by Zerlina Mastin
It won’t come as a surprise to many that the condition of our hair, skin and nails holds a mirror up to the way we look after our bodies in terms of what we eat, what we do and the products we use. In fact, our skin, hair and nails are often the first place we notice changes in our health, offering an immense insight into our overall well-being, including our stress levels. There is a reason why glowing skin, shiny hair and strong nails make us look and feel young and healthy! They are powerful reflections of the inner workings of our body.
Often we reach for, and go to great lengths (and expense) to get the right look, but whilst we are searching the aisles and Internet for products, we should also be thinking about what our body is trying to tell us! Rubbing on more moisturizer, for example, may not help if the underlying issue lies in the fact that we are simply dehydrated. Although reputable products may improve matters, they cannot mask problems that stem from within, thus drinking more fresh water and limiting caffeine and alcohol may offer faster and longer-lasting results than any moisturizer can offer!
Often an improvement in the lustre of our hair, for example, is mirrored by smoother skin or stronger nails. This is because all three benefit from similar dietary habits and specific nutrients (and remember, if you are worried, it’s always best to have any changes to your nails or hair evaluated by a doctor).
Nails Nails Nails
Nails may become brittle, change shape, grow slowly or develop ridges and lines. A number of conditions are linked to nail health, including:
- Ageing. Similarly to wrinkles, our nails may become more brittle as we age. For nutrition tips for healthy ageing, see our course on Nutrition for Age 50 plus >>
- Fever and ill-health
- Skin conditions (e.g. eczema, psoriasis)
- Inappropriate or overuse of products
- Health conditions (e.g. thyroid, heart, lung, gastrointestinal)
- Nutritional deficiencies
Nutrition – The Little Gems
Although the health of our nails may reflect a number of different conditions, there are many areas in dermatology where nutrition plays a crucial role, most especially its contribution to general health. In terms of our nails, nutrition can thus have both a direct and indirect effect. Changes to the shape of the nails and indentations may also be caused more specifically to iron or zinc deficiencies. Discover good plant sources of these nutrients with our Vegetarian & Vegan Nutrition course >>.
Antioxidants are small but immensely powerful nutrition gems, boosting our immune system and aiding healthy cell turnover, growth and repair. Including plenty of colourful fresh fruits and vegetables in our diet ensures we get a plethora of important antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C which aids iron absorption. Choosing in-season and locally grown produce can increase nutritional value. For further information on environmentally considered eating practices, see our Ethical & Sustainable Eating course >>.
Active individuals and professional athletes are likely to have greater vitamin and mineral requirements. For further information see our Sport & Exercise Nutrition course >>.
The Bigger Picture
It doesn’t need to be complicated. A varied balanced diet offers a wealth of nutrients that support constantly growing hair and nails. Focusing on specific nutritional deficiencies is key for some individuals, whilst others may need to look further afield (for example, alcohol and smoking can greatly impact nutrient absorption, having a knock-on effect). In some instances, the results from such dietary changes will be immediately apparent!
So it’s not rocket science! The best way to keep nails strong and healthy (as well as skin and hair!) is to eat a balanced diet that provides enough calories, whole grains, protein, and healthy fats (including omega 3 fatty acids found in flaxseed oil and oily fish). It’s the diet as a whole that provides the crucial scaffolding. A varied diet is also the best way to feed friendly microbes in the gut, which improves gut health and nutrient absorption, as well as improving a mind-boggling array of other health conditions!
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About Our Nutrition Course Writer – Zerlina Mastin
Zerlina Mastin has a BSc in Nutrition & Dietetics from Kings College London, and an MSc in Public Health Nutrition from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. Zerlina has over 10 years’ experience working in the health and nutrition sector, initially working as a dietician within the NHS before turning to freelance nutrition. As a Registered Nutritionist with the UK Voluntary Register of Nutritionists (UKVRN), Zerlina is the author of ‘Nutrition for Dancers’. Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) registration number DT14696, British Dietetic Association (BDA) membership number 19508.