Folic acid (Vitamin B9) is an essential nutrient important to many bodily processes, and deficiencies in folic acid can result in a variety of health issues, but few of them are as visibly noticeable as those that affect the hair.
Folic acid deficiency can cause premature greying of the hair. It can also lead to hair loss, but greying of the hair is often the lesser of the two evils because once levels of folic acid are returned to a normal level the natural hair color will usually also make a return.
What is Folic Acid and How Does it Contribute to Healthy Hair?
Folic acid is one of eight B vitamins essential to normal health. In a healthy body, where a balanced diet provides an adequate amount of B vitamins, their combined properties perform many functions.
But folic acid is of particular importance to the hair because it contributes to the production of genetic material, such as DNA and RNA, and assists the correct division and growth of cells—including those found in hair follicles—so a deficiency of this important vitamin will inhibit normal hair growth.
Symptoms of Folic Acid Deficiency
Although greying hair or a balding head are the more visible signs that the body is receiving an insufficient amount of folic acid, many other symptoms may warn of the problem before greying or balding occur, and it should be noted that folic acid deficiency is a relatively common problem. Excessive consumption of alcohol and the use of some prescription medications can trigger a deficiency, as can certain diseases, such as celiac disease and irritable bowel syndrome.
Common symptoms of folic acid deficiency include:
- Poor appetite
- Shortness of breath
- Inflamed tongue
- Lack of energy
Obviously, anyone who suffers from any of the above symptoms for an extended period of time should seek medical advice. Folic acid deficiencies should always be addressed because any prolonged lack of this vital vitamin can lead to more worrying problems, including, ulcers, anemia, and elevated levels of homocystein (a contributing factor for heart disease).
Natural Sources of Folic Acid
The RDA of folic acid (for adults) is 400 mcg a day and most people who are in normal health, and enjoy a balanced diet, will probably attain a sufficient quantity from their food.
Many breakfast cereals are fortified with vitamins and minerals—including folic acid—so the benefits of a healthy breakfast cannot be dismissed. Multivitamin capsules are also a good way to top-up folic acid levels and may be the most convenient option for people who consider their lives too hectic to allow for a balanced diet.
Keeping the Grey Away
Although a few people actually prefer the “silver fox” look, the majority of us will grab for the nearest bottle of hair dye at the first sign of a grey hair. Grey hair is associated with old age and nobody wants to look or feel old—even if they are old and feel it every minute of the day.
Grey hair may be unwelcome, but it is a natural part of the ageing process and most people will just have to accept this sooner or later and add a few bottles of dye to their shopping lists. “Later” cannot be prevented, but there is no need for anyone to go grey “sooner” than the average healthy person of a similar age.
Modern day life is hectic and feelings of stress and anxiety can rob the body of folic acid and other vital nutrients. The matter is only made worse by the fact that fast, hectic lifestyles can also result in a reliance on fast food, too little sleep, and too much alcohol to “unwind” after a hard day at work. If lifestyle choices like this persist, it will not be long before the silver fox comes knocking at the door, but a few sensible changes for the better can result in a healthy body and a healthy head of hair.
- Cut back on alcohol
- Allow time for adequate sleep
- Eat a balanced diet and top up with vitamins if (absolutely) necessary
- Combat stress by taking up yoga or meditation
Although some people are more genetically prone to early greying, and grey hair will come to us all sooner or later, the risk of early greying can be minimized, and in many cases avoided, by people who make healthy lifestyle and diet choices.
People who have already gone grey before their time can also take heart because premature grey hairs can often be banished when folic acid levels return to a reasonable level, allowing the true hair color to shine through.