LARESE D of IAMOH Herbals feature in:CURLS & COILS: Diet for healthy natural hair By Noah Chen of Natural Awakenings Atlanta
“You are what you eat.”
While the literal interpretation of that phrase is debatable, its implied meaning is not. Our diet plays a significant factor in determining our mood, our health and our quality of life. And it has an equally sizeable impact on our hair.
Diet is a key component in natural hair maintenance, which is becoming more important in American culture, especially among Black Americans. Women especially face social and professional pressure to straighten their hair unnaturally. The methods for doing so are often harmful. While this pressure has existed in America for centuries, so too has the resistance to it.
“There are a lot of companies out there that will be misleading and say, ‘If you put this on your hair, your hair will grow,’” says Kuumba Waithe, owner and CEO of Grand Tressa Natural Hair Care. “But if you want your hair to grow, it’s not necessarily what you put on your hair—but what you put in your body.”
For Waithe, the most important dietary step to take for maintaining natural hair is to drink water. “Water hydrates your skin, but it also hydrates your hair follicles.” This is important for all hair, but Kuumba points out it is especially important for Black people.
“African American hair tends to break because the way curly and coily hair is constructed, it dries out naturally. So if you want your hair to grow, it’s not as much as putting things on it to make it grow, but getting it to the point that it won’t break.”
Another ingredient that’s important—not as much for maintaining hair strength as for increasing shine—is silica. “Any food that has a high silica content is going to be good for your hair,” says Tassili Ma’at, owner of Tassili’s Raw Reality in Atlanta. Ma’at was a hair braider and loctitian—someone who specializes in caring and styling dreadlocks, or “locs”—for over 35 years.
“Shiny foods—like apples, oranges, plums, cherries,” she says. “Beets are also excellent.” Beets are helpful for hair health for a multitude of reasons. Silica aside, they are also full of nitrates like iron, which increase circulation, and which, in turn, improve hair follicle health and growth.
Iron deficiencies can be common in women, especially those of African or Asian descent. If beets aren’t for you, yams can fill a similar role as they are high in copper and vitamin C, both important for iron absorption.
Ma’at also points to foods full of vitamins A, B, C and E, all of which help circulation and are good for the nervous system. She suggests people be on the lookout for leafy greens like kale and collards. Greek yogurt, avocados and sunflower seeds are also great sources of these nutrients.
While Ma’at points to the value of certain foods to the nervous system, Larese Dockery, owner of IAMOH Herbals, describes it further.
“Our hair and nervous system are connected,” says Dockery. “You know, when you’re having high levels of stress, that causes inflammation, which can damage your hair follicles. Of the B vitamins, B6 is going to be good for the nervous system.”
These vitamin recommendations are echoed by Dr. Taz Bhatia, an integrative medicine expert and media personality. She also suggests foods high in omega-3 fatty acids to reduce inflammation around hair follicles. Omega-3s can be found in vitamins as well as fish and chia seeds.
When trying to find specific nutrients such as B6 or omega-3, it might be valuable to turn to herbs and supplements. Herbs and supplements can be an easy way for people to make sure they are getting the right doses of certain vitamins; they can be especially helpful for vegetarians and vegans whose diets limit meat and fish.
Zinc is one mineral that vegetarians and vegans can struggle to get enough of. “Zinc, for one, will help with hair growth and help prevent hair loss,” says Dockery. Zinc vitamins aside, Dockery recommends the natural herbs nettle and sarsaparilla.
What we eat and consume impacts every facet of our lives and health, and eating healthy and taking supplements can go a long way to help those luscious locks be their best. And, as Waithe would remind you, don’t forget to drink enough water. ❧