Nutrition Tips to Support Hair Growth After Cancer Treatment
A cancer diagnosis can be very scary and have a lot of unknowns. And while cancer can happen at any time of year, we wanted to discuss ways to support you, your #hairwellness and your hair regrowth journey this October in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
If you are experiencing a cancer diagnosis or are undergoing cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy, or hormonal therapy, it is likely you may experience hair loss as a side effect of treatment. This can be incredibly stressful, as our hair is a significant part of our identity! Many patients that I work with who are dealing with a cancer diagnosis are incredibly eager to support their hair regrowth as soon as possible. Fortunately, there is a lot we can do nutritionally to support hair regrowth and recovery after cancer treatment.
Why Do We Lose Hair During Cancer Treatment?
If chemotherapy is part of your treatment plan, it’s likely you’ll lose some or all of your hair during cancer treatment. This can include the hair on your head as well as on the rest of your body (such as your eyebrows, legs and arms). Some patients will lose all of their hair, while others will notice hair thinning or texture changes.
Chemotherapy treatment targets rapidly growing cells. This is why it can be an effective treatment for cancer. Unfortunately, our hair cells are also rapidly growing and can be caught in the crossfire of treatment. Not everyone who undergoes chemotherapy will lose their hair! If your hair is going to be affected, you’ll likely see it begin around three weeks after the start of treatment. Hair regrowth tends to begin around three to six weeks after the end of treatment.
Many cancer patients will experience tenderness in their scalp as they’re losing hair and after hair loss occurs. The scalp can also become dry and flaky easily. Consider a lightweight oil, such as marula oil, to nourish the tender skin, help reduce inflammation and provide protection during treatment. Marula oil has natural antimicrobial properties and can calm irritation, itching and dryness, making it a safe and nourishing choice for your scalp during treatment.
How Can I Support Hair Regrowth After Cancer Treatment?
Cancer treatment takes a significant toll on the body. You are likely to feel depleted (both physically and mentally/emotionally), and I encourage you to take your time nourishing yourself in body and spirit after treatment.
Focus your diet on gentle but balanced nutrition. This may look different from one person to another, but I encourage you to consider implementing any of the following:
Focus Your Diet on Warm, Cooked Meals That Are Easy to Digest
This can include steamed or pureed veggies, soups and stews, broths and more! These foods are easiest on your system and are high in replenishing nutrients. I especially recommend having a few quarts of Dr. Rebecca Katz’s Magic Mineral Broth to sip on throughout the day or use as the base of other dishes. Pro tip: try cooking your quinoa or other grains with it for a flavor and nutrient boost!
Aim for the Most Colorful Plates You Can Create
Differently colored fruits, vegetables and herbs have different benefits to your body. Aim to eat the rainbow as often as possible.
Allow Protein to Be the Feature of Your Plate
Many people going through cancer treatment report aversion to proteins of all kinds. This can lead to deficiency in an already fragile time. Our body relies on amino acids (the building blocks of protein) to do necessary repairs, including regrowing our hair.
Ensure You Are Well Hydrated
Aim for at least half of your body weight in ounces of hydrating fluids daily! This can include water, herbal teas and broths. Note: if you experienced significant weight loss (more than 10% of your body weight) during your treatment, base your hydration needs on your pre-treatment weight.
Know What Nutrients Will Be the Most Beneficial
There are also specific nutrients you can focus on after treatment to support healthy hair regrowth.
- Vitamin A is imperative for the growth and health of all cells and tissues, including the hair and scalp. Vitamin A also is necessary for sebum production, which keeps hair moisturized. Focus on yellow and orange colored produce and plenty of dark green leafy vegetables, and always pair these foods with a healthy source of fat since Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin!
- Vitamin C is necessary for collagen production in the body. Collagen helps prevent hair breakage (among many other benefits!) Like Vitamin A, Vitamin C is also necessary for sebum production. Vitamin C is found in citrus fruits, berries, peppers, dark green leafy vegetables, broccoli, cabbage, sweet potatoes and tomatoes.
- Omega 3 Fatty Acids are critical to a healthy scalp and lowering inflammation, which can be higher after cancer treatment. Omega 3’s are also essential fatty acids, meaning our body cannot create them; we must consume them through our diet or supplementation. Vegan sources of omega-3 fatty acids include walnuts, hempseeds and flaxseed. If you eat a non-vegan diet, these foods are great sources of Omega 3s. If you are a vegan or vegetarian, I encourage you to talk to your care team about adding a high-quality, algae-based supplement for additional intake.
- Biotin is one of the most well-known hair, skin and nail support vitamins, and for good reason. Your body uses biotin to produce the protein keratin, a major component of our hair shaft. You can find biotin in many vegetables as well as nuts and seeds. If needed, you can also get biotin by taking a supplement.
Overwhelmed? Don’t Be
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your post-treatment diet, I also recommend seeking out professional support. A qualified nutrition professional (such as an RD, LDN, or CNS) can support you in creating a personalized plan for replenishment!
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