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The Healthy Body -- Healthy Hair Connection

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It's almost the end of 2012 and everywhere you turn, people are once again drawing up laundry lists of resolutions for the new year. According to statistics from the Journal of Clinical Psychology, at least 45% of people make New Year's resolutions. Some of the top ten resolutions include losing weight, getting or staying fit/healthy, and quitting smoking. Interesting that many resolutions revolve around health, right? With rates for (largely) preventable diseases on the rise, there is no wonder that folks are hopping on the health bandwagon in record numbers.

Beyond that, there is an undoubtedly strong connection between our overall health and the health of our hair. There is only so much that conditioners, oils, and other products can do when it comes to growing and maintaining our manes. There are five essential areas of our health that we need to get a grip on if we want a healthy body that will grow healthy hair. Before you start scrambling to make your resolutions, check out these five areas of health and take stock on how they affect your hair's growth and health:

 
1. Stress: I'm sure one way or another, you've heard that stress can cause premature hair loss. Certainly, external stressors can make you want to yank the hairs off your head. But emotional and physiological stress can and does cause hair loss for any number of reasons. Being depressed or stressed for one day isn't going to cause major trauma per-se, but long-term behaviors that impact your body's internal balance is what causes hair loss. For example, if you are going through a bad breakup or job loss, that may spurn you into behaviors like not eating well, or losing sleep. Your emotional response triggers a physiological imbalance, which manifests itself in hair loss. No, you won't lose hair because you hate your Ex. But losing sleep over him long-term may cause your resting hairs to shed prematurely. Other stressors that aren't necessarily emotional but can cause physiological imbalance and hair-loss are: a strict low-calorie diet, severe illness or infection, low estrogen levels after childbirth, major surgery, and switching on and off oral contraceptives.

2. Sleep: Beyond relaxation, sleep is a restorative, repairative, and rejuvenating process for our bodies. While we're in la-la land, our bodies are fast at work -- repairing muscles, tissues, and sending growth hormones (HGH) throughout our system. The same growth hormones that are responsible for repairing muscles and tissues that we use and abuse throughout our busy day, are responsible for stimulating your hair growth. Although growth hormones are released in small doses throughout the day, more are released at night. If you are losing sleep (or your sleep pattern is erratic/disrupted by apnea or other causes), you're hurting your hair's chances to be stimulated to growth internally. In fact, if you aren't getting proper rest, you may notice that your hair is drier, more brittle, and breakage-prone than normal. So before you switch your sealing products, check your sleeping patterns.

3. Exercise: Another internal growth mechanism is kicked into high gear when you get moving. Heart-pumping exercise gets your blood circulating like none other. When blood is moving through your body, it carries nutrients and oxygen to your scalp -- stimulating growth. Sure, you could achieve this by massaging your scalp with a good oil. But the hands down best way to stimulate the blood flow throughout your body is exercise. Cardiovascular exercises like running, walking, dancing, kickboxing, elliptical, biking, and more are great ways to get your heart pumping. Weight lifting and resistance training are awesome as well. Aside from feeding your hair, regular exercise supports weight loss/healthy weight maintenance, decreased risk of hypertension, diabetes, and everything else under the sun. Do you really need another reason to get moving?
4. Nutrition: As it was mentioned under physiological stress, super calorie-restrictive diets are one of the triggers that can cause hair loss. Typically, nutrition plans where under 1,000 calories per day are consumed place you in the danger zone for hair loss and more (I'm looking at you, Master Cleanse). Simply put, our bodies need fuel to function. When our bodies are deprived of fuel, functions begin to slow or shut down entirely. Because we are survivalists by intelligent design, whatever our bodies don't get in food, we get by breaking down fat and muscle. Don't start jumping for joy thinking starvation will cause weight loss and keep your body going. Only essential functions will continue in the state of starvation -- and let's face it: hair growth is not an essential function when compared to keeping your heart and lungs pumping. On the flip side of that coin is our rapidly growing over-dependence on heavily processed pseudo and fast foods. As a general rule of thumb, the more processed a food is (meaning it has less real food ingredients, and more chemicals and junk that you can't pronounce or don't readily have available in your house), the less beneficial it is nutritionally. The converse also applies. When less whole food ingredients are present, our bodies are deprived of essential nutrients that help us function optimally, and consequently, that stimulate hair growth. To maximize your health and hair growth, make it a point to include more whole foods into your diet.
5. Alcohol: Drank. Shots. Booze. The elephant in the room that nobody wants to discuss. I'm not here to crash your party, or encourage you to pour your margarita down the drain. However with the exception of wine, alcohol consumption has little to no benefit to the body, except for loosening inhibitions and making us believe we are having a great time. In moderation, alcohol consumption has virtually no impact on the body. But when done in excess, alcohol consumption can lead to weight gain, liver damage, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and hair loss. Yes, getting wasted every weekend can cost you your precious mane. Frequent or excessive alcohol consumption can lead to increased estrogen levels (hello, hormone imbalance) and spur a condition known as Telogen effluvium into high gear. Telogen effluvium is a temporary hair loss condition that can be curbed when the body's balance is returned. In addition to the aforementioned condition, alcohol consumption decreases the levels of important nutrients in the body, such as zinc and iron. Decreased levels of zinc result in dry, brittle hair that can break easily at the roots, while decreased levels of iron prevent hair follicles from receiving important nutrients that are needed for hair health and growth.

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