Because proteins and melanin pigments make up each strand of your hair, it seems natural that amino acids -- the building blocks of protein -- would promote healthy hair growth. This assumption is, by and large, correct -- amino acids are essential to healthy hair. However, amino acids do not act as a miracle potion for instant hair growth or as a cure for baldness; they simply encourage the growth of strong, healthy hair when included as part of a well-balanced diet.
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All About Amino Acids
Amino acids -- made up of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen -- serve as the foundation of protein. One type of protein, keratin, makes up about 88 percent of each strand of hair on your body. Of the 23 total types of amino acids, five of them -- arginine, cystine, cysteine, lysine and methionine -- particularly encourage healthy hair growth. While the body naturally produces some types of amino acid, you must turn to food sources for your lysine and methionine intake.
Amino Acid Effects
In addition to producing essential keratin, amino acids also create red blood cells, which in turn deliver nutrients and oxygen to hair-producing follicles. Of course, nutrient-rich hair makes for healthy hair. However, if you are experiencing hereditary hair loss -- such as common male-pattern baldness -- eating a sufficient amount of amino acids, or even boosting your intake, will not slow the loss or regrow your hair. Because these proteins contribute to everything from organs to bones and skins, additional effects of a healthy amino-acid intake range far and wide, from improved memory to the prevention cold sores.
To help bolster your hair's quality and growth, take in plenty of amino acid-rich foods, particularly those with lysine and methionine. These foods include cheese, fish, eggs and lean meats, but you can also turn to non-meat and non-dairy options such as seeds and nuts. For optimal hair growth, aim for about 60 grams of protein each day. To boost your arginine and cysteine intake, add foods such as almonds, Brazil nuts, red meats, oats, sunflower seeds and wheat flour to your diet.
The Supplement Question
While eating enough amino acids does promote healthy hair growth, amino acid supplements are just that: supplements. These vitamins do not replace your daily consumption of amino acids, they simply ensure that your intake is sufficient. Think of these optional supplements as insurance and be wary of any over-the-counter amino-acid based vitamins that promise to speed up hair growth or regrow lost hair. On his official website, supplement designer and medical author Dr. Ray Sahelian says that he is “not aware of any amino acid supplement that [improves] hair in someone who has a normal diet and no amino acid deficiency.”