Noticing more hair on your pillow, in your hairbrush or vacuum cleaner? It’s often that pregnant women will acquire a lustrous head of hair during the prenatal period, however, this unfortunately takes a turn during the postpartum period. Around one third to one half of new mothers will experience postpartum hair loss, also known as Telogen effluvium (TE). This will commonly look like a loss of hair from the temporal regions leaving you with ‘baby hairs’ or short hair strands that stick up like alfalfa sprouts.
TE is generally caused by a triggering or traumatic event that occurred 3 months prior to the actual hair loss. This includes highly stressful periods such as after serious surgeries, sickness and pregnancy or childbirth. Although for some women pregnancy may not seem like a stressful time, there are huge physical demands on the female body. One of these being the change in hormone levels during pregnancy which are very distinct compared to regular levels.
Both progesterone and oestrogen increase dramatically during pregnancy, whilst prolactin also increases gradually in preparation for lactation. After childbirth, progesterone and oestrogen return to normal levels within a week, whilst prolactin remains elevated for a while longer to support breast tissue and milk production. These hormonal fluctuations impact the actual hair growth cycle that occurs within the hair follicles. For instance, prolactin is actually shown to prompt the end of the hair growth phase causing strands of hair to fall out prematurely.
These varying changes in hormone levels are said to be the key driver in postpartum TE. Though, there are ways we can support hair loss, and most importantly hair growth, nutritionally. Bodily tissues with high biogenetic activity, such as hair, require a number of nutritional variables like optimal nutrients, calories and absorption for healthy growth and function. Read on to learn how you can support postpartum TE through your diet.
Getting Enough Protein
Hair is almost entirely made of protein, specifically keratin. So, it’s no wonder ensuring the protein component of your diet is sufficient for healthy hair growth. If protein levels aren’t met through the diet this can cause malnutrition leading to hair weakness, fragility and loss.
On average women require around 50 grams of protein/day. However, this requirement increases during periods of greater nutritional demand such as during pregnancy and lactation. Therefore prioritising a good amount of protein at every meal will benefit hair growth. For guidance and without having to get too caught up in the numbers, this may look like 2 eggs at breakfast, chickpeas at lunch, Greek yoghurt in the afternoon and a portion of tuna or salmon at dinner – amounts and portions according to individual needs of course.
It’s also important to know that it’s the smaller components of proteins, amino acids, that have the most impact on keratin production. In particular the amino acids lysine and cysteine. Lysine supports collagen production and helps in keeping the hair within the skin, whilst it also plays a role in iron and zinc absorption. Cysteine is found in highest amounts within hair due to being a crucial component of keratin proteins, but is made within the body from the amino acid methionine. Lean into foods rich in lysine and methionine including beef, fish, yoghurt, eggs, legumes, poultry, pumpkin seeds, peanuts and wholegrain products.
As hair is an active tissue – commonly referred to as an organ of its own – it requires an optimal blood supply. Iron is found in the blood and used by the body to make haemoglobin; a molecule responsible for carrying oxygen to the tissues of the body like our hair. Iron stores and levels can become impaired following childbirth either due to a greater loss of blood during delivery or the demands for iron during pregnancy.
More easily absorbed iron rich foods are those of animal origin, richest in red meats. Whereas those not easily absorbed are of plant origin like nuts, legumes and spinach. To better absorb iron from these sources be sure to pair them with a source of vitamin C such as lemon juice, tomatoes, citrus fruits or berries.
Having adequate vitamin D has been shown to benefit the hair growth cycle. Studies have shown that those with lower levels of vitamin D, such as in the disease rickets, develop hair loss. Getting adequate daily sun exposure (and yes cloudy days count too!) is your best bet when avoiding vitamin D deficiencies. However, foods such as egg yolk, beef liver, milk, cheese and mushrooms that have been exposed to sunshine all contain vitamin D.
Selenium is an essential trace element that plays an important role in hair follicle development and protection against oxidative damage such as from UV rays. Selenium is one nutrient that doesn’t generally receive a great deal of attention in the diet as its needed in very small amounts – 1-2 Brazil nuts per/day is all you need to get your fix! Though you should err on the side of caution as selenium can be toxic in high amounts. Best to get your levels checked before upping your selenium intake, especially when pregnant.
Haven’t really come across silica before? Let us entertain you! Hair containing greater silicon content is associated with increased brightness and lower amounts of hair loss – sounds good to us. But what is silica and how can you get it through your diet?
Conveniently, silica – or silicon - is naturally abundant in water, plants and animals. So, there isn’t really any need to be counting numbers here. Just ensure you’re getting in all the nutrient dense wholefoods daily.
Looking for a dietary supplement that can boost the aforementioned nutrients? Active Collagen All-In-One Hair Skin & Nails contains an abundance of bioavailable amino acids in the form of hydrolysed collagen, as well as vitamin C and silica for added benefits. Head to our website and socials to read our customer success stories for how our product helped their hair growth journeys.
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National Health and Medical Research Council. (2006). Protein. https://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/nutrient-reference-values/nutrients/protein
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