By medical nutritionist Dr Sarah Brewer, an expert in food, herbs and supplements
The cells making your skin, hair and nails are among the most rapidly renewed in the body and need a constant supply of nutrients. When deficiencies arise, you may notice an increased tendency towards dryness, flaking, hair loss and outbreaks of spots.
Diet should always come first, so aim to eat a healthy, balanced diet containing as many unrefined, wholefoods as possible. Wholegrains, fruit, vegetables and seeds are a rich source of vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids that provide nourishment for skin, hair roots and nail beds. Try not to eat erratically or to skip meals (especially breakfast) or the supply of nutrients to non-essential tissues such as hair and nails is reduced. Try to eat something at least every four hours, for example, a healthy snack such as fresh or dried fruit.
Hair and nails consist mainly of the tough, fibrous protein, keratin. This is made from amino acid building blocks obtained from your diet. Aim to eat a source of protein with every meal, such as poultry, fish, eggs, nuts or beans. Vegetarians are more prone to thinning hair and flaking nails as some important amino acids (eg, lycine) and micronutrients (eg. vitamin B12 and iron) are often lacking from their diet.
Supplements designed to support hair, skin and nails may contain a selection of the following:
- Methylsulphonylmethane (MSM) – is an organic form of sulphur needed for healthy collagen and keratin production. It can significantly improve the condition of hair and nails.
- Wheatgerm oil – which is rich in antioxidant vitamin E to help hair and nails retain moisture and shine.
- Evening primrose and/or borage (starflower) oils – rich sources of GLA, a fatty acid that helps to improve skin softness and the strength and suppleness of hair and nails.
- Vitamin C – which is essential for collagen production. Low intakes can lead to misshapen, tangled hair, brittle hair and nails plus hair loss.
- Zinc – a mineral that is essential for skin healing plus healthy hair and nail growth. Zinc deficiency has been linked with white spots on nails – possible because it weakens the nail bed so it is more susceptible to trauma.
- Iron – a mineral that, when lacking, can lead to brittle hair, hair loss and flattened, concave nails.
- B vitamins – which are needed for cell division and healthy hair, skin and nails.
- Biotin – deficiency of which is linked with brittle hair and nails, patchy hair loss and reversible baldness.
- Silica – found in bamboo and horsetail extracts – which improves the strength of hair and nails, and helps overcome brittleness.
About Dr Sarah Brewer
Dr Sarah Brewer is a medical nutritionist and an expert in food, herbs and supplements. She qualified from Cambridge University with degrees in natural sciences, medicine and surgery. After working in general practice, she gained a master’s degree in nutritional medicine. Sarah is a licensed medical doctor, a registered nutritionist and a registered nutritional therapist.
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