HAIR AND NAIL HEALTH –
FEED FROM THE INSIDE
Vitamins and minerals are essential to health and vitality and consequently to the health and appearance of the hair and nails. Although these nutrients occur naturally in various foods, adequate nutrition is not always achieved and there may be risk of dietary deficiencies, which can lead to all sorts of problems, from poor appearance of the hair and nails to excessive hair loss in women.
In effect, the appearance of one’s hair and nails say a lot about the persons state of health. Healthy nails should be strong, smooth and pink; however, the shape and structure of the nails is largely hereditary. Healthy hair should be shiny, smooth and not dry. However, the body prioritises its nutrient distribution and because the nails and the hair are not vital organs, they are the areas first to be affected by nutritional deficiencies whether caused by poor diet or illness.
The condition of your hair and the strength of your nails can be a very clear sigh of nutritional deficiencies and poor diet which is why after or during an illness the hair often looks lank and lifeless.
So here is a quick guide to supplements/foods needed for healthy hair and nail growth.
The B vitamins are especially important to the health of nails and hair, helping the body to build proteins, particularly the protein Keratin which is the major protein of nails and hair. Insufficiency of the B vitamins can lead to poor nail and hair growth and in particular ridges in the nails. Lack of the B vitamin folic acid is thought to be responsible for the occurrence of hang nails. B vitamins are widely available in many foods especially eggs, meat, all whole grain foods and seeds. If you are recovering from an illness and your hair and nails are suffering it may be worth buying a ‘B-Complex’ supplement – available from Health stores.
The mineral Zinc is needed for the growth and renewal of cells both in the hair and nails and is important for the formation of new nail material in the nail bed. White flecks under the nails are thought to be caused by a zinc deficiency. Oysters contain the most zinc of any food! Next in line are lamb, whole grains and most nuts and seeds.
Like the B vitamins, vitamin C is important for nail and hair health through its role in helping to build proteins. As with folic acid, a low intake has been linked with the development of hang nails. Good sources of vitamin C include – kiwi fruit, peppers watercress and of course oranges and grapefruits.
Essential fatty acids such as fish oils and evening primrose oil are needed to form the structure of cell membranes and ‘lock in’ moisture to prevent both hair and nails from splitting. This is particularly important when you consider that nails lose moisture 100 times quicker than skin. The body cannot make essential fatty acids so eating a diet rich in oily fish and seeds is highly recommended to support the structure of all cell membranes. Alternatively, ‘essential fatty acid’ supplements are widely available in health food shops in the form of Fish oils, Evening Primrose oil and Flax seed oil!
Alyson Carter is a Nutritional Therapist having graduated from the College of Naturopathic Medicine in London. She is registered with the Nutritional Therapy Council (NTC) and is a member of the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CHNC) and the British Association of Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT).