Who doesn’t want to have clear, beautiful skin, thick, shiny hair and healthy, strong nails? Here we will dig deep into what keeps the integumentary system at optimal health and how we can further improve it. Beauty starts from the inside out and we will show you exactly how to accomplish it! We will talk about vital nutrients, as well as thyroid health and stress and how they are all related to healthy hair, skin and nails!
Q: Does beauty really come from the inside out?
A: Yes! The quality of your skin, hair and nails is determined by your body`s ability to form and regenerate these tissues adequately. To grow them efficiently we need 2 things: adequate supply of nutrients and the energy to “lay it down”.
Q: What are skin, hair and nails made of?
A: Both hair and nails are extensions of the skin. Together they make up the integumentary system. The skin is our largest organ and is made of elastin and collagen. Hair is an organ of the skin, made of keratin. Nails are organs of the skin made of hardened keratinocytes.
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Q: Why is it important to know the structure of the integumentary system?
A: It is valuable to know the structure of the integumentary system because you can use your diet to consume foods rich in the components of the structures you want to heal. The principle is `like heals like`
Q: Why is protein important for hair/ skin/ nails?
A: Since the integumentary system consists mostly of the proteins keratin, collagen, and elastin, it makes sense to feed it with adequate amount of protein.
Q: How does the body utilize protein?
A: First of all, we need sufficient amount of protein, and second, our digestive system needs to be able to digest and absorb the protein we eat. We need 1g-1.2g of protein per 1 kg of body weight (unless you have a kidney disease and then you need to follow doctor`s suggestions). That means that if you weigh 60 kg, you need about 60 g of protein daily.
Q: What kinds of protein should we consume?
A: As long as the protein is complete (contains all essential amino acids), it will have the right structure. To avoid contaminants, such as antibiotics, hormones, or pesticides, eat organic sources of these foods.
Q: Is there such a thing as consuming too much protein?
A: There is such a thing as consuming too much protein. The flesh of poultry and beef contains high amount of amino acids and when consumed excessively can suppress thyroid function.
Q: What is an easy way to get collagen in the body?
A: By consuming 1 cup of bone broth we get 7 g of protein in the form of collagen. We could also get collagen or gelatin from a health food store and mix it with some water or add it to our breakfast smoothie.
Q: What nutrients does the body need to form collagen on its own?
A: Vitamin C, silicon and iron, vitamins A and K are to name a few. You can take them as supplements, except for iron. Iron should be supplemented only in case of deficiency as per doctor`s recommendations.
Q: What about a vegan diet? Is it healthy for the integumentary system?
A: Yes, beans and pulses in combination with gluten free grains contain good amount of protein. However these foods are also sources of trypsin and phytates (anti-nutrient sources) which might have harmful effect on the intestines and limit the absorption of minerals.
Q: Could that be prevented?
A: Yes. To significantly remove anti- nutrients, before you cook legumes, soak them in water and 1 tbsp ACV for a minimum of 6 hours. Fermentation also removes antinutrients as in fermented products such as tempeh, miso and natto.
Q: Other vegan proteins?
A: Other vegan proteins include nuts, seeds and chlorella.
Q: What if consuming protein brings us digestive discomfort?
Digestive enzymes, digestive bitters or apple cider vinegar, will help digest your food better. If you still need help talk to a clinical nutritionist or a naturopath for extra support.
Q: What is the connection between Thyroid health and the Integumentary system?
A: Dry skin, thinning hair and weak nails are well known symptoms of an under active thyroid function. Check with your naturopath to determine your thyroid hormone levels.
Q: What are the signs of hypothyroidism and how is it connected to integumentary system health?
A: These signs include: fatigue, low energy levels, low body T (less than 36,5 C), weight gain, difficulty losing weight, puffy face, slow pulse, irregular or heavy menstrual periods, pain and stiffness in joints, elevated cholesterol levels, sleep disturbances, depression, brain fog, poor memory, as well as dry skin, thinning hair, and brittle nails.
Q: If thyroid function is low, how do you correct it?
A: Talk to your doctor or naturopath to evaluate your thyroid first. You can optimize iodine and selenium intake through food in order to produce thyroid hormones. Foods rich in iodine are scallops, cod, sardines, kelp and seaweed. Foods rich in selenium are meat, fish, seafood, Brazil nuts, seeds, legumes, and vegetables. You can also supplement as per your clinician`s recommendations.
Q: Is it true that iodine absorption can be interfered with?
A: Yes, the elements fluoride, chlorine, and bromine all chemically resemble iodine and can interfere with its absorption and function. Chlorine and fluoride are present in tap water, and bromine is often present in mass- produced baked goods.
Polyunsaturated oils also influence thyroid function. Most common sources are canola, corn oil, soybean oil, grapeseed oil. These types of oils decrease T3 and T4 and make it more difficult for cells to use thyroid hormones. It is best to avoid them and use olive oil or avocado oil or coconut oil or butter.
Q: How important is the food we eat for healthy hair, skin and nails?
A: Very important. It is necessary to have enough of the right kind of fuel. Not eating enough food and not having complex carbs in our diet may be a reason for poor health of the integumentary system. A third reason for poor glucose metabolism is the excessive intake of polyunsaturated fats (soybean oil, sunflower oil, vegetable oil).
The last reason for poor glucose metabolism is not getting enough vitamins (B1, B2, B3, Biotin) and minerals (magnesium and manganese) in our diet. To optimize your glucose and overall metabolism, we should choose healthy wholesome foods and avoid processed junk food.
Q: How can stress be the reason for poor skin, hair and nails health?
A: Regardless of the type of stress, the body`s adaptive response to stress is to get the glucose it needs for energy from another source altogether: amino acids, the building blocks of protein. It gets this protein from your muscle, bones and other structures, including skin, hair and nails.
Q: How can we moderate stress?
A: We can use adaptogens- medicinal plants that can lower cortisol and help improve adaptation to stress. They include Asian and American ginseng, Siberian ginseng (Eleuthero), ashwagandha, Schisandra and Rhodiola rosea. A natural health practitioner can guide you in choosing one or a combination for you.
Exercise such as yoga or a thirty minute walk, abdominal breathing, and getting enough sleep, laughter, staying connected and engaged with friends, social contact and psychotherapy are important tools in stress management. Managing stress and cortisol levels is another important aspect of recovery and restoration of healthy skin, hair, and nails.
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Q: Are there specific nutrients that can ensure a healthy integumentary system?
A: Yes, there a nutrients that can support healthy hair, skin and nails.
- Vitamin A regulates the birth, maturation and distribution of keratin forming cells. Deficiency can cause dry hair and brittle nails. Foods rich in vitamin A include carrots, squash, sweet potato, fish and liver.
- Vitamin C is needed for collagen production and skin health. Foods rich in vitamin C include papaya, bell peppers, strawberry, pineapple, kiwi, cantaloupe, oranges, and other fruit and vegetables.
- Silicon is also involved in collagen production. The richest content of silicon is in grains with high fiber content and root vegetables.
- B2 and B3– deficiency can cause dermatitis. Food sources include fish, poultry, legumes. Biotin deficiency can cause hair loss. It is a good idea to supplement. Foods rich in biotin are liver and egg yolk.
- Vitamin B6– restores skin and hair.
- Iron – if deficient can lead to poor connective tissue formation, hair loss and brittle nails. Never supplement with iron unless test results show deficiency. Food sources are liver, nuts, seeds, green leafy vegetables, spinach.
- Zinc – deficiency has an effect on skin and nails and promotes poor growth of hair.
- Magnesium– prolific and involved in hundreds of metabolic processes in cells. Plays a role in the stability of elastin. Poor thyroid, stress, insulin resistance contribute to loss of magnesium in the body. Foods rich in magnesium are oat bran, buckwheat, squash, pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds, cocoa powder, seaweed, legumes, fish and green leafy vegetables.
- Iodine and Selenium are important nutrients for thyroid health. Iodine is important for the production of T4. Selenium is important for the conversion of T4 to T3- the more active form of thyroid hormone.
These are not the only ones. Many structures and functions in the human body are related to one another, and so having adequate levels of all nutrients is very important.
I suggest you eat a wholesome diet, rich in fruit, vegetables and root vegetables, have a sufficient intake of protein, and some healthy fats for optimal health.
Article is based on the book by:: Dr. Elie Klein “The Ultimate Guide to Achieving Beautiful Hair Skin and Nails in just 90 days”
Publishers Note: Daphne Kostova is a Holistic Nutritionist based in Toronto at Beaches Naturopathic Clinic.