By Sairah Zubair Khan
When I was little, a childhood memory that really sticks with me, to this day is the ‘head massage ritual’, usually before a shower was due. By this I mean, “grab your comb, get a hair clip and come and take a seat”. I would sit in between my Mother’s legs, she would take the tangles out of my curly hair and then proceed to give the most intense head massage!
First came the rhythmic massage on my scalp, then it was the turn of coconut oil, tenderly applied to my head. By this time, I would be falling asleep but then came the best bit! The plaiting and clipping of my hair, up into a twist.
Little could I know or predict, the health benefits of this century’s old tradition.
The science behind this is simple. Massaging the head with the hands or applying a lotion, paste or oil will firstly increase oxygen to the scalp. Secondly it will provide nourishment, if a paste is used. When the hair follicle is nourished, this will in turn stimulate hair growth.
The Indian Head massage that my Mum was doing, detoxified the body by stimulation of lymphatic drainage. Blood flow is improved to the head and neck area; therefore, waste products are eliminated. It is efficient, highly relaxing and a tradition, I take forward now with my own children. They know what’s coming, when I ominously wave my special bottle of homemade oil!
By increasing scalp circulation, we can improve blood circulation to the head, neck and face area. At the roots, healthy hair growth is promoted. Oil such as coconut, is also repellent to dandruff and unwanted visitors like head lice.
Head massage can be an effective method to remove head aches, alongside adequate hydration of the body. It relieves stress, neck tension and anxiety. No wonder Mum’s know best…
That covers healthy hair on the outside, what about the inside? A qualified dermatologist would check for mineral deficiency, as a cause of hair loss. A blood test would check for levels of protein, iron and vitamin D, alongside other indicators of deficiency.
By nourishing our hair from the inside out, we can control hair behaviour to a certain extent. Of course, there are factors which influence hair health, namely genetics, age, hormones and nutritional deficiencies. I would like to focus on the last aspect, being food for hair health.
There are foods that benefit us by consuming them and also applying externally as a hair mask. Almonds are an excellent source of protein, vitamin E and healthy polyunsaturated fat. Almonds ground into a butter can be applied to the hair, for thicker and lustrous strong locks. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant, that can actually absorb damaging UV light and protect skin cells. It also repairs sun damage on the scalp, which can cause hair to thin.
Low fat Greek yoghurt is fantastic to eat, being full of Probiotics but it can also be included in a mask to help with blood flow to the scalp. It is rich in Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid).
Biotin is part of the B Vitamin group. It helps in hair growth and strengthening nails. It is found in eggs, almonds, pistachios, cashew nuts, avocadoes and oily fish like salmon or mackerel. Consumed alongside Elastin, which is found in walnuts, hair suppleness is increased, and breakage is reduced.
Some nutrients work alongside each other to absorb efficiently into the body. Iron and Vitamin C, Folic Acid and Vitamin B12. Iron is plentiful in lean red meat and spinach. Spinach is known to contain sebum, acting like a natural conditioner. Dark green leafy vegetables contain omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, potassium and calcium. All important to strengthen hair and keep it shiny. Oats are also a good source of iron, fibre, healthy omega 3 fatty acids and zinc. They can be ground into bananas, for a nourishing mask.
Vitamin C is prevalent in citrus but also surprisingly in guava fruit. It prevents split ends, hair breakage and brittleness in hair.
Lentils are packed with folic acid, protein, fibre, zinc and biotin. Folic acid is required by the body to restore red blood cells, to supply the skin and scalp with oxygen.
Tangerines are packed with Vitamin B12 and Vitamin C. Both vitamins work to promote hair growth, reducing hair loss and slowing down the signs of ageing in hair.
Omega 3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory. Sometimes hair loss can be from inflammation in the body, due to allergy or intolerance. Salmon, sardines and mackerel are good sources. Interestingly, female hair loss has been associated with insulin resistance, in new research. Salmon has been shown to help the body process insulin, more efficiently.
Cinnamon improves circulation to the scalp, by bringing oxygen and nutrients to hair follicles.
Lastly Beta-Carotene is beneficial for protecting against dryness and dull hair. It is present in foods that are orange and red in colour; carrots, pumpkin, cantaloupe melon, mangoes and sweet potato. It also stimulates glands in the scalp, to produce sebum ( nature’s natural hair conditioner).
I hope you have had some ‘food for thought’. Time to raid the pantry, larder or fridge for the good stuff…