Hair and nutrition. The much talked about subject and something that almost every patient with hair loss asks me, "Doc, could my diet be responsible for my hair fall? Is there anything I must specifically take?" Well, well! I can attempt to throw you some facts about the same. 

1. Does diet play a role at all? 

Yes, of course! The hair shaft, although a dead structure, is predominantly made of proteinaceous material. The cells at the hair root divide fast and a good supply of carbohydrates and other nutrients is essential for the biosynthesis of hair and normal energy metabolism of the hair follicle.

2. Who is most predisposed to hair loss due to malnutrition? 

Those with poor dietary habits, inadequate food intake, food faddists, chronic alcoholics, those with certain enzyme deficiencies or inborn errors of metabolism, those on prolonged medication for various illnesses, those on prolonged antibiotics for months are some of the common victims of "poor" hair due to "malnutrition".

3. What happens to hair in such circumstances? 

Malnutrition and specific deficiencies can cause hair to become sparse, brittle, easily pluckable, lustreless and they may also develop an altered brownish colour in severe cases. They tend to remain short, dry and grow slowly. Micronutrient deficiencies and severe protein-carbohydrate malnutrition can cause changes in nail and skin too.

4. Do nutritional supplements help? Which are the ones that I must take? 

A person with a healthy balanced diet, without the predisposing factors above, may not need any supplements. Also, not all kinds of hair fall/alopecia may benefit to the same extent from supplementation. 

Importantly, replacement of specific deficiencies with supplements goes a long way in correcting hair fall. For example, women are often victims of iron deficiency anaemia and manifest with low hemoglobin, low serum iron/ferritin levels. They show dramatic improvement on correction of deficiency with supplementation. So goes the story with zinc and other micronutrient deficiencies too. Diet rich in sulfur-containing amino acids (proteins) has shown to increase the rate of hair growth and thickness. Research has shown that supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids over several months proves beneficial. There are several micronutrients that play important roles in hair biosynthesis and hair structure and may need replacement. But it's important to be assessed by the Dermatologist as to what may be the best supplement for you and the total duration that it must be taken for. Caution! Popping random pills and supplements without the doctor's advice can cause potential harm than good. Most importantly - no one wishes to pop pills for life, and probably one shouldn't! 

It's definitely worth working on a healthy nutritious balanced diet and maintaining it.