If every day seems like a bad hair day and your nails are a shocking sight, don’t despair. Recent discoveries about what causes hair and nail problems are being made and there are now plenty of natural solutions available that are worth trying.
Hair and nails are both largely made of a tough fibrous protein called keratin. The visible parts are dead, but to make healthy hair and nail cells we need a good supply of nutrients to support the activity that is going on beneath the surface of the skin.
Help! I’m Losing My Hair and My Nails Are Brittle
It can be distressing when your hair starts thinning and your nails become unsightly. While nail and hair growth is largely determined by genetics, we can still improve their condition once we know the underlying problems.
In developed countries, most get plenty of calories, but, paradoxically, we may still suffer malnutrition if we’re starved of essential micronutrients (e.g. vitamins and minerals).
Malnutrition can occur when you’re not properly absorbing nutrients in the gut.
Conditions linked with malabsorption include:
If you think your absorption is compromised, it’s worth taking protein powder every day, as well as a good quality vitamin and mineral supplement that contains zinc, folate, B12, iron (if tests show you’re deficient) and biotin.
Biotin is particularly useful in strengthening brittle nails.
Beware of meal replacement diets that don’t supply healthy amounts of protein and vitamins and minerals. You may lose weight but it can have a negative impact on your hair and nails at the same time.
Fad diets that only allow a limited range of foods will cause the same problems, as will fasting for too long and following very low calorie diets.
The Impact of Hormones
Thinning hair can be one of the toughest symptoms to deal with as we age. More than a third of women become partially bald by the time they reach 70.
When women reach menopause, the growth phase for hair becomes shorter so hair sheds faster than it can be replaced.
The underlying hormonal process is not well understood, but it is thought that oestrogen stimulates hair growth. As our production of this hormone drops off, sadly, so does hair growth.
At the same time, women produce more biologically active ‘free’ testosterone. Some is metabolized into the hormone, DHT (dihydrotestosterone). DHT causes hair miniaturization, where the hair follicles shrink and hair grows finer and shorter and shorter over time.
This so-called androgenic alopecia is the most common cause of hair loss in both men and women.
Are Bald Men More Virile?
Men like to think that baldness is a sign of lots of testosterone and therefore lots of virility. This isn’t strictly true as male pattern baldness is more influenced by DHT.
Those who are genetically programmed to be more sensitive to this hormone will lose more hair than others.
Bear in mind that you’re more likely to see improvements if you tackle the problem early on.
Since DHT is the main culprit in most cases of hair loss, it stands to reason that most treatment strategies focus on inhibiting production of this hormone.
Natural DHT inhibitors include:
Phytoestrogens work in several different ways to improve hair growth and quality. They are DHT inhibitors, but they also promote hair growth and help you keep your natural colour by increasing your body’s natural growth hormone.
Phytoestrogens from soy also help to promote stronger, healthier nails.
Good sources of phytoestrogens include:
Saw Palmetto is usually found in supplements for prostate health, but both sexes can use it to support hair health.
Research has shown that pumpkin seed oil is an effective DHT inhibitor. In one study, participants achieved a phenomenal 40% increase in hair after 24 weeks of treatment using 400 mg pumpkin seed oil capsules.
Chinese knotweed is also known as Polygonum multiflorum or Fallopia multiflora or Fo-Ti. Make sure you consult a reputable herbalist if you want to try this herb.
Zinc is also crucial to growing long, strong nails.
Are You Anaemic?
Anaemia is a common cause of hair loss and weak, ridged nails.
This can be because you’re not absorbing minerals well or because you’re not meeting your body’s iron needs through diet.
Before taking an iron supplement, it’s best to have your iron and ferritin levels checked by your doctor. Ferritin will show you what your iron stores are – if this is low, you’re likely to suffer hair loss.
Keep in mind that if your iron and ferritin levels are on the low side but still within the ‘normal’ range, you can still suffer hair loss.