while improving hair health and growth. Biotin deficiencies can lead to hair loss, thinning hair. Sources: Eggs, meat, nuts and liver, brown rice and oats.

Vitamin B3 (Niacin): Another B vitamin that has the ability to improve the condition of your scalp and hair. Alopecia, a form of hair loss, can often be a symptom of niacin deficiency. Sources: Beef, fish, chicken, turkey, liver, brown rice and avocados

Vitamin C: Vitamin C is necessary for the absorption of iron. It is also used to form collagen, a structural fiber that makes up the body’s connective tissue, which hair follicles need for optimal growth. Sources: citrus fruits (like oranges, lemons, and limes), bell peppers, blueberries, strawberries, black currants, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and potatoes

Vitamin D: Several studies have shown that vitamin D can play a role in the hair cycle by stimulating hair follicles as well as affecting the speed and rate of growth. Sources: 1) Exposure to sunlight, 2) Foods: Fish with the bones and fortified foods such as milk, orange juice and cereals and 3) Supplementation: The current recommendation is that the general adult Irish population should take a supplement of 20-25 ug/day or 800-1000 IU/day, while children should take 10 ug or 400 IU/day.

Vitamin E: Necessary to nourish damaged hair and prevent breakage. It helps the body’s ability to make keratin in hair strands, which helps reduce breakage. Sources: vegetable oils, almonds, peanuts, seeds (sunflower and pumpkin), leafy green vegetables, asparagus, red peppers, mango and avocado. Supplementing with 400 IU of vitamin E may also be helpful in restoring stressed strands.

Calcium: A key element for hair growth and strong, healthy hair. It facilitates the secretion of hormones and enzymes as well as the absorption of iron. Sources: Dairy products (cow’s, goat’s, sheep’s milk, cheese and yogurt), fortified plant-based milks (almond, soy, rice), fish with bones (such as tuna), dark leafy vegetables, broccoli, chia seeds, cereal fortified milks.

Selenium: Precious mineral and natural antioxidant, it protects hair against damage and toxins. It also plays a key role in regulating thyroid function which can also play a major role in maintaining healthy hair. Sources: Brazil nuts, tuna, oysters, pork, beef, chicken, tofu, whole wheat pasta, shrimp and mushrooms.

Zinc: This mineral helps strengthen your hair follicles and prevent hair loss by binding its proteins. It also plays a role in keeping your sebaceous glands working properly, which protects your strands from dryness and dandruff. A symptom of zinc deficiency can be hair loss, so taking a zinc supplement can help improve this. Sources: Meat, eggs, seafood, liver, milk and wheat.

Copper: Melanin is a natural pigment that determines the color of your hair. Copper is a mineral involved in the production of melanin and can therefore help maintain the natural color of the hair. Sources: Copper is found in a variety of foods, including shellfish, almonds, peanuts, whole grains, and dark chocolate.

Omega 3 fatty acids: The natural oils in your scalp help keep you hydrated. Getting enough of these essential fatty acids can help prevent dry scalp and help your hair grow and shine. Sources: Fatty fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel), flax seeds, chia seeds, nuts and avocados.

MSM: often called a beauty mineral because it stimulates the production of collagen and keratin (a protein in hair) while strengthening hair follicles, resulting in fuller hair. Sources: Fresh vegetables, meat and dairy products

Horsetail extract: It contains minerals including calcium, iron, manganese, silica and antioxidants. Silica being an essential component of our hair. It is also antimicrobial, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory helping to strengthen as well as improve the structure and texture of our hair. Sources: Can be found in supplement form at many health food stores and pharmacies

Raw Cocoa: A powerful antioxidant, it provides protection against the elements and environmental stressors. It also helps improve blood circulation and nutrient absorption, resulting in healthier hair. Sources: Raw cacao nibs or powder can be purchased at most health food stores and some supermarkets, I like the Nua Naturals brand.

Burdock root: By acting on the blood and circulatory system, burdock root has a direct effect on the skin, while helping to nourish the scalp and hair follicles. Sources: Available in supplement form at most health food stores.

Nettle leaf: Due to its nourishing, diuretic and anti-inflammatory properties, nettle leaf is a valuable ingredient for our hair. It has been shown to encourage thicker, shinier hair as well as new hair growth. Sources: Try nettle leaf tea or you can also get it in supplement form at most health food stores.

Rosemary essential oil: Rosemary essential oil is traditionally used to increase circulation to the scalp. Tip: Add a few drops of rosemary essential oil to your shampoo or add a few drops of rosemary to coconut oil and massage your scalp regularly.

Hydration: Proper hydration is crucial for healthy hair. Although your hair is mostly made up of protein, it is also made up of water. So a lot of water is needed to keep the hair moist and prevent dryness and breakage. Tips: 1) Aim for a minimum of 1.5 to 2 liters of water a day and your skin will reap the benefits. 2) Naturally hydrating foods include cucumber, tomato, melon, grapefruit, celery, and coconut water

What to avoid

Hair chemicals/dyes: Overexposure to certain hair products such as bleaches and certain hair dyes can damage your hair. Tip: Ask your hairstylist about the best options and products to protect your hair from damage or if there are any treatments that are right for you.

Reduce the heat: Persistent heat from blow dryers, straighteners and curlers can damage your hair. Tips: Reduce use) Why not let your hair dry naturally or try reducing the heat setting on your hair dryer while avoiding the use of heated styling products such as straighteners or curlers as much as possible and heat protection) There is a lot of heat. -protective hair products are also available, why not ask your hairdresser which one is best for you.

Sugar: Not only can a diet high in sugar increase inflammation in the body, but high sugar intake raises your blood sugar levels, which damages hair follicles and potentially accelerates hair loss. To avoid: added sugars, sweets, cookies, soft drinks and white carbohydrates.

Processed Foods: Contains artificial, processed and harmful ingredients that are difficult for your body to digest and process and provide no nutritional value. The more ingredients listed on the package, the more likely it is to be processed. Remember what you take in on the outside, so avoid processed foods to keep your hair shiny and healthy.

Alcohol: Excessive alcohol consumption not only puts a strain on the liver, but also leads to dehydration which can lead to dry/brittle hair. Try: A little alcohol detox and start experimenting with alcohol-free alternatives and fruit-infused water, your liver and skin will thank you.

Food intolerance: A common symptom that is often seen with food intolerances can be brittle hair along with other symptoms. A simple blood-based food intolerance test can detect which foods may be the cause and exactly which foods to avoid. Feel free to contact me below for more information on food intolerance blood tests.

For more information contact Laurann at [email protected] or see

Laurann O’Reilly is a qualified and experienced nutritionist with a BSc. Diploma in Human Nutrition from the University of Nottingham and an MSc in Public Health Nutrition from University College Dublin.