Category Archives: Skin & Hair Health

Healthy Hair with Foods and Supplements – Women’s Hair Loss

women's hair lossPerhaps there’s good reason women care so much about their hair. Quite simply, good looking hair is a reflection of good internal health. A full head of healthy hair indicates that the endocrine organs (especially thyroid) and digestive tract (especially small intestine) are healthy too. Hair is formed as a direct result of good nutrient absorption. The list of nutrients needed for healthy hair is long, but the essential ingredients include:

  • B Vitamins (especially folate and B12)
  • Minerals (including zinc, copper, calcium and magnesium)
  • Essential fatty acids (especially DHA and EPA)
  • Iron and Protein (with the correct balance of all 8 essential amino acids).

Although nutrients are important, hair loss is not always the result of nutritional deficiencies. There are quite a few health conditions that can cause hair loss, even when there are sufficient nutrients available. Some of these medical conditions include:

  • Hyperthyroidism (excess thyroid hormone)
  • Hypothyroidism (low thyroid hormone)
  • Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis (autoimmune thyroid condition)
  • Hormonal Imbalances including: high or low estrogen, low progesterone, low hormone levels due to menopause, high testosterone, and PCOS.
  • Stressors such as sudden weight loss, post-pregnancy, surgery, moving, etc.
  • Food intolerances or allergies.
  • Medications: anti-depressants, beta-blockers, or NSAID pain relievers.
  • Scalp conditions including: alopecia areata, scalp dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis, ringworm, lichen planus and others.
  • Chemical treatments, chemotherapy
  • External irritants including shampoos, conditioners and other common hair products.

The list of possible reasons for hair loss is quite long and most people do not know which of these conditions apply to them. Working with a holistic health care practitioner is the most effective approach to identify and reverse the root cause of hair loss. Finding the root cause of hair loss will involve taking a look at various aspects of your life including diet, stress levels, exercise, lab results, and health history. After a proper assessment has been completed, the necessary changes can be made to efficiently and quickly restore a healthy head of hair.

In the meanwhile, it is always helpful to maximize the nutrients your body has available to grow new healthy hair. Below is a list of healthy food choices that will help to do just that:

1.) Vitamin C: Collagen is the substance that wraps around hair strands. As we age collagen gradually degenerates, causing hair to break and thin. Surprisingly, vitamin C is the best way to boost collagen, there is not need for pricey medical procedures. High vitamin C foods include: citrus fruits, strawberries and red peppers. Taking a supplement with 250-1000 mg daily can help increase collagen production and even reduce skin wrinkles.

2.) Biotin: Biotin, is possibly the most important B vitamin for healthy hair. As a water soluble vitamin of the B complex, biotin encourages hair growth and a healthy scalp. Food sources of biotin include nuts, brown rice and oats.

3.) Essential Fatty Acids: EFA’s are those fats that are essential to the proper functioning of your body. The human body is not able to create these fatty acids on its own, so it is important to eat foods containing them. Get Essential fatty acids from cold-water fish, chia seeds, grass-fed beef, walnuts, flaxseeds and avocado.

4.) MSM: MSM (or Methylsulfonylmethane) has been shown to aid in the production of keratin, which is the main protein found in hair. In addition, MSM can even strengthen hair follicles. In a recent study, 100% of test subjects who added a supplement with MSM showed less hair loss and increased hair growth in less than two months. Foods with MSM include: Leafy vegetables, such as Swiss chard, cabbage and watercress, asparagus and beets.

5.) Iron: Essential for hair growth, iron is found in: grass-fed beef, green vegetables, blackstrap molasses, cashews, figs, and berries. Taking vitamin C at the same time will help your body absorb more iron from food sources.

6.) Minerals Silica and Zinc: Most people know about the mineral zinc, but the lesser-know silica is also critical for hair health. Foods containing silica include: cucumber, green leafy vegetables, beans, celery, asparagus, mango, and horsetail herb. Some foods high in zinc: grass-fed beef, fresh oysters, eggs, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, brazil nuts, pecans.


Healthy Fats & the Paleo Diet

There are so many health advantages to eating more good quality fats, getting fewer calories from carbohydrates, and moving towards a vegetable-based diet. The principles here are commonly referred to as the “Paleo diet”, a food plan where there is a conscious shift away from whole grains and legumes.  As with all food choices, quality is important when choosing fats and oils, so make sure to choose the right types and also the freshest packaging to avoid rancid oils.

Below are some reasons that fats can be so beneficial:

1.) Satisfaction: fats are digested quite slowly when compared to carbs or protein. Because the digestive process takes longer to metabolize fat, you stay satisfied longer. During this process, fat in the stomach triggers the release of satiety hormones that tell your brain that it can pause the hunger signaling process.

2.) Energy: fats are efficient energy and a more sustained source of energy than carbohydrates. The brain can adapt to run in a much higher performance state when fat ketones become available as a energy source.

3.) Fat-soluble Vitamins: Essential vitamins A, D, E and K cannot be absorbed without having fat present in the diet. For example, eating steamed vegetables or salad without any fat source means these fat-soluble vitamins from the vegetables cannot effectively be absorbed.

4.) Cell Health: Fats play a structural role forming the membrane of every cell in the body. This cell membrane is made up of phospholipids which are about 1/2 saturated fat, when in optimal health.

5.) Fat-soluble Nutrients: Fat-based lipoproteins are used in the body to transport fat, cholesterol, vitamins E and K in the blood. These lipoproteins carry essential nutrients to cells and organs where they are needed for life functions.

6.) Protection: Although it sounds simple, it is important to have a fat layer to protect and support our organs and additionally to prevent skin wrinkling and dehydration.

7.) Anti-inflammatory Effects: Omega-3 fats, such as EPA and DHA have been shown in countless studies to have an anti-inflammatory effect.

8.) Anti-microbial: Certain types of fat, including lauric and caprylic acid, actually help kill bacteria, viruses and fungal overgrowth. These types of fat can be found in coconut oil and palm kernel oil.

9.) Blood Sugar: Getting a dose of fat along with carbohydrate at meals helps to stabilize the blood sugar as the carbohydrate is digested.  The presence of fat allows for a slow release of glucose (blood sugar) into circulation.

9.) Taste: Last, but not least, fats make everything taste better. Bland veggies can be transformed into buttery deliciousness. With the addition of nourishing fats, a healthy diet is easy to follow because it becomes more satisfying and enjoyable. Children may actually eat their Brussels sprouts when served with coconut oil, ghee or butter.

With all the good reasons to eat healthy fats, you may be wondering, what are the best sources of fat? Below is a list to get you started.

Best Oils:
Avocado Oil
Butter (grass-fed)
Cacao butter
Coconut oil
Ghee (clarified butter)
Macadamia Oil
MCT Oil (coconut oil extract)
Olive oil

Second-Best Oils:
Cream (dairy)
Duck fat
Palm oil
Schmaltz (chicken fat)

High-Fat Foods:
Beef (grass-fed)
Chia seeds
Coconut meat and milk
Egg yolks (pastured)
Fish (cold water, fatty fish)
Macadamia nuts
Pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
Sunflower seeds

Processed Fats to Avoid:

soybean oil, canola oil, corn oil, peanut oil, cottonseed oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, margarine and other spreads, shortenings or hydrogenated oils, commercial mayonnaise and salad dressings.

Tips on getting fat at each meal:
1.) Choose fatty cuts of grass-fed or pastured meats. However, avoid high fat cuts of conventionally raised meats because of their high pro-inflammatory omega-6 content.
2.) Eat pastured eggs regularly (with the yolks).
3.) Using generous amounts of ghee, lard from grass-fed cows or coconut oil to cook food (or add after cooking).
4.) Add butter or ghee to vegetables.
5.) Add avocado to salads.
6.) Include bones and bone marrow when making stews.
7.) Prepare curries with coconut milk or coconut cream.
8.) Eat bacon (ideally nitrate-free and from pastured pigs or wild boar).
9.) Dip foods in homemade mayo (made at home with healthy oils) or guacamole.
10.) Add extra virgin olive oil, macadamia oil or homemade salad dressings made with healthy fats.

Note: If your gallbladder function is impaired or if you were previously eating a low-fat diet, gradually increase fat intake. Over time, the digestive system will adjust by secreting adequate amounts of digestive enzymes and bile. In some cases, people will benefit from digestive enzymes and/or ox bile to facilitate fat digestion.

Foods for Glowing Skin

Want glowing skin? Get the glow back by eating foods that make skin cells radiant from the inside. Eating plenty of “good fats” during the dry winter months can be especially helpful to nourish the skin from the inside and maintain moisture.
Below is a short list of the best skin nourishing foods:

1.) Cucumber: One of the most alkaline foods on the planet, cucumber is fantastic as a cleansing aid. The skin of cucumber contains lots of silicon and a variety of other “green” nutrients. Choose organic to avoid pesticides.

2.) Hemp Seed: Help is a complete nutrient food – containing all 9 essential amino acids. It is one of the best vegetarian protein sources and high in omega 3 and 6 fatty acids and minerals. You can buy help seeds raw or purchase a hemp protein powder to add to smoothies.

3.) Coconut & Coconut Oil: Full of healthy saturated fat, coconut contains lots of antioxidants and has been show to help control blood sugar levels. In addition, coconut can boost thyroid health and help in skin repair. Coconut can be eaten straight, used for cooking, or blended into smoothies and even used topically on the face and body.

4.) Avocado: Full of the “good fats” and high in vitamins and minerals, the nutrients in avocados are especially beneficial for skin glow. Some of the nutritional power-houses found under the peel include: vitamins E, C, K, B6, selenium, zinc, folate, potassium, beta-carotene and healthy fats.

5.) Olives & Olive Oil: Get lots of vitamin E in your olive oil; This fat-soluble vitamin is well known as a source of beauty that helps the skin by rebuilding connective tissues. Olives are full of vitamins, minerals and mono-unsaturated fats that work together to keep the skin moist and smooth, especially during the dry winter season.

6.) Arugula & Spinach: Greens are great to alkalize the body and provide nutrients such as vitamin A & sulfur. The nutrients in these super-greens can help protect skin from oxidizing sun damage. Acne is often improved by adding vitamin A, as are other skin conditions.

Good Skin, Bad Skin, Part 2

Want bad skin?  I didn’t think so… What you leave off your plate is sometimes just as important as the food you’re putting on it.   Below are 3 food classes that will slowly diminish the glow of your skin:

  1. Sugar – Sweets and refined carbs raise glucose levels, which increases advanced glycation end products, which in turn interferes with the repair of collagen and elastin, a protein that allows skin to retain its shape.
  2. Saturated Fat – Found in marbled meats and full-fat dairy products, saturated fats may make you look older. Experts say that eating a lot of saturated fat can induce skin-aging inflammation.
  3. Alcohol – With the exception of resveratrol-delivering red wine, alcohol can take a toll on your skin. It dries out skin and when metabolized in the liver, it creates skin’s enemy: free radicals.

Good Skin, Bad Skin, Part 1

Want Good Skin?  Then you need to nourish your skin from the inside by eating foods that slow the aging process. A combination of a healthy diet and specific foods and nutrients can do everything from hydrate your skin to protect it from the environment. Below are 4 food classes that will help you eat your way to great skin:

  1. Vitamin C Foods – Oranges and other citrus fruits, peppers and kale are all high in vitamin C. A British study showed that women who ate higher amounts of this antioxidant vitamin had fewer wrinkles and less dry skin.
  2. Lean Protein – Protein is a building block of collagen, which gives skin its elasticity. When collagen and other proteins break down, it causes the skin to fold into itself, creating wrinkles. Lean protein foods include skinless poultry, egg whites, fish and tofu.
  3. Fatty Fish (Alaskan Sockeye Salmon) – A natural source of omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs), fatty fish help guard and protect your skin from the environment, including the sun, according to three British studies. The best fish to put on your plate include salmon, tuna, mackerel and trout. If fish isn’t your thing, walnuts, flaxseeds, canola oil, pumpkin seeds and tofu containing ALA are also natural sources of EFAs.
  4. Produce Rainbow – Load up on colorful fruits and vegetables, especially ones that are yellow, orange or red. Produce in these colors is a source of carotenoids, free radical-fighting antioxidants that nourish the skin. They include beta-carotene, which helps skin stay hydrated and increases collagen production and lycopene, which protects skin from environmental damage.

Healthy Hair Starters

While strands of hair are actually just life-less protein fibers, the hair follicles under your skin are very much alive. Hair follicles need a supply of nutrients like other parts of the body.  Some of these nutrients critical hair nutrients include: protein, carbohydrates, EFAs (fatty acids), vitamins B6 and B12, biotin, and iron.

Stress, illnesses and hormone imbalances can also affect your hair in a negative way, which is why some women do tend to lose their hair in times of high stress. Female hormones (progesterone and estrogen) promote thick, healthy hair, while male hormones can cause hair loss or thinning hair.  So, if you needed yet another reason to eat better and stress less, keep in mind that your hair health is affected by what goes in your body, too.

Vitamin D: Sun vs. Supplements

Vitamin D’s role in bone health is well known, but scientists continue to look at its role in boosting the immune system, reducing inflammation and supporting muscle health.  How does vitamin D work? It’s created in the “body from exposure to sunlight, traveling through the bloodstream to become a potent hormone that wakes up receptors in your intestines to start absorbing calcium.” Now, research indicates that other organs and muscles are equipped with these receptors as well.

So how much do you need each day? The recommended daily allowance is 600 IU for everyone under age 70, but this is based on bone health support and assumes minimal sunlight. Many nutritionists and physicians believe that is not enough due to the recently discovered receptors mentioned above; they now recommend 1,000 to 3,000 IU per day.

What’s the best way to get enough vitamin D? Sun exposure is the best source – this should be limited to 10 to 15 minutes a day to get a therapeutic dose (note that sunscreen inhibits the amount of vitamin D the body can absorb). In addition, dietary supplements can help you get the right amount of vitamin D. Choose the cholecalciferol version (D3), which is more bioavailable than ergocalciferol (D2).

Vitamin D is naturally found in some foods:

  • All varieties of mushrooms contain some vitamin D.  The types with the most vitamin D include portobello, white button and cremini.  One cup contains 380 IU of vitamin D.
  • Two egg yolks contain 80 IU of vitamin D, making this one good reason to actually eat the yolk. Egg yolks also contain lutein, choline and vitamins A and E. 
  • Fatty fish, such as mackerel, sardines and salmon, contain 400-800 IU of vitamin D in one 4-ounce piece of fish.

These foods are easy to find and fun to prepare, so incorporate them into your routine to get a natural form of the sunshine vitamin.

Fall Foods #2 – Nourishing Dry Skin

Fall air and wind dries out the mucus membranes of the nasal passages, lungs, and even the eyes. With this climate change, our skin also gets dried out, especially with the colder nights.

In addition, protecting the lungs from dryness is a first line of defense against catching colds. Adequate moisture in the mucosa makes them slippery. When the nasal mucosa is dry, it is much easier for the Rhino viruses that cause colds to attach and get into the blood stream.

The most common kitchen medicine in Chinese Medicine are pears. Pears are cooling and moistening. Bite into a ripe pear. Compare with a ripe apple. Apples tend to be crisper and are astringent. Pears have a viscous quality that helps moisten the lungs (especially the pear skin). In addition they have a very cool energy, like cucumbers.

Asian pears are great when cooked.  They are commonly boiled with licorice root for dry cough in Korea and with a kind of barley called Job’s Tears in China. You can just boil a pear or two, and when cooked, add some honey, which also moistens the lungs, and drink the liquid. I like to add saffron and cardamom to mine. Afghanis make a wonderful cooked pear dish.
Other Foods For Moistening:

Persimmons are a wonderful Fall fruit. They are mild and light, help to dissolve phlegm, and reinforce the digestive energy. Persimmons are especially good when there is a heat condition in the lungs with cough.

Almonds reinforce the lung Qi and Yin. They are a Sattvic food in Ayurveda, which means they balance all the doshas and create harmony. Try Persimmon muffins with almonds and saffron.

Turnips strengthen Lung Qi, and Tremella mushrooms benefit the Yin (moistening). Try Miso soup with turnips and Tremella mushrooms. If you suffer from digestive system dampness (thick or greasy tongue coat), eat your Miso soup with cooked Job’s Tear’s barley, and avoid or eliminate wheat and gluten. This can be critical for people with allergies and Asthma.

Lotus Rhizome is also good for the Lungs. It is very healing to lung tissue and helps alleviate damp cough. You can buy it at any Asian grocery. Try juicing it with pears and a little ginger root. It looks funny and has a mild taste. Also excellent in soups and stews.

Foods for Healthy Hair

In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) hair loss or premature gray hair often reflects an underlying problem in the body. Hair, according to TCM, reflects the quality of blood and the strength of the kidneys. Keeping hair healthy for a lifetime is generally a balance between eating the right foods, sleeping well and keeping stress in check.  Some foods that strengthen the blood and kidneys to nourish hair are: black sesame seeds, hijiki seaweed, black beans, mulberry fruit, Chinese dates and royal jelly.

In addition to food sources, Chinese herbs have a long history of rejuvenating hair.  One such herb called “He shou wu” (Polygonum multiflorum) can be used long-term to strengthen and re-grow hair. The literal translation of the name he shu wu is “black-haired Mr. He” refering to the Chinese legend where Mr. He returned from living in the woods for some time, and his grey hair had turned to black. As it turned out, Mr. He had been consuming this herb to survive.  There are quite a few additional herbs that encourage hair growth, but “he shou wu” is the best know herb to restore hair color and nourish the skin, hair, teeth and nails.

As with most conditions in TCM, Chinese herbal medicine is best applied while considering the person’s constitutional pattern.  By addressing a person’s underlying constitution, the effects of any herbs or dietary change will be greatly increased.