March 8, 2016

By Dr. Virender Sodhi, MD (Ayurved), NMD, and Dr. Priya Walia, MS (Ayurveda), NMD

Healthy Hair and Scalp

“Swasthyavrit: Circle of Health”

Ayurveda and “Health”

Ayurveda, translating to “life knowledge,” provides wisdom for attaining and maintaining a balanced state of health. Its 5,000-year old wisdom relates health to the absence of disease. If we live a balanced lifestyle, we won’t be faced with disease and ill health. Ayurveda describes the concept of “Swasthyavrit,” translating to “Swasthya” or health, and “Vrit” or circle, to create the circle of health. Health is never static, as it is always impacted by our external and internal environments. We are always trying to maintain a healthy state of homeostasis for our body to function optimally. As such, we are starting a series of articles where we will discuss how to create the circle of health with Ayurvedic medicine, through the lens of latest research.

Ayurveda & Hair

Each dosha withholds characteristics that help define the various “hair types”.

Vata Pitta Kapha
Hair Characteristics Dry, brittle, coarse, scant, dull Bright red hue, prone to baldness / thinning, early graying Naturally thick, rich, voluminous, soft, oily

Now let us look at the Hair Growth Cycle[1]:

The phases of hair growth include:

  • Anagen phase: active growth stage of hair lasting 2-6 years where cells are dividing rapidly. In this phase, hair grows about 1 cm every 28 days.
  • Catagen phase: transition phase lasting 2-3 weeks where the dermal papilla begins to separate from the follicle as it curls upwards; hair growth is suspended.
  • Telogen phase: resting phase lasting 2-4 months (about 100 days) where the dermal papilla is completely separated and hair falls.
  • Return to Anagen phase: where new hair is formed in the hair matrix

Hair grows on average 0.3 to 0.4mm/day or about 6 inches per year.[1]

Healthy Nutrients:

Antioxidants:

  • Vitamin A, C, and E help prevent free-radical damage that can weaken the hair’s collagen and elastin over time.[2]
  • Vitamin C is important in maintaining hair growth – it aids in binding iron to blood cells, collagen synthesis, and maintaining hair strength.[2,3,4]
  • Dark, green, and leafy vegetables are a rich source of vitamins A and C, which support sebum production and shine of hair.[2] Amla, or Indian Gooseberry, serves to be the most potent source of vitamin C and antioxidants.

B vitamins:

  • B vitamins are important for hair growth and strength, as they promote blood circulation.[2]
  • Biotin helps metabolize carbon dioxide, protein, fats, and carbohydrates. Biotin deficiency is often seen as dry, brittle hair and hair loss. Food sources of biotin include: liver, egg yolk, soy flour, and yeast.[2]

Iron:

  • Maintaining proper iron levels help prevent anemia, and resultant damage to the hair structure.[5]
  • Examples of food sources of iron include: red meat (beef), chicken liver, clams, mollusks, mussels, oysters, sardines, turkey, salmon, halibut, tuna, veal, beans/lentils, spinach, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, squash seeds, potato, broccoli, and nuts.[6]

Zinc and Alpha linolenic acid:

  • Zinc and alpha-linolenic acid, found in nuts, provide natural luster and prevent hair loss.[2] Zinc is often the first thing considered with the common complaint of hair loss. Zinc is an essential trace element that is critical for hair growth and skin. Zinc promotes the building of keratin, which is found in hair, skin, and nails, and promotes the production of collagen, allowing for the hair’s structure maintenance, and promotes the necessary cell division that allows for hair growth.[7]
  • Examples of food sources of zinc include: oysters, beef, crab, lobster, pork, chicken, yogurt, cashews, cheese, oatmeal, milk, almonds, beans, peas, flounder, sole, nuts and seeds.[8]

Selenium:

  • Selenium promotes optimal health of the scalp and hair growth.[2] The most potent food source of selenium is Brazil nuts, with a daily recommended allowance of 25-50mcg daily (depending on age and gender).[2,9]

Amino Acids:

Healthy hair requires adequate amounts of keratin and collagen. In order to produce these specific proteins, the body needs to be abundant in certain amino acids (proteins).[2]

Keratin is produced from[2]:
  • Cysteine
  • Lysine
  • Arginine
  • Methionine
Collagen is produced from[2]:
  • Lysine
  • Methionine
  • Glycine
  • Proline

Methionine is an essential amino acid, meaning that it is not manufactured by your body and needs an external source. This amino acid is important for the production of collagen, serves as an antioxidant, and is a source for sulfur. Sulfur is essential for connective tissue production and serves in the production in hair growth.[2 ]Dietary sources include: all meats and poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, quinoa, buckwheat, sesame seeds, Brazil nuts, and to a lesser degree dry spirulina.[10]

A study done in Florence resulted in 10% higher hair growth over the course of a half of a year in the methionine group compared to the placebo group.[11,12]

L-cysteine can be found in all high-protein foods: all meats and poultry, dairy and eggs, quinoa, soy, oat, and buckwheat.[10]

L-lysine is an essential amino acid that stimulates repair of damaged hair and is a source for collagen. Hair loss has been identified with reduced lysine intake. Compromised lysine depletes iron stores, which contributes to hair loss.[13] Food sources of lysine include: fish (salmon, sardines, and cod), dairy, poultry, red meat, pork, legumes, nuts, spirulina and beans.[14]

Glycine, although it can be produced by the body, is also found in dietary sources including: fish, meat, dairy, soybeans, spinach, cabbage, beans, kale, banana and kiwi fruit.[15]

Proline is also produced by the body, and is sourced from meat, dairy, eggs, asparagus, avocado, beans, broccoli, spinach, legumes, and soybeans.[16] 

Arginine is a precursor to nitrous oxide in the body, which further promotes the opening of potassium channels in the body and allows for blood to reach the hair root. This allows hair to grow.[17] Food sources of arginine include: peanuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, walnuts, hazelnuts, lentil, Brazil nuts, cashews, pistachios, flax, kidney beans, pecans, pumpkin seeds, soybeans, turkey, tuna, chicken, salmon, shrimp, egg, and spirulina.[18,19]

Glutamine, the most common amino acid provides its own supply within our bodies. Levels of glutamine tend to decline with age, under stress, or when under physical strain, resulting in a decrease in sulphur that is important for hair growth.[20] Food sources of glutamine include:

Grass-fed beef, pork, bison, chicken, free range eggs, fish, liver meat, raw cow and goat dairy, nuts, red cabbage, beans and legumes, beets, spinach, and parsley.[21,22] 

Healthy Diet:

Each dosha should focus on certain types of foods, as outlined below:

Vata Pitta Kapha
Diet
  • Aggravated with astringent, bitter, and pungent tastes.
  • Encourage sweet, salty, and sour tastes.

  • Focus on warm, cooked, fresh, oily, moist, heavy, and soothing food.
  • Oils: sesame, ghee
  • Aggravated with pungent (spicy & oily), salty, and sour tastes.
  • Encourage bitter, sweet, and astringent. Focus on moderate temperature, not too spicy, not too oily foods.
  • Oils: coconut, ghee, sesame
  • Aggravated with sweet, salty, sour (rice, bread, noodles).
  • Encourage pungent (spicy & oily), astringent, bitter tastes.
  • Focus on light, dry, warm foods. Drink warm water.
  • Oils: olive, ghee, sunflower

Scalp and Hair Treatment:

Ayurveda prescribes scalp and head massage for the health of scalp and hair.

Each dosha uses specific oils, while sesame is considered to be tridoshic:

Vata Pitta Kapha
Hair Oil Sesame, castor, ghee Coconut, sesame Olive, sunflower, sesame

Hair massage stimulates blood circulation and provides strength and moisture to the scalp and hair follicles, providing activation for hair growth and preventing hair fall. This procedure can be done daily or 1-2 times per week depending upon time availability.

Traditionally, the cleansing procedure begins with an oil massage to the scalp with a waiting period of 1-2 hours for absorption of the oil. The scalp is then rinsed with water and a mild, safe, chemical free cleanser. Herbs such as: shikakai (Acacia concinna) and aritha (Sapindus mukorossi) have been used as hair cleansers as both contain natural saponins which cleanse hair without striping the hair strand of its natural oils.[23,24]

Herbal Support:

Amla: Amla is thought to cure almost every ailment and provides longevity. This sour fruit is regarded as a natural antioxidant and a rich source of vitamin C, while also providing cooling, bowel supporting, liver function supporting and detoxifying, eye supporting, anti-microbial, heart protective, immune supporting, inflammation supporting, and connective tissue supporting properties. In the Western world, it is more commonly known as Indian Gooseberry (Emblica officinalis) and has research to support these hair growth properties.  Amla has also been used as a Thai remedy for hair regrowth in combination with sesame oil.[25]

Bhringraj: In Ayurvedic tradition, the leaf extract of Eclipta alba is considered to be a powerful liver tonic and rejuvenative, or rasayana herb. In addition to supporting hair growth, it is used as a cooling and restorative herb supporting the mind, nerves, liver, and eyes.[26,27]

Fenugreek: More commonly known in Western medicine as fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graceum), and in Eastern medicine as methi, this aromatically bitter tasting herb is native to Southern Europe, the Mediterranean region and Western Asia. The seeds contain a range of constituents such as saponins, alkaloids, flavonoids, vitamins, and fiber. Fenugreek has long been used for both culinary and medicinal purposes, including hair growth. Methi acts to stimulate circulation to hair follicles, while the steroid saponins are thought to interact with DHT (dihydrotestosterone) metabolism. As DHT binds to the hair follicle, the hair follicle gradually diminishes, leading the hair to hair fall. Thus, fenugreek interferes with the negative effects of DHT, and prevents hair loss.[28] Additionally, 10% of fenugreek extract has been found to resemble the hair growth effects of minoxidil 2% hair tonic, a popular hair growth drug, with only mild irritation as a side effect in rabbits.[29]

As such, fenugreek, aides in hair growth stimulation with an increase in circulation to the hair follicles while also providing a phytoestrogenic effect to further stimulate hair growth during cases of estrogen deficiency. Fenugreek may also be used to cleanse the hair.

Common Hair Conditions according to Ayurveda:

Excess Hair Loss:

  • Often a sign of excess pitta
  • Herbs to balance pitta include cooling herbs: bhringraj, amla, and fenugreek.

Early Color Fade:

  • Often a sign of excess pitta
  • Herbs to balance pitta include: bhringraj, amla, and fenugreek.

Split Ends:

  • Often a sign of excess vata
  • To counter this, oils provide a grounding effect to balance the aggravated vata. External application and internal consumption of oil will help to balance split ends. Use 1-2 tablespoons of healthy oils like olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil or ghee per day.

Dry Scalp/Dandruff:

  • Often a sign of excess vata
  • To counter this, oils provide a grounding effect to balance the aggravated vata. External application and internal consumption of oil will help a dry scalp and dandruff. Use 1-2 tablespoons of healthy oils like olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil or ghee per day.

Conclusion:

Prevention is the best medicine for maintaining the circle of health. We all need to be proactive to maintain good health by avoiding processed foods; while instead, eating whole grains, and healthy proteins from meat, chicken and fish or from vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds if you are vegetarian. An ideal protein intake for an average 160 lb (70kg) male is 70 grams of protein, or in other words, one gram of protein per kilogram of weight. It is important to add 4-5 servings of seasonal vegetables, 2 seasonal fruits, and 1-2 handfuls of nuts and seeds for non-vegetarians. 3-4 handfuls of nuts and seeds for vegetarians. Include at least 2 tablespoon of oils in your diet. Do yoga, take a brisk walk, some weight training, enjoy Mother Nature and above all, live in the moment. Stop worrying about what has happened or what is yet to happen. Live a blissful life- God has provided this choice to us.

In continuing with the “Circle of Health,” in our next topic will discuss the promotion and maintenance of healthy, radiant skin.

References