The first step to healthy hair does not begin with what products you use or what styling methods you choose, but with how you take care of yourself. Nutrition is an important factor in the health of your scalp and hair and can make the difference between having brittle or strong hair.

Because hair is made up of approximately 95% protein in the form of keratin, having a nutrient-rich diet with protein is important. Specific amino acids, which are the building blocks for protein, may also provide benefits for the growth and retention of hair length. Deficiencies in these amino acids can lead to fragility in the hair follicle and hair loss.

To keep your hair growing strong, here’s what you need to know about amino acids and where you can get them in your foods.

#1. Lysine

Lysine is an essential amino acid, meaning that your body is unable to make it from other amino acids and has to be eaten in the diet. Research shows that supplementation of lysine may reduce hair loss caused by iron deficiency due to lysine helping the uptake of iron in the body.

One randomized trial found that supplementation of iron and L-lysine together for 6 months reduced hair shedding by 31% compared to a placebo. Lysine is primarily found in meat, eggs, and fish.

#2. Cysteine

Cysteine is a conditional amino acid, meaning that it is usually not essential unless the body is going through periods of illness and/or stress. Cysteine is also one of the main amino acids that make up keratin, contributing to the strength and rigidity of keratin’s structure.

In addition to being an essential structural component to keratin, cysteine may also decrease the impact of iron deficiency on the synthesis of keratin, allowing for stronger hair to grow.

Cysteine is found in a variety of high protein foods, including yogurt and cheese, poultry, meat, seafood, nuts, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, whole grains and legumes.

#3. Methionine

Methionine is another essential amino acid that together with cysteine, provides structure to keratin. Research suggests that methionine can help you maintain your hair color.

Methionine supplementation can slow down the greying of hair by combating oxidative stress on hair follicles and protecting the melanin in your hair.

Certain foods like eggs, fish, chicken, beef, and dairy products have high amounts of methionine.

#4. Arginine

Arginine is a non-essential amino acid that has several benefits for hair. It is known to improve peripheral circulation, which means that it can help blood flow and delivery of nutrients to the scalp and hair. Arginine also has anti-stress and antioxidant properties.

If you tend to color or bleach your hair, arginine is beneficial to help maintain your hair health. Research shows that arginine reduces oxidative damage from ammonia (commonly found in hair dyes to increase the color pigment deposit inside of the hair cuticle). In particular, the arginine protects both the proteins and fats that form and protect your hair.

You can find arginine in foods like nuts, seeds, dairy products, whole grains, meats, and seaweed.

#5. Tyrosine

Tyrosine is an amino acid that is important for maintaining hair color and preventing greys. This amino acid is essential in the production of melanin, which determines the color of your hair. Tyrosine is also a precursor for neurotransmitters that help with dealing with cognitive stress. Research recognizes stress as a factor in hair loss, so having adequate intake of tyrosine may help with stress management.

Sources of tyrosine include pumpkin and sesame seeds, dairy products, avocados, soy, poultry, beef, lima beans, fish, peanuts, and whole grains.

#6. Histidine

Histidine is an essential amino acid that contributes to the tensile strength of hair by increasing the diameter of the hair follicle. One study of Indian participants with androgenic alopecia found that over 90% of participants with hair loss tended to have a deficiency in histidine.

To prevent hair loss, incorporate foods like meat, poultry, firm tofu, tuna, nuts, seeds, and whole grains into your diet.

These are some of the most important amino acids for your hair – of course, your hair and scalp do require varying amounts of all 20 amino acids in order to grow. To ensure that you have all of the amino acids your hair needs to stay strong and vibrant, eat a variety of nutrient-dense foods every day.

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