Ask the Doctors: Diet can help with age-related thinning hair

Focus on getting adequate protein in your diet and eating from a wide range of fresh fruits and vegetables for vitamins and minerals.

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The cells in hair follicles have a high rate of turnover, so maintaining a balanced diet is important.

The cells in hair follicles have a high rate of turnover, so maintaining a balanced diet is important.

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Dear Doctors: My hair has been thin since I was young.Now that I’m growing older, it’s getting worse. Why? Is there anything I can add to my diet to make my hair thicker and healthier, or is thinner hair inevitable with aging?

Answer: Among the many changes as we grow older are gradual differences in our hair. In addition to going gray and, for some people, growing bald, this includes changes to thickness and texture.

Aging hair typically grows more slowly and becomes more sparse. The strands become more brittle, dull, thinner and more fragile, which can lead to splitting and breakage.

A strand of hair is composed of three layers of a hard protein called keratin. In younger adults, it has a life span of two to seven years or longer and grows about a half inch a month.

Due in part to hormonal changes, hair falls out more quickly in older adults and is replaced with finer hair that grows more slowly. Some hair follicles go dormant.

Genetic, environmental and behavioral factors also can play a role and vary greatly.

Some studies have suggested that supplementation of the B vitamin biotin can contribute to healthier hair, though the National Institutes of Health says there’s insufficient data to back up these claims. And added biotin in the diet can interfere with medical test results, including those used to diagnose heart problems, and interact with some medications. Better to focus on getting adequate protein in your diet and eating from a range of fresh fruits and vegetables for vitamins and minerals.

You might reexamine using hair dryers and curling irons. Also, it’s tempting to use hairspray for volume, but the alcohol in it can contribute to drying. Try to find a hydrating shampoo and conditioner.

Certain medications, including some for blood pressure and cholesterol, can contribute to thinning. Your doctor can let you know if this is the case and help find a solution.

Some women opt for Rogaine or Propecia to promote hair growth. That’s a discussion to have with your health care provider.

Dr. Eve Glazier is an internist and associate professor of medicine at UCLA Health. Dr. Elizabeth Ko is an internist and assistant professor of medicine at UCLA Health.

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