Nutrition for hair growth during or after cancer treatment
Why does hair loss occur?
Hair loss during or after cancer treatment is quite common and can be very distressing. Hair loss occurs due to the way cancer treatments work. The purpose of cancer treatments is to destroy the rapidly growing cancer cells but the body also contains other rapidly growing healthy cells like hair.
As hair cells also are quite fast growing (2nd fastest in the body!) unfortunately this means they are also damaged during some cancer treatments. Whilst hair loss is a common side-effect associated with chemotherapy it doesn’t occur with all types of chemo regimens and can vary from complete loss of hair to very mild thinning.
After cancer treatment, it can take 6-12 months for your hair to fully recover and it may be different than before, for example, some people notice their hair is softer, curly, or even a slightly different colour.
So, can diet improve hair growth after cancer?
Good nutrition is vital for recovery during and after cancer so having a good diet is key to supporting healthy hair growth. So what does that involve?
Your body needs enough energy- i.e. calories, to maintain its normal processes including hair growth. If your diet is very low in energy then this could affect your weight and you are also likely to be also missing out on other important nutrients which your hair needs for growth which you will read about below.
You may have heard that hair is mostly made of protein and that is true. Your hair consists of a protein called ‘keratin’. Having a good range of different protein sources in your diet will mean you will be providing your body with a range of amino acids- the building blocks of protein which are needed for hair growth.
Omega-3/Omega-6 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to lots of health benefits (you can read more about these here https://www.jinutrition.co.uk/post/mega-omega-3) and deficiency has been linked with hair loss 1 but the evidence is limited. My advice would be to include omega-3 sources in your diet for overall health benefits.
What about vitamins and minerals?
B vitamins are water-soluble vitamins and have a number of uses in the body. A few B vitamins are important for hair growth these are Biotin, Niacin, folate/folic acid, vitamin B12, and Riboflavin.
Biotin also called Vitamin B7
Biotin deficiency has been linked to hair loss (or alopecia) however because the body only needs a very small amount and the fact that our gut bacteria can get biotin in our bodies; deficiency is very rare.
Niacin also called Vitamin B3
Niacin deficiency is also linked to hair loss but again; you only need small amounts so very unlikely you will be deficient in this.
Folate/folic acid and vitamin B12
Folic acid and vitamin B12 are involved in red blood cell creation and also may have an indirect role in stimulating new hair growth.
Special mention: Vitamin A in high doses has been linked to hair loss so avoid high doses read more here
There are a few key minerals that are linked to hair growth.
Hair loss can be a symptom of iron deficiency anaemia (low iron levels). If you suspect you have iron deficiency anaemia speak to your GP to request a blood test to check your haemoglobin and ferritin levels.
Selenium is a trace mineral which means it is only needed in very small amounts. It is involved in protecting the hair follicle.
Zinc is needed for hair structure and involves in hair growth. A side-effect of zinc deficiency is hair loss but there is limited evidence that zinc supplements will prevent hair loss if you are not deficient.
Supports different enzymes in the body to work and involves in forming normal hair pigment.
What about hair supplements?
There are numerous hair supplements available to buy which may contain some of the vitamins and minerals discussed- so do I recommend any of these?
Well even though there are a few key vitamins and minerals that play a role in hair growth there is little evidence to support supplements for hair growth unless you have a deficiency. The only way to check if you have a deficiency of a vitamin or mineral is to have a blood test (best carried out by GP). So, to make sure you are getting the right nutrition for hair growth try to include the food sources for this these nutrients instead. Have a look through the table below to give you some ideas
Nutrients needed for hair growth and where you can find them in food
If you want to check if your diet has the right mix of nutrients I offer a dietary analysis report with all my programmes so you can see if you are hitting your nutrition targets. If you want to arrange a call to discuss this further please get in touch.