Excerpts from " A Closer Look at Hair and Nails by Jonathan Wright, M.D.
"I used to have such a full head of hair. It's thinned out so much my husband's starting to notice .... "Look at these fingernails! They won't grow, they crack, they split, they peel and layer back. Gelatin and calcium don't help .... I feel like a television commercial: dull, lifeless hair. It's breaking a lot more than it used to I'm only 57, and my hair's so thin on top you can see wide open spaces between each hair. I don't want to be a bald granny!"
Even though fingernails and hair are common problem areas, there's not much "priority research" being done. We don't have a National Hair Loss Institute and no politicians are declaring war on split nails. Trying to find answers to hair and fingernail problems isn't always easy.
What do you do when the bottle(s) of "hair vitamins" don't work and your dermatologist says you don't really have a problem, although you know better? You say you've taken enough calcium to turn to stone but your nails are as bad as ever. Nail hardener or silk or acrylic nails may cover up the problem but wouldn't it be nicer, not to mention healthier, to grow your own?The role of the Stomach In the words of a clinic visitor, "Usually when they can't figure out what's the matter with me, they tell me it's all in my head. Now you're telling me it's all in my stomach. I suppose that's progress, but my stomach isn't bothering me. So what do you mean by that?"
One of the most common causes of excess hair loss and cracking, splitting, peeling, or chipping fingernails is a malfunctioning stomach , When our stomachs don't make enough acid and pepsin (a major protein digesting enzyme), a wide variety of nutrients are "lost." Amino acids (the "building blocks" of protein), minerals, vitamin B- 12, and folate head the list. With such a variety of nutrients impaired by a malfunctioning stomach, it's not a surprise that something has to "give," and the hair and nails, being presumably less essential to health, are often the first to go.
How do you know if your hair or nail difficulty may be due to an unsuspected stomach problem? It's best to have your nutritionally oriented doctor's help on this one. Symptoms are frequently subtle, and self-treatment has occasionally resulted in a visit to the emergency room. If present, symptoms may include upper abdominal bloating and gas, mostly after meals, constipation is common, but a few people have diarrhea instead. Heartburn can occur. (No, heartburn does not always indicate too much stomach acid!)
"My hair got really thin during my last pregnancy. It has never come back! About six months after the baby was born, I started noticing lots more hair in the tub and sink! Could it be birth control pills? What about the estrogen I've been taking?"
If you've lost hair during or after pregnancy or while taking hormones, think of folate first. Frequently, extra folate and a few months time are all that are necessary to reverse hormonally related hair loss.
Though hormones are often related to folate deficiency, hair loss can occur without any apparent hormonal association simply through poor eating habits.
Folate is said to be nontoxic but recent research indicates that folate and zinc probably interfere with each other's absorption - another point to check with your doctor if you're planning to take either one for any length of time.
An underactive thyroid can be the cause of both hair loss and weak nails. Unfortunately, routine thyroid blood tests do not always uncover a weak thyroid. As more sophisticated (and much more expensive) thyroid function tests have become available, doctors are discovering that many individuals previously labeled "normal" are hypothyroid (underactive) after all.
Major drug companies are finally discovering that essential fatty acids may help prevent heart attacks, but it may be another 50 years before they get around to noticing that healthy hair and nails need them too.
Years ago, someone noticed that animals given biotin grew stronger hooves. Human nails (and hair) respond to biotin often enough that it has become a standard part of "hair-and-nails" supplement formulas. Used alone, one or two mg. daily is usually sufficient. Biotin is generally considered nontoxic.
Very specialized topical (rub on) biotin preparations are in use at male baldness clinics. At present, most of these clinics are quite expensive and the biotin preparations are not available for general sale.
The best food sources of biotin include liver, kidney, egg yolk, haddock, halibut, cod, salmon, and tuna. Vegetables generally contain much less.
Many of us have observed that taking calcium seems to improve nail quality. When trying calcium, it's usually wisest to balance it with magnesium; calcium in a "background" of magnesium plus a multiple mineral is even better. Remember that calcium and other minerals don't absorb well unless the stomach is making sufficient hydrochloric acid and, that as we grow older, more and more of us have under acidity problems. Fortunately, more absorbable forms of calcium and other minerals (designed to get around under acidity and other assimilation problems) are starting to appear in nutrition stores.
For a few of us, too much zinc and too little copper can result in hair loss. Although this situation isn't common, it should be checked for when the more usual answers aren't working.
Balding Grannies and DHEA
With advancing age and granny hood, some women's hair becomes "quite thin on top." When this is part of an over-the-whole-body hair loss (head, forearm, leg, pubic, and underarm hair is all thinner), the problem is often hormonal. The "missing hormones" for hair are not estrogens but rather androgens, the male-type hormones.
Women and men have both estrogens and androgens. Women have considerable estrogen and comparatively little androgen; for men, the balance is opposite.
Androgens are principally responsible for stimulating hair growth in both sexes. As women have only comparative traces of testosterone, no beards grow, but as is obvious from other body hair, women's bodies have larger quantities of other non testosterone androgens.
Beginning at puberty, both sexes start to secrete more of the androgen dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). Usually, DHEA stays relatively high until the mid-30s, when levels begin a gradual descent toward very low in extreme old age. At our clinic, we've found that premature loss of both head and body hair in women is very often associated with prematurely low levels of DHEA. Improving prematurely low DHEA is accompanied by regrowth of normal head and body hair, and coincidentally for many women, an improvement in libido. (DHEA for Men)