Last week I was at my hair stylist’s salon, and we marveled over my hair. I’ve had a love/hate relationship all my life with my fine hair that refused to do what I longed for it to do, I was never happy with it growing up and then during my Emergency Medicine residency it started falling out because of all the stress. The latter has been a problem on and off ever since.
Anyway, last week at the salon we were both struck by how much shinier and thicker the hair on my scalp is. My hair is quite long now, and my stylist examined it closely and found that she could see the "turning point", the dividing line at which my hair went from being weak, dull and a little frizzy to strong, smooth and shiny.
I knew what the difference was, as I’d made a bunch of changes in my life, all at once. I’m convinced they have something to do with the surprising change in my hair:
1) I eliminated soy from my diet
For decades I’d been living off soy products as a main source of protein and calcium, drinking fortified milks and eating energy bars. Totally fake foods (nothing like the fermented soy people in Asia eat). Soy is known to interfere with thyroid function, and one of the symptoms of hypothyroidism is fragile, brittle, frizzy hair. If you have hair loss or have noticed changes in your hair, it’s important to get your thyroid function tested by a doctor.
2) I started taking iron supplements
Women tend to have low iron levels because of diet and blood loss through menstruation (your doctor can measure this through a blood marker called ferritin), and low iron levels can lead to hair loss and poor quality hair. I often have had low ferritin, and should probably take iron supplements regularly. I did for the last while, and my hair seems to have benefited.
3) I took a Biotin supplement
Biotin is a B vitamin related to hair and nail health. Once when I saw a dermatologist, she commented on my thinning hair and recommended I take Biotin. I finally started taking a supplement regularly, this year.
4) I eliminated refined carbs (most of the time!) from my diet and upped my veggies
I had attended an anti-aging medicine conference where they talked again and again about the benefits of a Paleo-type diet (high in vegetables and fruits, nuts and seeds, and other healthy natural sources of protein). I quit the morning bowl of cereal I’d been eating for years, as well as those manufactured "health" bars, and tried to eat mostly whole foods. I increased my fruit and veggie intake and started drinking "green smoothies" packed with spinach or kale.
5) I prayed and meditated more and did more yoga
In the last while (thanks to spending time learning from the best at courses at Harvard) I have become much more aware of the need to manage stress, and the best ways to do so. I got into yoga stretching and breathing (which I do at home whenever I can), and sit to pray, breathe and meditate on God every day. This surely has a huge impact on my health and my hair.
6) I started taking Biosil
This supplement, which contains silica and choline and is supposed to stimulate collagen, was recommended to me by someone a while ago, and I’ve taken it consistently for the last year or so. Studies claim it works, though these were funded by the company and had small test groups. Regardless, it seems pretty harmless and since it might work I’ll keep taking it!
7) I started taking low-dose Melatonin
This was also recommended at the anti-aging conference, as well as by a respected physician colleague who specializes in women’s health. As we age our melatonin levels drop, and melatonin is a hormone that stimulates other important hormones to be secreted. Apparently a low 0.5 mg dose at bedtime (much lower than what people normally take for sleep) helps to improve hormone levels that might otherwise decline as we age. (Please be sure to speak to your doctor before taking this, as some people shouldn’t)
Obviously this wasn’t a properly structured scientific experiment, and I haven’t had the space to go into all the science and pros/cons related to each tip,. It’s hard to say what really worked – but the change in my hair really is amazing.
If you have problems with thinning or lackluster hair, I suggest a visit to your doctor to get your iron and thyroid levels checked. Practice stress-reduction methods like the ones I’ve suggested, and eat a healthy diet packed with whole foods (real foods your great-grandmother would recognize) and enough healthy protein – your hair IS protein! Eliminate "fake" manufactured health foods like today’s modern soy products. Whether you add in any supplements is up to you and your doctor or health care practitioner.