Dreaming of longer, stronger, healthier hair? Then you need to know about amino acids - the building blocks of protein, which makes up every part of your body. Since your hair is literally made of amino acids, it makes sense that these nutritional compounds are essential for healthy hair growth.
Certain amino acids, especially cysteine, may help to stimulate new hair growth and improve strand strength. While supplements are available, a healthy and varied diet with plenty of quality protein is the best source of amino acids. Read on to discover the importance of amino acids for hair.
What Are Amino Acids?
Amino acids are organic compounds that make up protein. When you eat protein, your body breaks it down into amino acids, which are then used to build and repair tissues. There are 22 amino acids, which are categorised as “essential” or “non-essential”.
Essential amino acids are not produced by the body, so they must be consumed as food. The nine essential amino acids are histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine. Non-essential amino acids may be consumed as food or synthesised by your body. There’s no need to consume every essential amino acid with every meal, but it’s important to include all of the essential amino acids in your diet.
Amino acids are crucial for many functions in your body, from hormone regulation to muscle building to hair growth. While amino acid deficiency is rare, it has been linked to hair thinning, breakage and hair loss. People who eat highly restrictive or low-calorie diets are at highest risk for deficiencies, and may benefit from amino acid supplementation under medical supervision.
Benefits of Amino Acids for Hair
Keratin, the protein that makes up your hair, is composed of 18 different essential and non-essential amino acids. Amino acids have numerous benefits for hair: they help the hair cuticle retain moisture, prevent excess shedding, and boost shine. They also increase strand strength and elasticity, which allows the hair to bend and fold rather than break.
It’s clear that amino acids prevent damage to hair and support overall hair health. But do they help you grow new hair naturally? The answer is a bit complicated. Amino acids cannot fully halt or reverse pattern baldness, which is caused by genetics and ageing rather than nutritional concerns. However, if you’re experiencing hair thinning or shedding all over your head (or if your hair just tends to grow slowly), increasing your intake of certain key amino acids may help to encourage new hair growth. In the next section, we’ll discuss these amino acids and the best food sources for each one.
Best Amino Acids for Hair Growth and Food Sources
Cysteine is the most important amino acid for hair growth and makes up about 18% of the keratin protein that forms your hair. It has numerous benefits for both hair and scalp health. Cysteine shields hair from sun damage and radiation, provides sulphur to hair cells, enhances texture and strength, and prevents breakage by improving the hair’s elasticity. Research also shows that cysteine can promote new hair growth and combat temporary hair shedding and alopecia.
Best Food Sources of Cysteine: Meat, Fish, Lentils, Eggs, Dairy Products, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts and Whole Grains
This essential amino acid helps to synthesise collagen, which strengthens and thickens hair strands. It combats hair ageing and increases blood supply to the hair follicles and scalp, leading to healthier and faster growth. Methionine is also a key source of sulphur, which is needed for keratin production.
Best Food Sources of Methionine: Meat, Fish, Tofu, Eggs, Brazil Nuts, Beans, Sesame Seeds, Quinoa and Cereal Grains
Arginine promotes healthy blood circulation in the scalp to nourish the hair follicles. It also counteracts damage, increases strand strength and boosts thickness and shine. Since sun exposure depletes arginine, it’s a good idea to include arginine-rich foods in your diet.
Best Food Sources of Arginine: Meat, Dairy Products, Soybeans, Nuts, Pumpkin Seeds, Chickpeas, Lentils and Whole Grains
Another essential amino acid, lysine plays a key role in collagen production. Adequate collagen preserves the structural integrity of the hair shaft, increases elasticity and protects against brittleness and damage. Some evidence suggests that lysine may help to inhibit DHT, a hormone responsible for hair loss in men.
Best Food Sources of Lysine: Meat, Fish and Seafood, Tofu, Dairy Products, Eggs, Beans and Lentils
Cystine is made up of two bonded cysteine molecules. It’s known to help stimulate hair growth and combat hair loss. Consuming foods rich in Vitamin B6, such as fish, organ meats, starchy vegetables and non-citrus fruits, helps your body synthesise cysteine to produce cystine.
Best Food Sources of Cystine: Meat, Fish, Eggs, Dairy Products, Lentils and Seeds
Topical Amino Acids for Hair Growth
While there’s no doubt that a balanced diet with adequate protein supports healthy hair growth, the benefits of amino acid-infused hair products are less certain. These products can work to strengthen hair and restore amino acids lost due to sun exposure, chemical treatments, or other hair damage. If you’re struggling to grow out dry or damaged hair, amino acids may help fill in any holes in the hair’s cuticle and help your hair retain moisture.
But before you stock up on that “Amino Acid Hair Growth Cream” that keeps popping up on your Instagram feed, be aware that there is no evidence that topical products with amino acids actually stop or reverse hair loss. However, amino acid-infused products may improve your overall hair and scalp health, and there are few risks associated with these products. So if you’re looking for a way to repair damaged hair naturally, it may be worth trying to see if they work for you.
Other Hair Growth Essentials
Growing thick, healthy hair requires a multi-faceted approach. Eating a healthy diet with a variety of high-protein foods helps to ensure that your body has all the essential amino acids needed for hair growth. For an extra boost of hair-friendly nutrients, including Biotin, Zinc and Folic Acid, consider supplementing with a hair growth vitamin.
It’s also important to choose a shampoo and conditioner that are especially formulated to support healthy hair growth. When you wash your hair, treat yourself to a gentle scalp massage to boost circulation. Finally, reach for styling products that nourish and protect the hair to defend against breakage. While there’s no magic supplement or pill to make your mane grow faster, a consistent hair-care routine can make a huge difference over time!
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