Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

Dr Sarah: Brittle nails linked to lack of vitamins

Dr Sarah answers your health related queries

My nails, never very strong, have recently become very brittle. They've now started to break into the quick. What can I do to prevent this?

First, check with your doctor that you don't have a fungal nail infection which can cause vertical splits and may need treatment with a paint-on anti-fungal nail lacquer.

Otherwise, brittle nails are often linked to lack of vitamins, minerals (especially iron or zinc) and essential fatty acids. Eat a healthy wholefood diet full of fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds and consider taking a multinutrient supplement containing around 100pc of as many vitamins and minerals as possible.

Evening primrose oil can improve the strength of nails - especially when taken together with calcium. Horsetail (Equisetum arvense) is a herb rich in silica which is said to help strengthen nails.

Nutritional supplements will usually show an effect within three months if they are going to work, as the new nail grows up.

Eat little and often to keep blood glucose levels up

I have an unusually low blood pressure. Should I be wary and if so what can I do about it?

In the UK, an inherited tendency towards low blood pressure is not usually treated as it tends not to be serious and may even be beneficial to health.

It can be annoying however, if it leads to recurrent dizziness, fainting or cold hands and feet. Stimulate the circulation by taking regular exercise, and eat a healthy wholefood diet.

Eating little and often is important to help keep blood glucose levels up. Although eating salty foods is usually frowned on, they can help to raise a low blood pressure, but only eat them in moderation. Drink plenty of fluids and, if you feel lacking in energy, consider taking supplements containing B group vitamins and CoQ10. Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus) helps to regulate the adrenal glands which are involved in blood pressure control. Ginkgo biloba and garlic powder extracts are also beneficial for the circulation in both high and low blood pressure states.

Fatty acids may help

I have an extremely dry, itchy, flaky scalp which my GP thinks is psoriasis. He prescribed an ointment which was too harsh for my sensitive head so I had to stop using it. Please help - I'm getting desperate.

A number of different conditions can cause scalp flakiness, including psoriasis, eczema and seborrhoeic dermatitis. If your doctor is unsure of the diagnosis, ask for a referral to a dermatologist.

Antifungal shampoos containing ketoconazole (eg Nizoral) often work well if flakiness is due to oversensitivity to a skin yeast. Inflammation can often be reduced by increasing your intake of essential fatty acids - eat more oily fish, nuts, seeds and take evening primrose, flaxseed or omega-3 fish oil supplements. It may also help to rub the scalp with a solution of seven drops rosemary or tea tree essential oil diluted with one tablespoon (15 ml) carrier oil, before washing your hair with a tea tree shampoo.

Talk to GP about acne scarring

My acneprone skin scars easily, although I cleanse and moiturise and drink plenty of water. Could you explain why?

Some people are more prone to producing scar tissue than others. If acne is severe enough to cause scarring, it is worth talking to your doctor in case you need a topical treatment to help damp down infection and inflammation.

To encourage healing, take high dose vitamin C which is needed for collagen formation, and evening primrose oil to help improve tissue suppleness. Rosa mosqueta oil derived from the hips of a wild rose that grows in the Andes is a popular anti-acne scar treatment. The unscented oil is naturally high in essential fatty acids needed for production of new cell membranes and is also said to diminish wrinkles and stretch marks. It should not be used on skin that is actively affected by acne.

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