Amino Acids Help Your Hair, Too!
You may know about vitamins, minerals and herbs which can help promote hair growth. But how much do you know about essential amino acids and the role that they can play in helping hair grow in fast and full?
What Are Amino Acids?
First of all, let's talk amino acid basics in case you are new to the topic altogether. As described here in the US National Library of Medicine, “amino acids are organic compounds that combine to form proteins. Amino acids and proteins are the building blocks of life."
While our body manufactures some types of amino acids, there are nine different types of amino acids which we cannot produce on our own. We have to get these through diet and supplementation. They are known as "essential amino acids."
Other types of amino acids are classified as "nonessential amino acids" and "conditional amino acids."
As you might have guessed, those which fall into the category of "nonessential amino acids" are the ones which our bodies produce to some degree on their own.
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Even though your body can manufacture these nonessential amino acids, however, there may be situations where additional supplementation can be helpful.
Finally, those amino acids which are "conditional" can be produced by our bodies, but when we are stressed or sick, production can taper off.
Key Point: Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Our bodies manufacture some amino acids, but we also get amino acids through the foods we eat. There are some amino acids that can only come to us through diet.
Hair Is Made of Protein
As described in detail in this previous post, hair shafts are made up of a type of protein called keratin. The same is true for your nails. It is the disulfide bonds in this type of protein which makes hair and nails strong.
As you now are aware, protein such as keratin is made up of amino acids. In the linked article, I provide you with recommendations for food sources in your diet to increase protein. But you can also try increasing amino acids to help the human body produce healthy hair.
Key Point: Hair is made up of keratin, a protein, which in turn is made from amino acid building blocks.
Recommended Amino Acids for Healthy Hair Growth
Now that we have made a basic introduction to amino acids and protein and their role in hair growth, let's talk about some different types of amino acids you can add to your diet through food sources and supplementation to promote healthy hair growth.
You will notice as we go over food sources for increasing the intake of these amino acids that most of them are meat or dairy products.
Even if you are a vegetarian or a vegan, however, you will still find that there are some dietary options out there for you to get more of these nutrients into your body. Plus, you can always try taking supplements if you can’t get everything you need through food alone.
1. L-Arginine for Hair
First on our list is an amino acid called “L-arginine.” If you have heard this amino acid, there is a good chance that it was within a bodybuilding context. It is possible to be short on arginine. When this happens, one of the possible symptoms can be hair loss (a number of sources refer to the Mayo Clinic on this, but the Mayo Clinic link leads to a page which is no longer found).
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A patent which provides some helpful context for an understanding of the role of L-arginine in hair growth is this one. As the patent explains:
“For example, certain amino acids are known to provide beneficial results in the prevention and treatment of hair damage. A number of shampoo and conditioner formulations are on the market which contain aloe vera extract, a substance rich in arginine, as an ingredient for fibre repair and moisturisation. Literature references include DE 3118882-A, which describes a tonic for hair which contains a mixture of amino acids. In this mixture, a 1:4:12 histidine:lysine:arginine ratio is said to stimulate keratin formation. FR 2669224-A describes a scalp treatment comprising amino-dicarboxylic acid complexed with a basic amino acid complex as the active ingredient. The complex is said to prevent degradation of the hair root and improve the hydration of the hair keratin by neutralisation of scalp lactic acid.”
None of what is described in this paragraph is proof positive that L-arginine promotes hair growth. But it does point toward a number of products already on the market for hair care which include ingredients which contain it.
It appears that in these products, it reinforces both the hair root and hair shaft by fighting lactic acid and its drying effects.
L-arginine also acts as a vasodilator, as described in this research. That means that getting more L-arginine could hypothetically help you increase blood flow to your scalp and hair follicles.
That could, in theory, bring more nutrients to your scalp, stimulating more hair growth. If you are taking other supplements for hair growth, you could end up getting more of an effect from them since your circulatory system will be able to work more efficiently.
Food Sources of L-Arginine:
If you want to increase L-arginine by making changes to your diet, you could try eating more nuts such as walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, Brazil nuts, almonds and cashews. Seeds are also a good source of L-arginine, as are oats, buckwheat and other whole grains. You can also derive L-arginine from meat and dairy items.
The fastest way to boost L-arginine, however, is to take a supplement. Along with potentially supporting hair growth, it could also reduce blood pressure, which could be a nice bonus for many users.
Mayo Clinic states that L-arginine is “generally safe." But there can be interactions with certain conditions, supplements and drugs, including anticoagulants, blood pressure medications, drugs and supplements for diabetes, water pills, nitrates, Isoproterenol, and Viagra.
Key Point: L-arginine may be able to moisturize hair and also improve blood circulation in the scalp. Further research is needed.
2. L-Carnitine for Hair
Another potentially promising amino acid for hair growth is L-carnitine. In this research study, researchers wanted to find out whether this amino acid could increase hair growth by “increasing energy supply to the massively proliferating and energy-consuming anagen hair matrix."
The experiment lasted for nine days, and looked directly at the effects on hair follicles. The researchers observed, "At day 9, HFs [hair follicles] treated with 5 microm or 0.5 microm of CT showed a moderate, but significant stimulation of hair shaft elongation compared with vehicle-treated controls."
They concluded, "Our findings suggest that l-carnitine stimulates human scalp hair growth by up regulation of proliferation and down regulation of apoptosis in follicular keratinocytes in vitro. They further encourage one to explore topical and nutraceutical administration of l-carnitine as a well-tolerated, relatively safe adjuvant treatment in the management of androgenetic alopecia and other forms of hair loss."
So, here too, further research is required, but so far, initial investigations into this amino acid seem to demonstrate therapeutic potential.
Food Sources of L- Carnitine
If you are looking for food sources of L-carnitine, beef, chicken, fish and pork are all good healthy sources of it. You also can get this amino acid from dairy products. So that is one option if you are not consuming meat.
It is also possible to get L-carnitine supplements, which may be quite helpful if you are a vegan or vegetarian. Before you start taking L-carnitine, be aware that there can be interactions with the thyroid, so if you have any issues involving thyroid hormones, consult with your doctor first. Also avoid this supplement if you are pregnant or breast-feeding or if you have seizures.
Key Point: There is some initial research that suggests that L-carnitine could promote hair growth.
3. L-Cysteine for Hair
There is another amino acid which may have the potential to support hair health, and that is L-cysteine.
According to this site, there was a study on a proprietary complex which contained L- cysteine together with millet seed extract and pantothenic acid. The proprietary complex was called “Priorin.”
The study tested Priorin against a placebo for a period of four weeks before the researchers noted down the first set of results. The study then continued until three months had elapsed, and results were recorded again.
The page quotes the researchers as saying in their conclusion, “Women who treated their hair loss with Priorin, as opposed to the placebo preparation, reported a significant increase in the number of individual strands of hair that evidenced growth after only three months.”
I was unable to locate the study to quote directly, but this is the reference note for it from the linked source:
“Gehring,W., Gloor, M.; “Das Phototrichogramm als Verfahren zur Beurteilung haarwachstumfördernder Präparate am Beispiel einer Kombination von Hirsefruchtextrakt, L-Cystin und Calciumpanthotenat”,(“Using phototrichogram analysis to evaluate preparations for hair growth stimulation in the example of a combination of sorghum extract, L-Cysteine, and calcium pantothenate ), Zeitschrift für Hautkrankheiten (Magazine for Skin Diseases), 2000; 75(7/8):419-423″
It should be kept in mind that this is just one study, and that the product did not contain L-cysteine in isolation, but together with two other substances, either or both of which could also have been responsible for the hair growth.
So, more research is needed, but L-cysteine does look like it may be promising.
Food Sources of L-Cysteine
Pork, beef and chicken are all high in L-cysteine, as is fish such as tuna. If you are avoiding meats and fish, you can also get L-cysteine from sources such as eggs, lentils, oatmeal, yogurt, sunflower seeds and dairy products like Swiss cheese.
Do not take doses above 7 grams of L-cysteine, as the amino acid is toxic in such high amounts. If you take any medications for chest pain or to suppress your immune system, be aware that this amino acid can interact with them. They can also reduce your blood pressure.
4. L-Methionine for Hair
Along with wanting a full head of healthy hair, chances are good you would like to preserve your hair color and prevent white hairs from growing in. One amino acid which could potentially help with that is L-methionine.
This research explains, “Since concentration-dependent H2O2-mediated oxidation of tyrosinase in hair follicle melanocytes, in association with the loss of functioning methionine sulfoxide repair, sheds a new light on the slowing down of hair pigmentation as observed in the age-dependent graying process, and under in vitro condition, methionine oxidation can be prevented by l-methionine, it would be interesting whether l-methionine could be useful for intervention or reversal of the hair graying process.”
As with the other amino acids we have discussed here, you can see that this is still partly in the realm of theory. The researchers urge investigation into the therapeutic potential of the amino acid. So, you can give it a try yourself to see if it helps you out. Just make sure you have realistic expectations.
Food Sources of L-Methionine
Like other amino acids on this list, l-methionine can be found in chicken, turkey and other meat products, as well as in eggs. Fish such as halibut, tuna and cod also contain the amino acid. Other options include Brazil nuts, oats, sesame seeds, sunflower butter and seaweed.
As with other amino acids, it is important to make sure that you do not exceed the proper dose, or adverse effects are possible.
Key Point: To help support the growth of hair which is rich in color, consider increasing the amount of l-methionine in your diet.
Conclusion: Amino Acids Can Help Fuel Healthy Hair Growth
You now know a bit about some of the amino acids which may be able to help you promote healthy hair growth.
But, as even researchers are still working hard to understand the role of these amino acids, you too will want to continue to learn about them. If we discover any exciting studies on these amino acids, we’ll be sure and let you know in our blog.