Diet for Healthy Hair and Nails
by Sue Kira, Naturopath & Clinical Nutritionist
We love healthy thick, shiny lustrous hair and strong nails, but this isn’t everyone’s reality. There are many reasons why nails and hair don’t grow or respond how we would like, including many dietary reasons that can either help or damage the quality of our hair and nails.
Our body can reflect to us what is affecting our nails and hair.
Our energy levels and how our digestive system feels, can indicate if there are issues with our diet, which in turn affects our hair and nails.
Characteristic features of our nails can also give us clues. For instance, vertical ridges in nails may be a sign of inadequate magnesium. You can get more magnesium through leafy greens, cacao nibs, almonds and soybeans.
Another deficiency that can cause hair loss and fatigue is iron deficient anaemia. Our body can give us a sign of iron deficiency with a condition called koilonychias, a nail disease characterized by spoon-shaped nails that indicates iron deficiency.
These are clues that our body give us to help determine what we really need, which goes well beyond using the ‘right’ hair care products or manicuring techniques.
Some nail and hair signs are not so obvious
If you have digestive issues such as bloating, constipation or diarrhoea, then you may have a microbial imbalance that can affect the quality of your hair and nails. You need good levels of healthy, probiotic-friendly bacteria to absorb nutrients properly, so if these guys are out of balance then you won’t get what your hair and nails need to grow healthily.
A diet that removes gluten, sugar and food additives can go a long way to help restore good gut function, however you may need guidance from a health practitioner, because a healthy diet may not be enough to restore your hair and nails to their radiant potential.
Nail conditions can give you clues to the state of your health.
This creates hair loss in patches initially but can be widespread and can also affect the nails causing pitting, splitting and other changes. The surface of the nail may appear rough or have lines or white spots. Sometimes these nail changes can be the first manifestation of alopecia. One or more nails may be affected.
These are an exaggerated downward curvature of the nails that may indicate systemic disease. Clubbing may occur in cases of inflammatory bowel disease, congenital heart disease, cirrhosis, cystic fibrosis and other conditions. Some cases of clubbed nails are hereditary and not necessarily a sign of disease – but do get tested if you suspect that you have this symptom.
Iron deficient anaemia
This can cause hair loss and fatigue. A sign that we are iron deficient is a condition called koilonychias, a nail disease characterized by spoon-shaped nails.
These are white streaks that appear on the nails due to trauma, manicuring or certain systemic diseases, but most commonly due to zinc deficiency.
Vertical ridges in nails can be a sign of inadequate magnesium. Good food sources of magnesium are leafy greens, cacao nibs, almonds, and soybeans.
This is a condition where the nail separates from the nail bed. The condition may be caused by infection or injury damage to the nail. The separated portion of the nail may turn white, yellow, or green. If an injury did not cause this type of nail affliction, then do get checked for any possible infections.
This is fungal infection of the nails. Fungal nail infection causes nails to become thick, white, opaque, and brittle. Wearing acrylic nails that trap moisture may promote fungal nail infection and the use of unhygienic tools in manicures can also create this problem.
Medical conditions that impede blood flow or suppress immunity may increase risk of fungal nail infections. Diabetes and other circulatory disorders may impair the blood flow to the nail beds which increases the chance of fungal infection.
For some people, fungal nails can be a sign of systemic (throughout the whole body) fungal infection. This can be tested with a stool test that checks for fungal species. These more systemic types won’t be resolved by topical (on the skin or localised) treatments such as creams.
If you have fungal nails it is important to have a thorough health check.
• Side effects of certain medications
• Illness or diseases such as diabetes
• Hormone imbalance like PCOS, thyroid imbalances
• Excessive sun exposure
• Chlorine from swimming pools
• Overuse of hair products or salon treatments as well as bleaching, colouring and perming of hair.
• Poor diet, especially sugar, grains, gluten, alcohol
• Stress, which can rob the body of vital nutrients
Both hair and nails are made of keratin, and your body uses protein to make keratin. It is important to have adequate protein or your hair can go into a ‘resting phase’, causing hair loss. The following foods are recommended for healthy hair and nails.
This is a trace mineral considered to increase circulation to the scalp, which is good for hair growth, and silica is also great for strengthening nails. Silica is found in the outer parts of vegetables, so don’t always peel your vegetables as this removes valuable silica.
Is another compound that can make your hair and nails strong and healthy. You can get natural collagen from gelatine found in bone broths and jellies (without sugar of course).
Is needed for many biological processes, including building healthy hair and nails. Beef, poultry, seafood and pepitas are rich sources of zinc.
Calcium, Vitamin D and Biotin
These are considered worthwhile for nails and hair. Eggs are a good source of protein and contain vitamin D and biotin. Biotin, a B vitamin, plays a role in the production of keratin. Biotin can also be found in almonds, cauliflower, mushrooms, sweet potato, spinach, liver (also contains vit D), yeast, tuna and avocados.
It’s a good source of biotin and protein, along with anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, which promote healthy, moisturized skin, including the skin of your scalp and nail beds. Wild salmon is preferable as opposed to farmed salmon. Alternatively, consider other ‘oily’ fish.
Selenium Deficiency impairs hair growth and only a few Brazil nuts a day are needed to give you enough selenium for healthy hair growth. Be aware, more is not better as selenium overload causes hair loss. This is rare, as most hair analysis tests I have conducted for minerals show very low levels of selenium.
A diet for healthy hair and nails is rich in anti-inflammatory foods and specific nutrients such as silica, biotin, selenium, zinc, good fats, keratin and collagen. It is also advisable to exclude gluten, dairy, most grains and sugar from your food to allow your general health to improve so your body will be glowing all over (and not just your hair and nails).
While a Diet for Healthy Hair and Nails is not considered a cure for any health condition, the idea is to eliminate foods considered detrimental, and include foods that support your body to give it the best chance to heal naturally and regain balance and vitality. That’s why it is so important to exclude antagonistic foods and drinks such as gluten, dairy, additives, and sugar.
Important: Before you commence a new diet, see your medical or health care professional for qualified guidance about what foods and supplements are best for your body. While on the diet do not stop any medications or supplements previously prescribed unless advised otherwise by your medical or health care professional.
Note: During the early stages of a new diet, you may experience symptoms such as fatigue, headaches or body aches, which may occur because your body is detoxifying. However, if you are unsure about a symptom at any time, check immediately with your medical or health care professional.
Client name and identifying information changed.
Roger saw me because he was worried about his hair loss. Most men are concerned about male pattern baldness, but Roger’s hair was weak and falling out from all over his head, rather than thinning at the front first.
His fingernails were also slightly ridged and pitted with white dots and he suffered from a degree of fatigue. He also thought his circulation was poor because he always had cold hands and feet.
We ran some tests and his thyroid showed as slightly underactive. While not enough to warrant medications, it still affected his energy, hair and nail quality, and cold hands and feet.
His diet wasn’t the best as he was too tired to make healthy lunches before work and ate a lot of take-away foods because of his work, plus lots of pasta meals at night.
We organised a diet free of gluten and dairy as these interfere with thyroid function. I encouraged him to have eggs and veggies for breakfast or a paleo style muesli with coconut milk. I suggested he cook meat, chicken or fish for dinner (instead of pasta) and to cook extra so he could add the leftover protein to some fresh salad greens for lunch.
For snacks, we included pepitas for zinc, Brazil nuts for selenium, and other nuts and seeds to encourage plenty of protein to make keratin. We also included some low sugar fruit.
I also got him to make a batch of bone broth on the weekends which contained loads of gelatine for his collagen and was rich in silica and other minerals. He had the broth in his thermos for a drink throughout the day instead of coffee (coffee is also bad for the thyroid).
While this diet may appear to be predominately thyroid related, the foods he ate were great boosters for his hair and nails.
He was busy with work so I didn’t see him for three months and I wondered if he had been sticking to the diet. When he returned, his transformation was amazing.
His nails were much better, hair was just starting to grow back strongly (according to his hairdresser) and his energy was much higher. His hands and feet were no longer cold even though it was the middle of winter when he came back to see me.
He looked really happy and was very proud of himself for sticking to the diet. Because he felt so good, he was happy to retain most of the changes, as long as he could have the occasional ‘naughty day’ as he called it. I encouraged him to be the boss of his eating regime…not me.