According to the National Institutes of Health, multiple scientific studies have associated omega-3 fatty acids, which are common in many fish and some plants and nuts, with a wide variety of health benefits. These benefits range from lowering blood pressure and triglycerides to reducing the risk of serious health problems in patients with cardiovascular disease. While the impact of omega-3 fatty acids on hair growth is less proven, many people eat fish or take fish oil supplements in hopes of promoting hair growth.
Fish Oil Supplements
In addition to its possible benefits for hair growth, fish oil can be a healthy addition to your diet. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines, salmon and albacore tuna, two or more times per week. Rather than eat fish, many people opt to get their omega-3 fatty acids from supplements such as fish oil capsules, tablets, pills or liquids.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), most adults can safely consume up to 3 g of omega-3 fatty acids per day, though people with diabetes, a high risk of bleeding or elevated low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol should consult a physician, in case of harmful side effects. Also, some fish high in omega-3 fatty acids may contain high levels of mercury.
Some sources list hair growth as a secondary benefit of fish oil consumption. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish and fish oil can provide nutrients and proteins for the hair follicles, which can support healthy hair growth, prevent hair loss and add shine and luster to hair. While these benefits have not been clearly proven through scientific studies, omega-3 fatty acids do seem likely to contribute to overall health, which is essential for healthy, growing hair.
Reducing Hair Loss
The anti-inflammatory properties of fish oil may help to reduce or prevent hair loss as well. Because inflamed hair follicles are a contributing factor in many kinds of hair loss, substances such as fish oil that can reduce inflammation could promote follicle health and remove an important obstacle to hair growth. No scientific studies have proven these benefits, however.
Plant-based oils such as castor, tea tree, lavender or coconut oil can help moisturize your skin and hair when applied externally. Fish oil, in contrast, is not recommended for topical application, which is why it isn't added to haircare products the way many plant-based oils are. While fish oil might help to seal in moisture and protect your scalp or hair, it tends to have a strong odor that most people consider unpleasant. In fact, a widely touted advantage of fish oil capsules is that they provide the benefits of fish oil without its unappealing taste and aroma.
Encouraging Hair Growth
Whether or not you decide to add fish oil or other sources of omega-3 fatty acids to your diet, you can take steps to help support your hair's natural growth process. In addition to maintaining good health by eating a balanced diet, getting enough rest and exercising regularly, be diligent about your haircare routine, and massage your scalp on occasion (while shampooing, for example) to help stimulate your follicles and increase blood flow.
A copywriter and editor since 1998, Will Capra has handled projects for Fortune 50 companies, health care and higher education institutions and nonprofits, and his work has garnered numerous awards. Capra is also a prolific online writer, covering topics ranging from travel to technology for eHow. Capra holds a B.A. in English and is pursuing a master's degree in the same subject.