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Question from a reader: Lauren, I am looking into supplementing for healthier hair, skin, and nails. What do you think about Berkley & Jensen’s formula to enhance the wellness of hair, skin, and nails?
RH Answer: Hello, and thank you for your question! One of the benefits of living a healthy and balanced lifestyle is that it shows from the inside out… We can learn a lot from our outward appearance, as this is really just a reflection of what is happening inside of us (see past post: are you listening to your nails?). Based on what I saw from the ingredients listed on the Berkley & Jensen formula, I would not take these supplements. There are a lot of added ingredients (binders and fillers), some of which are carcinogenic (i.e. cancer-causing), and most of which are unnecessary. Additionally, the quality of the product is questionable, to say the least.
If you are concerned about your hair, skin, and nails, first look into your diet. The following foods can be helpful in strengthening hair, skin, and nails by providing nutrients like B vitamins (including biotin), calcium, magnesium, and copper: organic meat (grass-fed if beef), saltwater fish (try to find sustainable fish low in toxins), organic poultry, fermented organic soybeans (like miso or tempeh; avoid tofu, soymilk, and other processed soy… and never eat non-organic soy as almost all non-organic soy in the US is GMO), cauliflower, peanuts, walnuts, beans, nutritional yeast (if you don’t have issues with candida), greens, and eggs.
Another important aspect of food consumption is getting everything as organic and local as possible. Organic food has higher nutrient content when compared to conventionally grown foods. Furthermore, food that is grown locally doesn’t have to travel as far before it gets to your plate, again ensuring optimal nutritional quality.
If you are already eating high quality, nutrient-dense foods (like the ones listed above) and still struggle with weak, brittle hair, skin, and nails, you might be experiencing difficulty in nutrient absorption. This is quite common in our modern food environment, as much of the food commonly offered and consumed is highly inflammatory. Think about it this way, your gut is lined with a bunch of tiny little straws (called “cilia”). When all is well in the gut (aka “the second brain”), these straws suck up nutrients as they pass through. However, when the body is experiencing inflammation, specifically gut inflammation (which, let’s face it, 9/10 people on the street are likely experiencing this issue!), nutrients are not absorbed (picture a regular straw sucking up a little nutrient molecule versus a swollen straw trying to suck up that same molecule. The nutrient might not fit through, or might get stuck in the swollen straw, right?).
In order to reduce gut inflammation, try employing the following: cut out gluten, cow diary (unless you know for certain you don’t have an intolerance to the casein in cow dairy AND you have access to raw, unpasteurized dairy), and sugar – which are all highly inflammatory foods (I know this sounds drastic, but at least one out of three of Americans are unaware of their gluten intolerance, never mind their reactions to other inflammatory foods… it can only help you to take these out of your diet), and be sure that you are doing something to encourage relaxation and mind/body wellness (this might include slow, diaphragmatic breathing, which is scientifically proven technique to reduce gut-related illnesses).
I would also consider the following nutraceuticals (and, as usual, consult a qualified health care professional prior to making changes to your nutraceutical regimen):
Digestive enzymes – Factors like stress, environmental pollution, and aging all interfere with the production of digestive enzymes in the system… and if we don’t have these enzymes, we don’t break down our food properly. This leads to malabsorption of nutrients, and an eventual state of chronic disease. Take a digestive enzyme before every meal to help break down food properly, ensure appropriate nutrient absorption, eliminate toxins, and strengthen the immune system. I like this one here.
Probiotics - These are a must-have for a healthy gut. I could write for days on all of the fascinating new research coming out about the importance of our “second brain” (the gut), but I won’t right now… I’ll just say that our guts require a delicate balance of good bacteria in order to properly absorb nutrients. I recommend taking one like this (click on the link). The probiotics of higher-quality and effectiveness will require refrigeration (if you don’t refrigerate, the flora in the pill will die). Additionally, you should take the probiotic first thing in the morning or at night on an empty stomach, and wait 20-30 minutes before consuming anything else.
A high-quality multivitamin – The Berkley & Jensen product that you mention in your question does not appear to be high quality. Personally, I love Garden of Life Vitamin Code Raw Multivitamins. They are vegetarian, gluten and dairy free, have no binders and fillers (all that gunk listed in the additional ingredients section of the Berkley & Jensen product), and are just an overall good blend of vitamins and nutrients. They make vitamins for both men and women, and different age groups (e.g. “50 and Wiser” formulas for those over the age of 50). If you take a vitamin of this caliber, you will not need to take a specific formula for healthy hair, skin, and nails – you will get all you need here (like biotin and other B vitamins, vitamin a, c, d, copper, manganese, zinc, et cetera). (Side note: I recommend that you DO NOT take the one-a-day formula, as it is less bioavailable, and DO take vitamins with at least 10 grams of fat and a glass of water to ensure proper absorption)
Magnesium and calcium citrate – These two are important for healthy hair, skin, and nails. For magnesium I like Pure Encapsulations magnesium citrate (it is pure magnesium and vitamin c – there are no potentially harmful fillers and binders, like titanium dioxide). For calcium I usually like to try to get this nutrient in raw form (just in case too much from sources that are not bioavailable could cause stones), extracted from foods like greens, broccoli, et cetera. You can get this type of calcium from Garden of Life Vitamin Code Raw Calcium, which also has magnesium and vitamin K to help with absorption (these nutrients all work synergistically). If you are taking the Vitamin Code Raw Calcium, you might not need the Pure Encapsulations magnesium citrate. If you are uncertain, do check in with a health care provider.
Fish oil – Many are currently experiencing a ratio imbalance in the consumption of fatty acids. Omega3s, which are the fatty acids that make about 60% of a healthy brain, are found in fish oil. The issue is that we cannot produce these fats ourselves – we need to get it from our diets. Researchers believe that in the past, human diets consisted of a 1:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, while currently the ratio is reported to be closer to 10:1 This is why we need to supplement with fish oil – it balances out our fatty acid ratios, resulting in a happier, healthier brain… and other parts of the body as well! Fish oil is good for your cardiovascular system (think less risk of heart attack/stroke), helps to reduce inflammation, can be protective against mental health disorders, protect against cognitive impairment, reduce the risk of cancer, balance cholesterol, and researchers (like myself) are even looking into its role in weight loss. Additionally, you’ve probably guessed by now that these fatty acids are crucial in healthy hair, skin, and nails! So, what’s not to love? I take this one (if you don’t get this one, do be sure to get one that is molecularly distilled), so I can be sure that I am getting the highest quality possible (think toxins like heavy metals are removed, produced in small batches to prevent spoilage – which is quite common in such a delicate oil… if you think about the chemistry of the omega3 fatty acid chain, you’ll understand that it is shorter and weaker than the others and can go rancid quite easily, rendering it ineffective and potentially harmful). Read more about the importance of fatty acids here.
Lastly, what are you applying topically? Most products on the market contain harmful chemicals, additives, and preservatives. These toxins pollute our environment, both internally and externally. Try looking on EWG’s Cosmetic Database to find healthy alternatives, like 100% organic coconut oil is a great moisturizer, providing healthy fatty acids to the skin, hair, and nails. Also, read here for how to give yourself an amazingly natural, healing, and strengthening manicure/pedicure.
So, after reading this, you’ve probably figured out that weak, brittle, dry hair, skin, and nails is more than just a cosmetic cause for concern. What happens outside of us is only a reflection of what is occurring internally. There is no simple quick-fix to repairing these issues. That being said, with a dedication to integrative health and wellness, you can achieve strong and healthy hair, skin, and nails.
Good luck on your journey!