What Are the Causes of Brittle Nails and Hair When You Have an Eating Disorder?

Maintaining a balanced diet not only keeps our body functioning at its best, it also keeps our skin, hair, and nails looking bright and healthy. However, when people with eating disorders begin restricting their calories, the resulting vitamin and mineral deficiencies can cause irreversible physical side effects.

What is an Eating Disorder?

An eating disorder is a psychological illness characterized by an abnormal relationship with food and/or distorted body image perceptions. Broadly speaking, there are four main kinds of eating disorders:

Binge Eating Disorder: Individuals suffering from binge eating disorder typically eat excessive amounts of food in one sitting and are usually unable to stop even when they feel full.

Bulimia Nervosa: Similar to binge eating disorder, people with bulimia nervosa will binge-eat large amounts of food before purging their body. The act of purging could involve self-induced vomiting, over-exercising, or laxative abuse.

Anorexia Nervosa: Anorexia nervosa is characterized by a dramatic decrease in food consumption and is usually accompanied by obsessive calorie counting, purging, or over-exercise.

Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED): Individuals who experience some or many of the symptoms of an eating disorder but do not fit into the above categories.

How Does Malnutrition Affect Hair and Nail Growth?

People with eating disorders frequently experience nutrient deficiencies, especially in the vitamins and minerals used to maintain healthy hair, skin, and nails. Left untreated, a prolonged nutrient deficiency can lead to emaciation and critical malnutrition.

In an attempt to maintain vital organs and essential bodily functions, the body will begin to divert nutrients and energy from your nails and hair, leaving them thin, brittle, and lackluster. As time passes, people with eating disorders may begin to experience complete hair loss, redness around the nails, and ingrown toenails.

Can you Restore Hair and Nail Health?

The first step in restoring the health of your hair and nails is to address the underlying cause of their condition – that is, to seek treatment for your eating disorder. If you are planning to reintroduce your body to a healthy diet, please make sure that your doctor clears and oversees the initial refeeding period.

Some foods that may be beneficial for hair and nail growth include:

  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids (found in oily fish or flaxseeds)
  • Gamma-linolenic Acid (this can be found in blackcurrant oil)
  • Vitamin B5 or Pantothenic Acid (found in egg yolk or sweet potato)
  • Biotin (found in leafy greens, eggs, or raw almonds)

All of these essential nutrients can also be found in supplement form. However, supplements do not replace a nutritious diet and people recovering from anorexia should consult their doctor before introducing supplements back into their diet.

Sources: Live Strong, Total Beauty, Kids Helpline
Photo: Pexels

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