Where to Find the Top Amino Acids for Hair Growth

Amino acids for hair growth: how do amino acids contribute to the protein in hair, and which foods contain the best aminos for strengthening hair and preventing baldness? This article has the answers.

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein in the body, and even outside our bodies protein is still a necessary ingredient. About 88% of our hair, for instance, is comprised of the protein keratin, and we cannot produce more of it without the proper balance of amino acids for hair growth.

Instead of trying to make your hair lustrous and thick with oils, conditioners, and other products that clog up your scalp, why not try working from the outside in? The following article provides the details for the top amino acids necessary for new and healthy hair growth, plus where to find these aminos in your dietary choices.

Why Amino Acids for Hair Growth?

When you think of your hair care routine, you don’t usually first think about your diet, but at the end of the day we are what we eat.

Amino acids are chemical compounds comprised of functional groups, carboxyl groups, and anime groups of molecules, and they are responsible for creating the protein that is about 1/5th of the average human body.

It takes 18 different amino acids to produce the keratin protein in our hair, and while some of these amino acids can be manufactured in-house by the body (nonessential amino acids), the rest of them we need to get from outside sources like food (essential amino acids). Let’s make sure you have enough amino acids for making keratin. First things first: which amino acids are required?

The top amino acids for hair growth.

Hair Structure

The structure of our hair has three distinct parts:

  • The medulla: This is the core of the hair shaft, made of a soft, oily substance.
  • The cuticle: A thin protective layer that contains the nourishment needed for hair growth, highly keratinized and made of layered scale-like cells that are about 60 x 6 micrometers in size.
  • The cortex: The main portion of hair, comprised of long chains of keratin that provide elasticity and suppleness. The cortex’s cells are bound by the lipids and proteins that make up an intercellular cement.

The Amino Acid Makeup of Keratin

Keratin is a family of proteins that make up significant portions of not only our hair, but also the topmost layer of our skin and nails as well. The 18 amino acids that make up keratin are:

Cysteic acid Aspartic acid
Arginine Serine
Glutamic acid Proline
Tyrosine Glycine
Alanine Cystine
Valine* Histidine*
Threonine* Methionine*
Isoleucine* Leucine*
Lysine* Phenylalanine*

The amino acids which have been starred are eight of our nine essential amino acids (every one but tryptophan), meaning it is essential that we consume them either in our foods or via an amino acid supplement. Not only are these essential aminos needed for hair, but they are also necessary for new muscle growth, hormone regulation, and the production of the red blood cells that carry oxygen and nutrients throughout our bodies (including to our hair follicles).

However, for hair growth, we’ll concentrate on the half of keratin’s amino acids that stimulate and encourage the follicles to grow. For the amino acids for hair loss, read (or skip) to the end of this article.

The Top 9 Amino Acids for Hair Growth and Where to Find Them

These are the top amino acids needed for hair growth, plus their food sources.

1. Cysteine

Cysteine belongs at the top of the list because it helps stimulate new hair growth and is an antioxidant that serves to protect against sun damage and other degrading radiation. Cysteine can treat alopecia, a condition in which whole clumps of hair fall off of the body in patches. Plus cysteine brings sulfur to our hair cells, which is necessary for strength and a supple texture.

Food Sources:

  • Wheat germ
  • Chicken
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Dairy products (yogurt, milk)

2. Cystine

Cystine is not the same as cysteine, though there is a reason their names are so similar. Cystine is a nonessential amino acid, so-called because it is made up of two bonded cysteine molecules by our bodies’ natural functioning. Cystine is also known to stimulate new hair growth and to prevent hair loss.

About 10-14% of our hair and skin is comprised of cystine, whose double-bonded cysteine molecules help provide structural strength to our hair shafts. Bonus: cystine is also important for immune system support.

Food Sources:

  • As cystine is constructed out of two cysteine molecules by our bodies, the food sources of cystine are the same as cysteine.

3. Proline

Proline is a nonessential amino acid that aids in collagen production, which plays a role both in the makeup of hair and in the preservation of muscle tissue.

Food Sources:

  • Eggs
  • Beans
  • Meat
  • Dairy products
  • Soybeans
  • Spinach
  • Broccoli
  • Asparagus
  • Legumes
  • Avocado

4. Methionine

This essential amino acid also provides the sulfur needed to guard against hair disorders, as well as powerful antioxidant abilities. A lipotropic, methionine breaks down and prevents fat accumulation in the bloodstream, making it valuable for cardiovascular health and for providing optimal blood flow to our scalps and hair follicles, important for healthy hair growth. Methionine also is required for synthesizing collagen needed for hair shaft strength.

Food Sources:

  • Brazil nuts
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Sesame seeds
  • Cereal grains

5. Lysine

Speaking of collagen, lysine aids in collagen formation and helps the body absorb calcium (for bone strength). Lysine also has the ability to inhibit 5-alpha reductase from creating DHT (dihydrotestosterone) out of testosterone, which is the central cause for androgenic alopecia (aka male pattern baldness).

Food Sources:

  • Red meat
  • Pork
  • Chicken
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Legumes
  • Nuts
  • Dairy products

6. Glutamine

Glutamine’s role in assisting new hair growth is to deliver the sulfur needed to synthesize cysteine at the scalp. It’s a small role but also one of the many steps that cannot be skipped in forming healthy hair.

Food Sources:

  • Beef
  • Pork
  • Chicken
  • Eggs
  • Dairy products
  • Nuts
  • Beans
  • Legumes
  • Spinach
  • Cabbage

7. Glycine

Glycine’s important role for hair is in collagen production, but it also helps aid our digestive functioning and the health of our central nervous systems, which means it helps prevent the hair loss potentially caused by nerve disorders.

Food Sources:

  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Spinach
  • Cabbage
  • Beans
  • Soybeans
  • Dairy products
  • Bananas

8. Tyrosine

This nonessential amino provides coloration to our skin and hair and is used in the production of melanin. Not only that, tyrosine works to alleviate mood disorders like depression, anxiety, and insomnia, all stressors that could easily lead to hair loss and hair weakness.

Food Sources:

  • Almonds
  • Lima beans
  • Soybeans
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Fish

9. Arginine

Arginine is another big player in healthy hair growth, because it’s a precursor to nitric oxide. A healthy supply of nitric oxide is needed to boost blood supply to our scalps and to help our immune system’s defenses against autoimmune diseases, including those that can lead to baldness.

Food Sources:

  • Sesame seeds
  • Coconut
  • Hazelnuts
  • Cashews
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Fish
  • Wheat germ

Amino Acid Hair Treatment vs. Keratin Treatment

Now you know some of the dietary sources for the top amino acids needed for hair growth, but what about more concentrated proactive treatments? The amino acids for hair loss are methionine and cysteine, known to fight back against hair loss because they are sulfur suppliers, and when it comes to getting enough of these aminos the simplest way possible, many people consider using liquid amino acids for hair care.

One popular recipe, the Cherry Lola Treatment, calls for natural yogurt mixed with Braggs Amino Acids. With a little bit of baking soda added in, applying the mixture as a deep conditioner can lead to reduced frizz and damage repair.

Keratin treatments on the other hand (aka Brazilian blowouts) often involve a hair stylist/professional applying a chemical mixture of conditioner, keratin, and a formaldehyde-like substance to the hair before putting it under high heat to relax and smooth naturally textured hair. You’ll want to make sure your hair is strong enough to survive this harsh treatment, however, as brittle hair exposed to such chemicals and heat can easily become damaged.

A Mane of Aminos

For improved hair growth and follicle health, dietary aminos and even external amino acid conditioning treatments are safe, natural, nurturing ways to care for your hair’s keratin. With a few changes to your diet, amino acid supplementation, or amino acid applications, you can enrich and strengthen your hair without damaging it.

Amino Acids for Hair Loss

If you’re noticing more hair loss than normal and witnessing visible thinning of your hair, then you could be dealing with an imbalance of hormones, low thyroid, too much testosterone, or a nutritional deficiency, such as too little protein or iron. If nutritional deficiencies are at play, amino acids for hair loss are an effective and natural first line of defense.

We lose anywhere from 50 to 100 strands of hair a day, so there’s no need to be alarmed by clumps of hair in the shower drain or loose hairs on the carpet. But if you’re noticing more hair loss than normal and witnessing hair thinning, then you could be dealing with an imbalance of hormones, low thyroid, too much testosterone, or a nutritional deficiency, such as too little protein or iron. If nutritional deficiencies are at play, amino acids for hair loss are an effective and natural first line of defense. After all, amino acids are the building blocks of protein, and protein is needed to grow tissue cells, including the cells that make up your hair.

Lysine and Iron for Hair Loss

Iron deficiency is the number one nutritional deficiency in the world. If your hair loss is caused by a lack of iron, there’s a chance that you may also be low in the essential amino acid lysine. Studies link hair loss to low levels of both iron and lysine. A 2002 study published in Clinical and Experimental Dermatology showed that when female participants supplemented with iron and lysine, hair loss decreased, but when subjects supplemented with just iron, hair loss stayed the same. Researchers note that patience is required, as the benefits of iron and lysine supplementation for hair loss may take a few months to be noticeable.

Lysine is one of nine essential amino acids that your body cannot make on its own. In addition to supporting the body’s uptake of iron, it also plays a role in zinc uptake. Low levels of zinc have been linked to pattern baldness, which accounts for 95% of hair loss in men and affects 45% of women. Lysine also helps to build collagen, a protein component of hair.

Complete proteins such as red meat, poultry, pork, eggs, cheese, cod, sardines, soybeans, nuts, legumes, and brewer’s yeast are rich in lysine. If you’re on a low-protein or vegan diet you may be at risk for not just iron and lysine deficiency, but a possible protein deficiency overall. Being deficient in even just one amino acid could accelerate hair loss. If you think you might be protein deficient, start by following the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein: 0.36 grams of protein for every pound of body weight.

Amino Acids for Healthy Hair Growth

Healthy hair depends on two amino-acid-built proteins: keratin and collagen.

Ninety percent of every strand of hair on your head is made of a tough, fibrous protein called keratin. Keratin is formed from long chains of amino acids that allow your hair to bend, twist, and turn without breaking, lending strength and elasticity to hair.

Collagen is another building block of hair. A 2016 study from Japanese researchers linked hair loss to decreased collagen near hair follicle stem cells beneath the scalp. Eating protein-rich foods and taking essential amino acid supplements can support the health of your hair by helping your body produce more keratin and collagen.

The 4 amino acids that help boost keratin hair growth are:

  • Cysteine
  • Lysine
  • Arginine
  • Methionine

The 4 amino acids that help increase collagen production are:

  • Lysine
  • Methionine
  • Glycine
  • Proline

But amino acids don’t stop there. They also help form red blood cells that carry oxygen and nutrients to hair cells. Healthy hair depends on these nutrients.

We’ve already seen how lysine can help protect against hair loss, but let’s take a look at other key amino acids for hair loss in more detail.

Arginine

Beyond producing keratin for healthy hair, arginine (or L-arginine) can help put a stop to hair loss in several ways. It’s an excellent immune enhancer, and as such provides a shield against disease-related hair loss.

Arginine is best known for boosting nitric oxide levels in the body. Nitric oxide is a vasodilator that relaxes blood vessels and opens up the potassium channels of cells, thereby improving blood flow throughout the body. By increasing nitric oxide, arginine supports optimal circulation and reinforces blood supply to the hair root, which helps boost hair growth.

Arginine has also demonstrated effectiveness as a topical agent that can help protect hair from bleaching and coloring treatments. When researchers replaced part of the ammonia in a coloring agent with arginine, hair did not sustain as much damage.

Arginine is not an essential amino acid, which means the body can make it on its own, but during times of stress or injury, arginine may become a conditionally essential amino acid (not enough arginine is being produced to meet all demands and dietary support may be called for). Arginine is abundant in dairy, fish, poultry, beef, sesame seeds, chickpeas, oatmeal, soybeans, granola, pumpkin seed, sunflower seeds, and nuts.

Cysteine

Cysteine is a nonessential amino acid that makes up a quarter of keratin. Several studies indicate that cysteine supplementation can help decrease hair loss in men and women with androgenic alopecia (pattern baldness/hair loss).

Cysteine also helps produce a very potent antioxidant called glutathione, which can help protect hair follicles from oxidative stress. Topical cysteine is considered a safe treatment for straightening hair.

To ensure adequate cysteine intake, eat dairy, pork, poultry, legumes, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and grains. Taking a supplement of L-cysteine or N-acetyl cysteine can induce vomiting and other symptoms of gastric distress. Cysteine is produced from the essential amino acid methionine, and adequate methionine intake generally ensures a sufficient amount of cysteine.

Methionine

Methionine is an important amino acid necessary for the production of keratin and procollagen—the precursor of collagen. It lends structure and strength to your hair and helps to prevent hair loss by building a sulfurous network of chains.

Researchers presented the results of a study examining the efficacy of methionine as a hair loss treatment at a dermatological congress in Florence in 2006. Scientists divided 30 people into two groups. The control group took a placebo and the variable group supplemented with an amino acid preparation containing methionine and vitamin B complex. After 6 months, those supplementing with methionine had 10% more hair regrowth than participants taking the placebo. Other studies show that methionine may help slow hair thinning and greying.

Unlike arginine and cysteine, methionine is an essential amino acid that you must get from the foods you eat and the amino acid supplements you take. Methionine amino acid-rich foods include:

  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Seeds
  • Leafy greens
  • Broccoli
  • Zucchini
  • Squash
  • Nuts, especially Brazil nuts

Glycine and Proline

Glycine impacts hair health because it’s central to collagen production, as is proline, which also plays a key role in cartilage production. Both are nonessential amino acids that you can find in fish, meat, dairy products, soybeans, spinach, cabbage, beans, kale, banana, kiwi, legumes, broccoli, spinach, and soybeans.

Tyrosine

In addition to thinning hair and hair loss, the color of hair might also take a hit due to stress or adrenal, thyroid, or pituitary gland dysfunction. This is where the amino acid tyrosine can come to our aid.

Tyrosine helps form melanin, which imparts color to our skin and hair. By keeping tyrosine levels adequate in the body, we can help stabilize the body’s production of melanin. Food sources of melanin include pumpkin seed, lima beans, dairy and soy products, almonds, and fish.

Important Hair-Loss Nutrients

Healthy hair depends on a nutritive diet full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. In addition to amino acids for hair loss, the following nutrients help keep hair in lustrous condition.

  • Vitamin A supports sebum production to keep hair follicles lubricated.
  • Vitamin C is a key nutrient in collagen synthesis for strong hair.
  • Iron, silica, and zinc encourage new hair growth and protect against hair loss.
  • Vitamins E, B5, B6, B12, and folic acid improve blood circulation for better nutrient delivery to hair follicles.
  • Essential fatty acids such as omega-3 contribute to hair health by promoting circulation and cell growth.

If you are deficient in any of these nutrients or an amino acid, hair is likely to feel dry and brittle and a supplement program may be in order. However, it’s important not to take hair loss supplements that target a specific nutrient if you are not deficient in that nutrient, as too much of a vitamin, such as too much vitamin A or C, can actually cause hair loss. A complete and balanced essential amino acid supplement, however, does not carry that same risk.

If you’re noticing more hair loss than normal and witnessing visible thinning of your hair, then you could be dealing with an imbalance of hormones, low thyroid, too much testosterone, or a nutritional deficiency, such as too little protein or iron. If nutritional deficiencies are at play, amino acids for hair loss are an effective and natural first line of defense.