How do you get a healthy winter look? Should you be gluten-free? Dr. Andrew Myers answers your questions.
Q: Dr. Myers, how can I keep my hair, skin and nails healthy during the winter?
A: Winter weather can leave hair, skin and nails dry and lackluster. Luckily, one excellent method for supporting your outward appearance is through an ingredient that can be found in your kitchen cupboard: coconut oil.
Coconut oil can be used as a long-lasting body lotion for the driest winter skin. You can even use it on your face, like you would a normal moisturizer. It will feel greasy at first, but the skin quickly absorbs the oil, improving texture and providing hydration. The oil also works well on problem skin conditions like eczema, dry patches and acne.
To moisturize the hair, rub a small amount of coconut oil on fly-aways and dry ends. For extra-dry strands, try applying warm oil at night and then washing it off in the morning; applying the oil directly to the scalp can also improve dandruff. And to keep nails healthy, regularly massage coconut oil into your hands and feet, paying special attention to the cuticles and nail beds.
Also, be sure you’re eating plenty of protein and drinking ample water, which are building blocks of healthy hair, skin and nails. You can also add more of certain foods to your diet like antioxidant-rich berries and fatty fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Green tea helps with hydration and is also loaded with healing polyphenols. And dairy products like yogurt contain vitamin A and calcium, which help keep the nails healthy and strong. In addition to foods, a daily supplement that contains B vitamins, especially biotin and a range of minerals, can be extremely beneficial.
Q: Dr. Myers, how do I know if I should eat a gluten-free diet?
A: Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, barley and rye. Most individuals can eat gluten without issue. But for approximately 1 in 133 Americans, gluten can cause symptoms including gas, bloating, diarrhea, headache, fatigue, and even malnutrition and weight loss.
Avoiding gluten is beneficial for people with the autoimmune disorder celiac disease or who have gluten sensitivity, and I’ve practiced a gluten-free diet since 1990. Eliminating gluten is a big commitment. It’s not just avoiding pasta and bread; gluten can be found in places you wouldn’t think of, such as salad dressing, marinades and even lotion. But, for people who are gluten intolerant, its well worth avoiding.
How do you know if you’re gluten intolerant? Along with the expected gastrointestinal symptoms, people can suffer from migraines, skin rashes, joint pain, fatigue, chronic pain, mental fogginess and low energy, among other issues. The diagnosis of celiac disease requires working with a qualified health professional.
You can also do a trial run to see if you might be sensitive to gluten. Avoid gluten for two full weeks, paying special attention to ingredients listed on food labels. At restaurants or holiday events, steer clear of dishes that aren’t labeled gluten-free, or ask the waiter or host if the food contains gluten. Even a small amount of gluten can skew the results, so its important to completely eliminate it from your diet and skin care regimen.
At the end of two weeks, eat food with gluten in it. If you become sick or even just feel off, or if you’re not sure about the results but still suspect an intolerance to gluten, I encourage you to talk with a health care provider who specializes in nutrition. A gluten-free diet has been a positive part of my life, and it might be in yours, too.
Dr. Andrew Myers is an expert in nutrition and preventive medicine and the co-author of The New Heart Health and the Health Is Wealth series.