Sunday, November 28, 2010

More than a Few Words on Nail Health

A few days ago a friend asked me for advice on her seemingly unhealthy nails.  Brittle and dry, they were constantly breaking, which is a sign of missing nutrients that can come from poor eating habits, stress, or a toxic environment where necessary vitamins are not being processed in the body efficiently. 

Collagen and Keratin
One of the main culprits of poor nail health is the absence of collagen and keratin.  Without sufficient amounts of these essential elements, not only do our nails suffer, but so do our hair and skin along with muscles, ligaments, tendons, and the smooth muscles that comprise our organs.

Collagen is responsible for keeping our bodies youthful and supple. As we age, it becomes more difficult to manufacture collagen, which leads to brittle bones, less supple tendons, ligaments, and muscles, duller hair, and brittle nails. Because collagen contains a specific ratio of nitrogen-containing amino acids or proteins, which help to support general health, it is a major factor in providing our cells with the moisture they need to maintain flexibility. 

Keratin is a protein that is found in hair, skin, and nails. When our nails become dry and brittle, it is usually because the necessary amount of keratin is lacking.  When external layers of keratin are thin, nails have no way of protecting the living cells underneath. These living cells thus begin to die, causing nails to break as they become more brittle. As we supply nails with keratin, we are supplying them with protective moisture that keeps the living cells properly nourished. 

Most of keratin’s power comes from its sulfur content.  Known as the "beauty mineral,” sulfur is a powerful aid for adding flexibility to cells. According to the Natural Health and Longevity Center, sulfur helps nutrients to penetrate cells while also allowing toxins to be eliminated. Foods with a high sulfur content include garlic, onions, grains, sunflower seeds, cashew nuts, walnuts, almonds, sesame seeds, eggs, green leafy veggies, cruciferous veggies, cabbage, watercress, asparagus, alfalfa, burdock, cayenne, fennel, parsley, and thyme.

MSM, otherwise known as the unpronounceable methylsulfonylmethane, is an organic sulfur compound that helps to support connective tissue throughout the body. Considered a food, MSM is absorbed easily by the body, helping nutrients to flow easily into cells, moistening the cell membranes while removing toxins. In this regard, MSM is able to nourish nails, helping them to grow faster while making them stronger. According to an article in Nutrition Express focussing on a double blind study performed by Dr. Ronald M. Lawrence, subjects taking MSM supplements showed an increase in nail thickness, length, and general health, as opposed to those who took a placebo.

MSM has other positive effects on the body such as improving mental alertness, controlling acidity in the stomach, helping with inflammatory problems, reducing allergic reactions, alleviating muscle cramps, and scavenging for free radicals.  When taken in conjunction with vitamin C, MSM is even more effective in its contribution to general flexibility and strength.

MSM can be taken as a supplement and has no known counter-indications – however it is best to consult with your healthcare provider before embarking on a protocol.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids
In addition to a myriad of additional health benefits, Omega 3 fatty acids help to improve nail quality by adding moisture along with essential nutrients for growth, strength, and flexibility. Omega 3 fatty acids are also powerful sources for fighting free radicals, helping to soften the skin and smoothing out fine lines, reducing inflammation, lowering the risk of chronic ailment such as arthritis, cancer, and heart disease, improving cognitive function, and boosting energy.

Alpha-linolenic acid
Alpha-linolenic acid or fish oil contains an abundance of Omega 3, which is also recommended by the Mayo Clinic as an essential addition to a healthy diet. Because our bodies do not naturally manufacture Omega 3, it is important to eat foods that contain these fatty acids, such as sardines, herring, mackerel, sockeye salmon, blue fin tuna, walnuts, flaxseeds, linseeds, pumpkin seeds, kidney beans, soybeans, and olive oil.

 If you find that your nails are suffering, take a look at your diet to see if you are missing some of the foods that provide you with the above essential nutrients.  If you are, then expand your grocery list to include them and find creative ways to add them to your daily menu. 

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