On Nutrition by Ed Blonz

Can I Help My Hair Without Gaining Weight?

DEAR DR. BLONZ: Dietary supplements to help with hair growth seem to focus on amino acids and protein. My concern is that I have also heard that they cause you to gain weight. I don’t need to gain weight, but would like the extra protein for my hair. -- M.T., Hayward, California

DEAR M.T.: While amino acids and protein have caloric value, they do not have any special abilities to cause weight gain. They contain approximately four calories per gram, which is similar to carbohydrates, but less than fat (nine calories per gram). The body uses amino acids as building blocks to make protein, but it can use them for energy when other sources are in short supply. If the body has all the amino acids it needs to make its protein, and there is also sufficient dietary energy, the body converts its excess amino acids into fat for storage. The same can be said for anything that contains calories.

Hair is made up of protein, and many hair products do contain protein; this includes products taken internally and those used externally. Nutrient deficiencies can affect bodily systems and the things they make, and this would include our hair. In that sense, it is accurate to say that amino acids and other nutrients are “good” for the hair -- at least, good to the point that requirements are met. But there is no evidence to believe that taking in extra amino acids, more than the body needs, can result in a healthier head of hair. Perhaps the most significant influences on your hair are the products and treatments used externally, but that is a discussion you might have with the individual you trust for your hair care.

DEAR DR. BLONZ: While not a nutrition question, this does deal with health, so I am hopeful you can respond. My question is about electronic ab exercisers. They claim to be able to give you six-pack abs with no calorie restrictions and no other exercise. I would like your opinion of these devices, and whether or not you think they work. -- T.F., Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

DEAR T.F.: In the words of the Federal Trade Commission, it is pure “pump fiction” to think that the electronic muscle stimulators sold to the public can deliver “rock-hard” or “six-pack” abs. These machines are considered to be medical devices, which means they require FDA approval to be legally marketed. But don’t assume that if you see something for sale, it has been approved.

The concept is that delivering electrical stimulation through the skin causes muscles to contract; I have no problem with that. But then the claims go further, saying that such contractions can resculpt the affected muscles into that chiseled, six-pack appearance, all without any need to adjust diet or exercise. There is some history here: Approved medical devices have been used to stimulate nerves to help prevent muscle wasting after surgery, or during periods of extreme inactivity. But this is not the same as building and sculpting new muscles. There is no evidence that these devices can do that, and no FDA approval to claim such an effect.

Read this (albeit dated) article at the Federal Trade Commission for more information: b.link/abexercisers. Hopefully, this will help you make a more informed decision.

Send questions to: “On Nutrition,” Ed Blonz, c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to questions@blonz.com. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.