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Like any part of your body, hair requires a variety of complex nutrients to be at its healthiest — and what you eat can play a big role in its condition.

With that in mind, we asked Julie Brown, RD, nutrition and assessments program manager for Life Time, to answer some commonly asked questions about the best nutrients and supplements for optimal hair health.

What nutrients positively impact hair health — and what whole foods offer them?

Protein. Your hair is primarily composed of the structural protein keratin, so high-quality protein is critical for promoting hair health. Aim for sufficient sources of protein at most meals throughout the day. (Find guidance on how much protein you need here).

And to ensure you absorb the amino acids from the protein you consume, it’s important to take steps toward optimal gut health. If you experience gas, bloating, or discomfort after eating a normal meal, consider working with a nutrition coach to alleviate your symptoms. A healthy gut allows you to tolerate and absorb nutrients from a variety of foods, including complex carbohydrates, proteins, and various fats.

(You can learn more about gut health here.)

Iron. Foods rich in iron, such as red meats, kidney beans, and spinach can help prevent hair breakage. Additionally, pairing your iron-rich foods with those rich in vitamin C — think lemons, grapefruits, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts — in the same meal can help with nutrient absorption.

Vitamins A, B, C, and E. You’ll hit the vitamin jackpot with whole-food sources such as quinoa, beans, bell peppers, leafy greens, and vibrantly colored berries. Wholesome foods tend to be packed with a wide range of vitamins, as well as anti-inflammatory phytonutrients — that can help keep your locks luscious.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Found in many types of quality-sourced fish — including wild-caught salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines — these anti-inflammatory essential fatty acids (meaning your body can’t make them) are critical for optimal function throughout your body. Shiny hair and improved skin elasticity are just few of the myriad of benefits. You can also supplement omega-3s using these six tips.

What supplements should I consider taking for my hair?

Fish Oil. Look for a high-quality fish oil supplement that includes both EPA and DHA (long-chain omega-3 fatty acids) in doses strong enough to promote optimal health. For most adults, that’s 2000 mg of EPA/DHA daily. Fish oil also encourages hair health by boosting anti-inflammatory properties throughout your cardiovascular system, which can aid in better blood flow to your scalp.

Collagen Peptides. Collagen is the most abundant protein in your body, and you can also get it from supplements. Taking collagen supplements can help build hair proteins and strengthen the skin on your scalp that contains the hair roots. It may also help with hair thinning associated with aging.

Multivitamins. Find a multivitamin that contains biotin, vitamins A, C, and E, and the B vitamins. Each of these provides building blocks to help promote strong, shiny hair. (And if you’re looking to improve your skin, try these nine supplements for healthy skin.)

What should I consider before adding any of these things to my diet?

It’s always a good idea to check with your healthcare provider before adding any new supplements or protocols to your regimen or if you have any questions or concerns. If you are taking blood-thinning medications or have a fish allergy, for instance, fish oil may not be for you. “Be sure to let your physician know if you notice any unusual or unexplained changes in the health of your hair,” Brown adds.

Remember, using high-quality hair products is also important for a healthy head of hair. Use products that allow your scalp and hair follicles to breathe, and consider working with a stylist who can help you find the best regimen for your hair and personal style.

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