As a hairstylist and makeup artist I am often asked for tips on how to combat hair and skin issues. Usually clients are looking for a quick fix product recommendation. While skin, hair and nail products can help, they are really just a band-aid on the surface.
So what's the single best thing you can do right now to improve your hair, skin and nails?
Improve your overall digestion! Say what? I know it sounds nutty but the link between your gut and your skin is real. Hair and nails are essentially just extensions of your skin... So let's discuss some tips for healthy digestion, and key nutrients that are essential for healthy skin.
Before we get started you need to know that skin, hair and nail issues are multi-factoral, meaning they can have several causes. However many of those other causes can also stem from problems with digestion, let's start at the source.
Digestion does not begin in the stomach
Let me say that again.... Digestion does not begin in the stomach. The signals for digestion begin before we even put food into our mouths. The sight, and smell of food trigger a chain reaction. Pupils dilate slightly and we begin to salivate. Saliva contains digestive enzymes (amylase) important for beginning the breakdown of carbohydrates and simple sugars.
What can go wrong- If we are in a hurry and don’t take the time to really look at, smell and appreciate our food in a relaxed state, digestion will be compromised. When we are rushed, stressed, or distracted our bodies are not ready to digest. Stress especially, will interrupt digestion. When stress hormones (cortisol/ adrenalin) are elevated, our bodies perceive danger on an unconscious level, and prepares to either fight the danger, or run from it. Therefore, energy and blood flow are directed away from the digestive organs and into the muscles.
The quick fix- Put your phone away, turn off the TV, eliminate as many distractions as possible. Spend a moment taking deep breaths, smell your food and relax before you sink your fork into it. Some folks find it helpful to spend 3-5 minutes meditating and feeling gratitude for the food they are about to enjoy, this encourages mindfulness at meal time.
Chew Chew Chew your food
Careful chewing will make a huge difference in the effectiveness of digestion. While chewing we manually break down our food into a soft squishy goop that will make easy work for the stomach. Also during this time, our stomach is triggered and begins to release more HCl (hydrochloric acid) and enzymes (protease/pepsin) in preparation for protein digestion.
What can go wrong- Inadequate chewing results in larger food particles ending up in the stomach. Creating more work for the stomach to do. Furthermore, inadequate chewing may also not allow enough time for digestive juices to accumulate, meaning the stomach is not well prepared for digestion.
The quick fix- Chew your food! Really savour it, and don't swallow until it's a fine paste.
Slow down on the liquids
This is the only time I will tell you to slow down on water and other liquids. Proper Hydration is important, but at meal time less is more.
What can go wrong- Too much water and other liquids can slightly dilute stomach acid, making it less effective in food break down. If food isn’t broken down efficiently, we cannot absorb beneficial nutrients from it.
The quick fix- Do your best to stay well hydrated between meals, at least 20 minutes before, or after meals is desired.
Absorb it, don't waste it!
Next stop on the digestion train is the small intestine. This is where food continues to be broken down to its smallest components. Vitamins and minerals are pulled away from the proteins, fats and carbohydrates that bind them and are absorbed through delicate membranes onto the bloodstream. This is where the connection to skin really becomes evident.
What can go wrong- Poor food combining, overeating and inadequate chewing can put stress on the stomach and result in poor breakdown and absorption in the small intestine. Furthermore, food sensitivities can create low grade inflammation in this delicate organ and impede proper breakdown and absorption of key nutrients, especially essential nutrients such as iron, calcium, B12 and zinc. Zinc is especially important for healthy skin as it is a co-factor for vitamin A. Inflammation in the small intestine is often mirrored elsewhere in the body, including the skin. #Eczema. In addition, Iron and B12 deficiency are linked to hair thinning and loss.
The quick fix- Practice the rules of food combining (unless blood sugar issues exist). Eat fruits alone, do not eat starchy grains with proteins and drink water between meals, not with meals. Chew your food carefully, and stop eating when you feel satiated (2/3- 3/4 full), not when you feel “full” (100% full).
Love your liver
Your liver is a busybody. It has too many functions to name in this article, but it's two main functions are, dismantling toxins, and creating bile to store in the gallbladder. Bile is essential for digestion of fats in the duodenum of the small intestine.
What can go wrong- An overloaded liver cannot function efficiently, as a result bile production can slow. Improperly digested fats leave us deficient in fat soluble vitamins A,D,E and K as well as essential fatty acids. Vitamins A, and E are essential for strong healthy collagen networks and healthy skin cells. Essential fatty acids (EFA's-omega 3 and 6) are responsible for healthy cellular membranes and the secretion of oils that moisturize and protect the skin, scalp and nail beds. Rough, dry alligator skin, dry scalp, and dry brittle nails are all indicators of EFA deficiency.
The quick fix- Don't give your liver too much to do. Avoid processed foods, alcohol and bad fats such as fried foods, hydrogenated oils and rancid fats. Show your liver some love by incorporating bitter greens (mustard, dandelion, or beet greens) into your diet and boost sulphur (the mineral supportive of the liver's detoxification pathways) by adding more onions, garlic, cabbage and broccoli sprouts to your meals.
Yup! I said poop... After food has made its way through the small intestine, it finds itself in the large intestine (colon). This organ is largely known for its host of friends, the billions of little bacteria that call it home. These little guys help us further break down insoluble fibres and can even help us out by making vitamins K and B12. The large intestine also reclaims water. Then poop happens.
What can go wrong- What if poop isn't happening? Improper balance of beneficial bacteria and dehydration can slow down the elimination of poop. When you're not eliminating this waste daily a few things can occur.
- Hormones (mainly estrogen) can be reabsorbed and recirculated- ladies this is bad news for a bunch of reasons, including hormonal disruption of the skin. #Breakouts.
- Inadequate water, means inadequate water reclamation. Dehydration= dry hair, skin and nails plus early signs of ageing. #NotSoFineLines
- If the body cannot eliminate through the bowls... it will eliminate through the skin, not just the skin of the face, but the skin of the body too. #Chestne. #Backne.
The quick fix- Foster a happy colon, drink 8-10 glasses of pure water daily. Feed your beneficial flora with pre-biotics such as healthy fibre from pectin rich fruits (apples, cherries, pears), fibrous veggies (dark leafy greens, celery, yams and artichokes) and legumes (split peas, lima beans, Black beans and lentils). Get contributions of healthy bacteria from fermented foods (kefir, homemade sauerkraut, kimchi or kombucha). If constipation persists, you may be low in magnesium. Try taking a dose of magnesium citrate about an hour before bedtime, this should encourage elimination in the morning. Alternatively, you could add a teaspoon of chlorophyll to your first glass of water in the morning to support detoxification in the liver and as a bio-available source of magnesium.
In summary, a happy gut = happy skin! #Radiant