Hair is composed of approximately 88 percent keratin protein. To keep hair healthy and strong, you should maintain a high level of protein in your diet by eating foods such as meat, eggs, fish, beans and nuts. If you do not get enough of these foods in your diet, you may consider taking protein supplements to improve the state of your hair. Look specifically for supplements containing whey and the amino acid l-lysine.
Hair Damage and Loss
Without a well-balanced diet that includes protein, your hair can split, become brittle or even fall out. Pacific Nutrition and Wellness President, Melanie Machado, describes the two states of human hair follicles: the anagen or growth phase, and the telogen stage, in which hair stops growing and gets ready to fall out. Machado says, "Specific stressors can [push] a much greater percentage of hairs into the telogen phase." Though some of these stressors, such as illness, infection and physical trauma, are beyond our control, others are easily remedied. Chief among the latter group is low-protein intake.
Ideal Protein Sources
For optimal overall health, it is best to get your protein, as well as your vitamins and minerals, from whole food sources. Dr. James Joseph of the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center says, "A lot of people who take these different kinds of pills think, 'Well, if I do that then I can eat a lousy diet.' But eating whole foods gets you into the mindset and lifestyle of eating healthy." Meats, eggs, fish, nuts, beans, seeds and dairy products are the richest whole food sources of protein.
Reasons to Supplement
There are times when it is difficult to take in enough protein through food alone. Vegetarians, vegans and people on weight loss diets have fewer high-protein options than do people on unrestricted diets. And many of diets suffer when schedules get busy. If you don't have time to prepare healthy, high-protein meals, then supplementing your diet with protein pills or powders may be a good solution.
Choosing a supplement
To assess a protein's quality, you can look at its biological value, or BV, which describes how much of the protein consumed is actually put to use by your body. Whole eggs, with a BV of 100, score the highest of all foods. Whey protein concentrate also scores around 100, making whey-based supplements a good choice for those concerned about protein intake and healthy hair. The amino acid l-lysine is particularly important for prevention of hair loss. Compare labels on whey protein supplements to find the amount of protein, in grams, and the amount of l-lysine in milligrams.
Other changes you can make to improve hair health include the following: increase your iron intake (if you have a deficiency); get more sleep; reduce your exposure to toxins such as cigarette smoke; take B vitamins; and add a high-protein conditioner to your hair care regimen.
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