Our hair, skin, and nails are often the first signs of improved or worsening health. You know how it goes: you’ve had a particularly stressful month at work or you haven’t been eating a balanced diet. Before you know it, you’re breaking out in pimples or your hair is oilier than usual. But many of us live with weak nails and hair and just assume it’s genetic, but we may have more power over how healthy our skin, hair, and nails are than we realize.
We asked Dr. Nancy for her expertise on what it takes to have healthy hair, skin, and nails and how they are linked to nutritional deficiencies.
What nutritional deficiencies can be seen?
Since hair, nails, and skin are the most rapidly growing cells in our body, they’re also the most affected by a change in our nutrition and a potential vitamin deficiency.
Dull skin can appear seemingly overnight, and we often chalk it up to being tired or overworked, not realizing that the quality of our diet has changed.
Weight loss and caloric deprivation lead to deficiency in proteins, minerals, vitamins, and fatty acids affecting hair, skin, and nail growth. Hair loss and weakened nails are two common signs of at least one type of deficiency.
How can you prevent these issues?
Unsurprisingly, nutritional deficiencies are most common among those who do not eat a balanced diet, whether it’s someone on a diet or someone who doesn’t have access to the right nutrition. In the case of the former, you can minimize issues like hair loss and poor skin by ensuring proper eating and supplementing nutrients you don’t consume during a weight loss program. You’ll also need to ensure a proper intake of protein and healthy fat on top of losing weight at a steady and healthy pace, no more than one pound per week.
Alongside those who are not eating a balanced diet, here are some other scenarios in which a patient may experience a deficiency:
- During breastfeeding
- When taking a significant amount of prescription medications
- When fighting an illness
- When introducing a strenuous exercise plan
All of these scenarios may deplete the number of micronutrients and minerals in the body. There are tests available to assess your micronutrient status. Our office provides a simple blood test to look for your body’s unique nutritional needs.
Should I take a supplement?
There are many different supplements available for either hair, nail, or skin health. There are also supplements that address each one specifically. Make sure you look to improve your overall level of health and not simply take a supplement for skin, hair, and nails, as this often solely includes biotin, which while helpful, will not solve the big-picture problem.
Here are the best vitamins and minerals for healthy skin:
Manganese is a mineral responsible for the production of collagen in skin cells. Collagen is the protein responsible for that famously plump, youthful texture and deficiency will result in premature aging and loss of skin fullness.
All B vitamins are responsible for skin health. Biotin deficiency often results in skin inflammation.
Vitamin C slows down aging in skin cells and assists in collagen synthesis in the skin.
Zinc is necessary for skin health and cell growth. Deficiency is known to cause skin inflammation in developing countries.
Here are the best macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals for healthy hair:
Iron can be taken as a supplement to prevent a deficiency that results in hair loss. It can also be found naturally in beans, dried fruit, and fortified breakfast cereals.
Appropriate protein intake can reduce your risk of hair loss as hair is made of protein. If you’re losing weight or aren’t getting enough protein, your body will actively hinder hair growth to compensate for the protein deficiency.
B Vitamins, particularly biotin, are essential for hair growth. Biotin deficiency is a common cause of hair loss.
Here are the best vitamins, and minerals for healthy nails:
Vitamin D is necessary for healthy calcium levels as it facilitates absorption through the gastrointestinal tract. It also helps regulate how much calcium and phosphate you have in the body, which is important for healthy bones, teeth and muscles.
Calcium is necessary for nail strength. You can find this in dairy and soy foods and green leafy vegetables like kale and okra.
Biotin is essential for nail strength. Biotin deficiency will result in brittle nails, but you can find it in seeds, lentils, nuts, and certain vegetables like broccoli and sweet potatoes.
Weak nails are often associated with a B vitamin deficiency, so it’s important to have enough B vitamins in your diet. If you don’t get enough B vitamins, you can supplement it with a daily tablet.
We all know that genetics play a key role in your appearance. But your diet, geographical location, weather, and how you take care of your hair, skin, and nails all influence how they look.
Eating a balanced whole food diet will provide all the necessary vitamins, minerals, and nutrients for your hair, skin, and nails. If you’re a picky eater, supplement your diet with quality supplements, but make sure you do your research so you’re getting the right quality vitamins and minerals.
You can often tell by looking for changes in your skin if you’re not receiving the right nutrients, but if you’re ever unsure, it’s always a good idea to speak to your doctor or a dermatologist.
Dr. Nancy Rahnama, MD, ABOM, ABIM, is a medical doctor board certified by both the American Board of Obesity Medicine and the American Board of Internal Medicine. Her specialty is Clinical Nutrition, that is, the use of nutrition by a medical doctor to diagnose and treat disease. Dr. Rahnama has helped thousands of people achieve their goals of weight loss, gut health, improved mood and sleep, and managing chronic disease.