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The shampoo models are at it again, tossing their heads in slow motion, sun-struck hairdos swirling balletically about their faces like sea grasses in a gentle current. Whew! It’s good to be reminded that what we are looking at is someone waving a wad of keratin filaments. Not to be a rationalist nerd.
The wonder and true beauty of this varied and frequently strange life can often be found in what we may call the mechanics of loveliness. We are sentient machines, after all. Yes, yes: complex, emotion-filled, loving sentient machines -- but made of stuff we can augment from the ecosystem that birthed us.
The upside of this seemingly unsentimental perspective is that we may take a scientifically strategic approach to beauty -- and those otherwise ephemeral matters which poets and composers have rightly praised throughout history. Debussy’s Girl with the Flaxen Hair is a perfect example; two-and-a half-minutes of keratin reverie that can put you in a dream state.
Hair may be mere filaments of functional protein, but beauty is its own elemental mystery, and takes up residence where and when invited. Let's invite beauty into your hair, shall we?
Scalp Nutrition: Feed the Keratin
Keratin is one of the fibrous proteins produced by our bodies, and it comes out of our fool heads in abundance. You see, our bodies produce three families of proteins, the other two being globular and membrane proteins.
We can all be thankful that nature did not see fit to form our hair from either globular or membrane proteins. For one thing, your average runway model would look like an amoeba with a neck.
Healthy hair of the sort you would feel comfortable tossing about as you walk down a sun-struck city sidewalk? That flag-waving keratin requires a few essentials; namely vitamins A - E ( the B-stop being B12), omega 3, zinc …. it takes a smallish cornucopia of natural goodness to give your hair that otherworldly sheen and texture.
Nature is at her best when all the gears are meshing. Not the perfect “hair” analogy, but there you go.
Hair, Horns, Hooves and Claws
Reader, you will be delighted to know that your lustrous hair is made of the same stuff as horns, hooves and claws; Keratin, that is. You may not have guessed that a deer’s antlers are but highly organized hair, but it’s a fact (look closely).
But the true bottom line here is that your hair is made of protein. Should it surprise anyone, then, that getting protein into our bodies is only going to benefit the hair situation? In fact, protein ingestion is so essential to the character of your hair that if you were to deliberately cut your protein intake over a couple or three months, you would see that deficit in the form of thinning hair.
Since iron also contributes meaningfully to the kind of shining hair that flashes in the sun (which can cause distracted pedestrians to wander into traffic, though that should never be the goal), let’s look at foodstuffs that will go straight to your hair and give it the sort of pricey salon bounce we all desire.
Throwing Vegetation at Your Keratin
To feed your hair, some foods that contain robust quantities of both protein and iron are intuitive good choices. For the lovely plant-eaters among us, looking for internal hair repair that won’t require the sacrifice of something with a face, the list is interestingly varied. Here are some starters.
Almonds - are jammed with protein for those keratin shafts, vitamin E for your hair’s helpful elasticity, and a measure of zinc, which puts the brakes on your hair falling out of your head. Essential fatty acids round out the almond miracle.
Kale - (excuse me). Yes, it’s true. Eating Kale will not only lift you gently onto to a pedestal surrounded by fawning Californians, the iron in kale will go straight to your head. Your head of hair, that is. Kale is also an alkaline food that mediates the hair-damaging acids in your body. Iron, vitamin B - your hair will thank you for eating kale. Try to keep that in mind as you are pushing kale into your mouth with a sour expression. Oh! Or tossing kale delightedly into your salad!
Oats - omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, iron, zinc, and the knowledge that you have nature’s most glamorous grain supporting your hair. I think oats are the glamor grain … I may be thinking of something else.
Flax seeds - provide a blast of nourishment to the hair roots and follicles, with their vitamin E and Omega-3 (there’s a jingle in here somewhere).
Spinach - when you are lacking sufficient iron, your hair thins. Spinach is famously loaded with iron, and a goodly helping of vitamins A, and C. What else lives in this complicated leaf? Omega-3 fatty acid, calcium, potassium and magnesium.
Legumes - (or beans and lentils, to use the less off-putting terms) have the sort of lean protein, iron and zinc your breeze-tossed locks require.
Carrots - We always hear about carrots and vitamin A and eye health and yada yada yada. Yes, we all want decent vision, but what about our hair? Vitamin A deficiency leads to an arid scalp that will only try to hang onto to your brittle hair shafts. Carrot keep the scalp fertile and the hair shafts aglow.
Vegan Protein supplements - when you can’t be sure you’re getting all the hair tonic you need from the foods you eat, certified organic vegan protein will feed your hair without the need for steak sauces and lobster bibs.
Avocados - An amazing source of both vitamin E and hair-feeding fatty acids. What’s more, the avocado can be hurled at an intruder, or even at a casual acquaintance with whom you may be momentarily displeased. But you didn’t hear it from us.
Your hair, like much else in this only seemingly ordinary world, is fairly strange. Your ill-advised haircut (someone had to tell you) is—oh yeah— comprised of keratin proteins bundled into filaments, and these are poking out of your ~100,000 hair follicles at right angles to your scalp. If you can imagine.
The only other biological stuff that comes close to the resilience and toughness of human hair is chitin. And I’m sorry to say chitin is the bug-shaped shell left behind when an insect molts. Beauty is, of course, only chitin deep.
Planet Earth is a funny place, that’s all. But it’s home, and her pantry really is jammed with all the stuff you need. So take care to feed that keratin hat with which you’ve been so blessed. And for goodness sake, touch up that awful haircut.