Thinking about nutrition – improving hair health from the inside out

Apr 18, 2024

This month, we’ve been talking to nutrition and wellbeing expert Karen Preece Smith, about how diet can affect hair health. 

How can diet and nutrition affect your hair health?

What we eat shows in our hair, skin and nails. We can see quite dramatic changes by changing the way we eat to influence the outcome with our hair. The great thing about hair is that it is constantly growing and evolving, so by changing what we eat to nurture healthy growth you can quickly see really positive results.

What are the most important nutrients for hair health?

Hair is made of protein and it’s really important that we nourish that. On a really basic level, protein is going to help. There are good veggie proteins out there too it doesn’t have to come from meat or fish.

Other important nutrients include fat-soluble nutrients like Vitamin A or a plant based source called beta-Carotene. Vitamin C, D and E, zinc and your B vitamins which are also really important for energy. Vitamin B7 is something called biotin which is particularly good for hair and you’ll find it in most hair, skin and nail supplements you can pick up. Also iron is particularly important for women going through the menopause or who are experiencing heavy periods, as a deficiency can show in the quality of your hair. Essential fatty acids (EFA’s) are a bit more complex as they break down into something called EPA and DHA, but they mostly come from oily fish and an easy way to remember those is through the acronym: S.M.A.S.H. (Salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and herring). Eating those two or three times a week is really beneficial. You can also find EFA’s in avocado, flax seeds or most nuts and seeds.

What about Hydration?

Around 70% of all our cells are made up of water and it’s really important to have the correct level of water to carry out certain chemical processes in your cells. Getting hydration right will have an effect on your energy levels as well as improving the efficiency of how nutrients are absorbed into the cells, which ultimately will effect your hair health.

Top foods for hair health?

You may have seen certain restaurants or cafes offering ‘health salads’ based on different requirements, so if we were to create a healthy hair salad, we’d want to include things like some honey roasted salmon for the EFA’s and spinach which is really rich in B vitamins. As a general rule,, the darker the green of the vegetable, the more rich it is in B vitamins and magnesium. As a dressing you’d want to include some avocado oil or extra virgin olive oil, and some nuts and seeds in there as well.

In contrast, the thing you most want to avoid is sugar. Processed and raw sugar can really mess-up your hair and skin. It creates AGE (Anti glycemic end products) on the skin which can cause hair breakage and ageing to the skin and nails.

What health conditions can affect our hair?

Most of us are aware of a gland that sits near your throat called the thyroid, which is activated in times of stress. It controls your metabolism, but also controls hormonal response to foods and stimulus and the environment. If your thyroid is under-active, you can get very dry skin, nails and hair. You may also have a low mood and gain weight easily. It’s a condition that can be supported with medication, it’s not for life and it can be supported with stress management and with certain foods. But if it goes too far the other way, and you have a hyperactive thyroid, your hair may not get the nutrients it needs quickly enough, so this will also result in hair breakage and damage.

There’s also things like digestive symptoms like SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth) which I specialise in. This is where you find bacteria in the small bowel which causes a slowing of the thyroid, and it prevents you from absorbing fat-soluble nutrients which are really important for hair health.

During pregnancy many women often find their hair is in great condition, shiny and thick but after you give birth and stop breast feeding, then you can experience hair loss which can make you feel quite self conscious. It’s a natural thing that happens, but continuing to take a pregnancy multi vitamin or a women’s multi vitamin ongoing is going to help get those nutrients back to the hair, so even if you are getting breakage, your new hair growth that comes through will be healthy.

I’ve seen a lot of clients who have experienced similar hair loss post-covid, so getting those nutrients back into the body is particularly important to support that new hair growth. It’s important to think about your general immunity. When you’re feeling a bit under the weather, often this means that your body hasn’t been absorbing nutrients as efficiently and you may see this resulting in lank, dry hair. Busy lives make it hard, but avoiding close contact with people with coughs and colds, taking in lots of vitamin C-rich foods, lots of water and rest, will maximise your immune system.

Also, stressful events can have a big impact. If someone close to you is going through a divorce or a work colleague is sick it can effect you if you are close to them. So it doesn’t have to be your own personal experience of stress, it could just be a busy lifestyle or something happening to someone close to you. In those times, up your vitamin B6, up your magnesium, up your zinc, because that will help your body’s nutrient requirements. 

Do you need a supplement or can you get your vitamin fix through diet alone?

Everyones genetic requirements for nutrients are all very different, so unless you test you don’t know what your individual requirements are. If you wanted to go it alone with foods and you research, for instance, vitamin B rich foods and have two everyday, I’d then suggest following it up with a blood test every three months and just see if you are meeting your needs through food alone, because we all have variable needs. In times of stress we are going to use up vitamin B6, zinc and magnesium which are needed to support hair growth. So if you have a big project at work, or you’ve just given birth, or you are going through a relationship challenge, your need is going to increase, and if you are not taking a multi vitamin or supplement, you may not meet those needs. There are a number of well woman health check available that you can complete at home with a thumb prick test from companies like Thriva and Medichecks.

What simple diet changes could people make to improve hair health?

When you are looking at a plate of food, check that it’s really colourful because all of the different colours have different nutrients in. You don’t need a masters or a degree in nutrition to look at your plate and see that you have something green – awesome!  Something red like tomatoes are really good for mens hair growth as they contain lycopene which boosts testosterone and beetroot which is full of nitric acid which helps to detox if you use a lot of hair products. So even without all that knowledge, you are getting all these nutrients just by having a variety of colours. So make sure at least half the plate is colourful vegetables and you can still have carbs in there as well like sweet potato or parsnip or whatever, it doesn’t all have to be salad.

In terms of environment, if you work in an office and you have access to it, try not to have the aircon or heat on all day as that is going to dry out your hair. If you can’t control the climate, invest in a desk humidifier to help. Keep yourself hydrated by taking in lots of water throughout the day.

About Karen Preece Smith

Karen is super passionate about nutrition, health and wellbeing and has such a wonderfully positive energy. She believes that everyone can be the architect of their own health by learning more about their unique biochemistry and making targeted nutrition and lifestyle changes.  She is a health coach and Master NLP (mindset) practitioner with a wealth of experience in weight loss, CFS (chronic fatigue syndrome), Long Covid, gut health, skin and hair health and much more. She has helped so many people transform their lives and optimise their health.

You can reach out to Karen at or follow her on Instagram @karen_preecesmith