Long Hair & the Level of Calcium

Young girl with pigtails drinking milk
Q: While I was shopping this weekend I was scolded for letting my 5yr old daughter have long hair. I was told by an elderly gentleman that letting her hair stay long robs her body of calcium and when she is elderly she will have bone problems.
A: This is certainly the first I've ever heard of such a claim. In fact, I've spent the better part of my morning searching for some shred of evidence to support such a claim and cannot find any research or findings that suggest that wearing long hair has any relationship to the level of calcium in the body.
Here are the things I DO know:
The body (particularly the hair follicles) uses calcium in the production of the keratinized protein that makes up the hair. The hair itself, when tested, will show levels of calcium in its make-up. This is one of the reasons why it is recommended for people who want to grow their hair out to eat a diet that is rich in protein and well-balanced with regard to vitamins and minerals, including calcium. In fact, testing samples of the hair for calcium levels is one of the methods used to check for things like osteoporosis.
However, to say that wearing hair long causes calcium deficiency is considerably off-base. Most cases of calcium deficiency come as a direct result of the body's inability to properly digest dairy products, and or a lack of other calcium-rich food in the diet - such a dark green leafy vegetables (like mustard greens, collard greens, turnip greens, kale, sea kelp, spinach) canned fish with bones (such as salmon and sardines), and even molasses.
Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, which is why many types of milk and diary products are fortified with vitamin D.
So, the bottom line is: make sure your daughter gets a well-balanced diet that includes calcium. According to Clemson University, the amount of calcium needed is dependent on the age of the individual. Here's a quick breakdown:
Age 0 to 6 months -- 210 mg Calcium per day
Age 7 to 12 months -- 270 mg Calcium per day
Age 1 to 3 years -- 500 mg Calcium per day
Age 4 to 8 years -- 800 mg Calcium per day
Age 9 to 18 years -- 1300 mg Calcium per day*
Age 19 to 50 years -- 1000 mg Calcium per day
Age 51 and up -- 1200 mg Calcium per day
*The increased amount here is because of growth spurts during this period of development.
(This chart is from the 2004 Surgeon General's Report on Bone Health and Osteoporosis: What It Means to You.)
These amounts translate to approximately 2 cups of milk per day for children age 2 to 8, and 3 cups of milk per day for older children and adults.
Photo: Galushko Sergey/Shutterstock
See also:
What is hair made of and how does it grow?
Diet for healthy hair