How can I improve my hair and nails?

By Kara Carper, MA, CNS, LN

article_other_healthynails.jpgAre you plagued with splitting or brittle nails? Or perhaps your hair is dull and thinning and you wish it were shiny and thick. It may help to use good quality and non-toxic nail and hair products on the outside, but you'll see the most improvement when you take a look at what's happening on the inside.

Poor hair and nail health are typically signs of a nutritional deficiency. Nutritional deficiencies usually occur from not eating the correct nutrients or malabsorption issues. Either way, both problems can be solved with the right food and supplements.

What healthy nails and hair look like

First let's envision what healthy nails and hair look like. Healthy nails are evenly colored, smooth, strong, and have a pale pink or flesh covered nail bed. Hair is optimally shiny, without split ends. Baldness and pattern baldness are hereditary; however, some cases of hair loss or thinning can indicate a health issue.

The basics for healthy nails and hair

Some nutritional solutions will be sure to help nails and hair, across the board--regardless of the specific concern you may have.

  • Eat healthy fats. Examples of healthy fats are butter, olive oil, coconut oil, nuts, seeds and avocados. The health of every cell membrane in your body is dependent on the fats in your diet. Eating a fat-free or low-fat diet can lead to poor nail and hair growth. Make sure you include a healthy fat at every meal and snack.
  • Supplement with fish oil. Fish oil contains an essential fatty acid called Omega-3, which most Americans are extremely deficient in. Omega-3 fatty acids nourish your hair follicles for stronger, shinier hair that grows faster, and your nails will also become stronger and less brittle. Take at least 3000 mg of high-quality fish oil per day.
  • Supplement with GLA. Just like fish oil, GLA (gamma-linolenic acid) is another fatty acid that is difficult to obtain from food alone. Borage seed oil contains a high GLA content and can help with dry hair, split ends, and brittle, slow-growing nails. Add 600 mg of GLA daily.
  • Get enough protein. Hair and nails are made of structural proteins known as keratin, so adequate dietary protein is important for providing the building blocks that grow strong hair and nails. Include proteins such as fish, chicken, meat, eggs or dairy, at every meal and snack.
  • Eliminate nutrient-depleting food and drinks. Trans-fats inhibit the absorption of fatty acids (which you are likely deficient in), so avoid anything labeled as hydrogenated oil. Also, food and drinks high in sugar leach minerals from your body. Calcium, magnesium, zinc, sulfur and many others are necessary for hair and nail health, and sugar depletes you of these nutrients.

Solutions to specific nail and hair problems

Certain problems with hair and nails can indicate issues that may require other recommendations. Read on to see if these pertain to you:

Hair loss or thinning hair
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Brittle or splitting nails
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Vertical ridges or “spoon” nails
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White spots on the nails
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Nail fungus
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Attractive hair and nails are a sign of health

It's not just about vanity; the appearance of both hair and nails is a barometer of your internal health. No matter what issues you are experiencing, it's important to address nutrition first. Include quality protein, healthy fat, and vegetable and fruit carbohydrates at each meal and snack. Reduce processed and sugary food consumption because those foods contribute to nutritional deficiencies that lead to poor hair and nail health. It may be necessary to complement nutritious eating with supplements, depending on your individual needs. Taking these steps will not only give you strong nails and shiny hair, but will assure of you optimal overall health as well.

For more information on the topic of hair and nails, listen to the February 11, 2012 episode of Dishing Up Nutrition with special guest  Jim McAfee author of Your Body’s Sign Language.

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