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Diet beats supplements for good health

A reader writes: “I am a 70+ woman who is losing her hair! I’m not on radiation or chemotherapy and am in generally good health. A couple of years ago, I noticed my hair falling out, and now as it tentatively grows back very slowly, it is even thinner and finer than before (and continues to shed).

I began taking biotin at my (doctor’s) advice. It doesn’t seem to have done anything to correct the loss. Can you give me any advice about supplements other than biotin, or any foods I might be missing for hair growth? My nails are very thin and subject to splitting, as well. Both my parents died with hair on their heads, but I’m not sure I will!”

– Linda K.

Dear Linda,

You did right to consult your doctor on this, since he or she hopefully knows your total health history. Nutrition experts say a deficiency of biotin is extremely rare. That said, a deficiency can cause a gradual thinning and loss of hair all over the body, according to the NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. Other symptoms of biotin deficiency can include skin rashes and brittle nails. By the way, there is more evidence that biotin supplements may help brittle nails than there is about their effect on hair loss.

A woman your age needs about 30 micrograms of biotin a day, according to the latest recommendations. Good sources include eggs, fish, pork, beef, sunflower seeds and sweet potatoes. And steer clear of too much alcohol; it can interfere with the absorption of biotin.

Nutritionally, our hair follicles – the cells in our skin that grow hair – use a variety of nutrients to produce healthy hair. A deficiency of one or more key nutrients can affect the structure, as well as the growth, of hair, say experts.

Nutrients that can literally make your hair fall out if they are deficient in the diet include iron, protein, niacin and zinc. Foods that possess all of these nutrients include fish, poultry, lean meat, eggs and legumes.

Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, flax and walnuts are also essential to shiny, healthy hair.

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