Hair, skin and nails are like windows to our health. Their growth may be affected by nutrition, hormones, and disease states within the body, not to mention weathering from outside sources. We’ve identified 6 nutrients that can support their health, ensuring strong, beautiful hair, skin and nails.
1. Vitamin C helps support healthy elastin and collagen formation.
Collagen is a group of proteins that help provide the skin, nails and hair with strength, durability and shape. Elastin, as the name suggests, is another protein found in skin that helps the tissues to stretch and bounce back, remaining elastic.
Both are made by fibroblasts – specialized cells which use Vitamin C in many steps of the formation process. Without adequate levels of Vitamin C, collagen and elastin creation can’t be completed and the skin may lose its structure, strength and ability to repair wounds effectively
Vitamin C is abundant in foods such as berries, lemon, capsicum, kiwi fruit, pineapple and broccoli.
2. Zinc is an essential nutrient needed for the production and repair of collagen.
The very top layer of skin is so dependent on zinc that it holds the mineral in levels five times higher than lower layers. This is because zinc is needed to connect collagen fibres during their formation and in times of reparation. It is also required for enzymes necessary in the production of collagen.
Zinc is also crucial for immune function, helping to maintain proper inflammatory responses needed for skin repair and protection.
Foods naturally high in zinc include cashews, pumpkin seeds, eggs, oysters, meat, beans and peas.
3. Silica supports the strength of hair and the elasticity of skin.
Silica is a trace mineral essential for keratin production in hair and the cross-linking of collagen. Keratin, similar to collagen, is a protein that is one of the main structural components of hair, skin and nails - and also hoofs, claws and horns!
Silica is found in foods including bananas, raisins, beans, carrot and wholegrains.
Beer can contain anywhere from 6-50mg silica per 1 litre of beer. The consequences of consuming 1L of beer a day outweigh the benefits, however this is why some people swear by washing their hair with beer!
4. Vitamin E may reduce the effects of free radical damage on skin cell membranes.
Vitamin E is an essential antioxidant found protecting every cell of our body. As a result of this, it may help to reduce the effects of free radical damage on skin cell membranes. When our cells are in good shape, they are better able to maintain quality hair, skin and nails.
Wheat germ, nuts, seeds, green leafy vegetables, grains, fruits and spices all contain high levels of alpha-tocopherol (the most active component of Vitamin E).
5. B group vitamins provide nutritional support for a healthy scalp and normal hair growth.
B group vitamins are important for normal hair and skin growth and development, including scalp health and follicle nourishment, due to the numerous biochemical pathways they are involved in. A deficiency in some B vitamins (B12 & B9) may lead to hair loss. B vitamins are best absorbed and produce the best results when taken together as a complex.
Some foods with B group vitamins are green leafy vegetables, red meat, wholegrains, bananas, watermelon, grapefruit, mushrooms and eggs.
6. Biotin is involved in keeping nails strong and hair healthy.
Biotin is a B group vitamin (B7) that deserves a special mention. It’s also known as Vitamin H – for hair! Low levels of biotin can lead to brittle nails and thinning hair. Consuming biotin may help to counteract this. It is most effective when taken alongside zinc.
Foods brimming with biotin include eggs, organ meats, beans, cauliflower, lentils, peanuts and salmon.
Should I take a supplement?
Without a doubt, it’s always best to get nutrients and vitamins from unprocessed, whole food wherever possible. Not only are they better absorbed by our body, they also come combined with other beneficial nutrients that tablets cannot provide, like protein, fibre and other phytochemicals.
There are times when you may consider adding a supplement to complement your healthy meals. They may include:
- Diagnosed deficiencies.
- Signs of deficiency (brittle or flaking nails, white spots on nails, thinning or breaking hair, skin lesions, poor wound healing, eczema, acne, etc) .
- History of smoking.
- Known condition or issue that affects how your body absorbs or uses nutrients (eg. chronic diarrhoea, food intolerances, coeliac disease and other gastrointestinal diseases)
Remember to always check with a health care professional before adding a new supplement to your regime.