When people are under stress of any kind for a prolonged period of time, this will be reflected in the skin, hair, and nails.
Hormones are chemical messengers in the body, communicating through an intricate network of endocrine glands, receptors, and biochemical cascades, responding to both internal and external stimuli. All will influence one another and every system has its own response to complex hormonal signaling pathways. The integumentary system (skin, hair, and nails) is no exception. The skin, the largest organ in the body, has its own cellular metabolism and both perceives and responds to stress.
The wide-ranging hormonal influences on the skin, hair, and nails are complex, here is a brief overview of just a few.
Adrenaline, Noradrenaline, and Cortisol
When people are under stress of any kind for a prolonged period of time, this will be reflected in the skin, hair, and nails. This occurs via a cascade of hormones via systems initiated by the autonomic nervous system. Systemically, elevated stress hormones, such as adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol, contribute to a number of negative impacts, such as compromised immunity, impaired blood-sugar metabolism, increased inflammation, and cellular damage. The cells in our skin, hair, and nails are directly impacted by the dysregulation of this system.
An example of a well-established external stress factor for the skin is excess sun and UV radiation. Another demonstrable impact of hormones on skin integrity is illustrated by observing the long-term consequences of using steroidal cremes (cortisone, which is the synthetic form of the adrenal hormone, cortisol), directly leading to skin aging through the degradation of important matrix proteins including collagen and elastin.
Ways in which we can minimize the ravages of stress on our systems and the impact on our skin, nails, and hair include:
- ensuring sufficient rest, and sleep for repair;
- learning ways to regulate the autonomic nervous system, and reduce stress;
- ensuring adequate hydration;
- nutrient-dense diet, avoiding processed foods;
- avoid smoking;
- avoid sunburn and excess sun exposure;
- take a quality supplement.
The role of estrogen has been the subject of many studies in relation to most systems, including bone health as well as with respect to aging. In menstruating women, skin thickness varies during the cycle corresponding to when estrogen is highest in the cycle, and there is a strong association with accelerated aging and hair loss once estrogen levels decline after menopause. Progesterone also declines and is also implicated in the aging process. The mechanism for this however is not well understood, although collagen depletion is one of the consequences.
The decision on whether to replace these dwindling hormones either orally or via transdermal application should be discussed in terms of risk/benefits with your doctor, taking into consideration individual variables. It is also important to note, however, that with aging there is a greater requirement for nutrients in general.
Whilst there are many studies comparing those on HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) with those who are not (with some variance in results. Some specific nutrients include Vitamins C and E, Biotin, Zinc, Selenium, and Silica, all associated with skin, hair, and nail health (a brief outline of some of the roles of these nutrients is listed below).
Regardless of whether the decision to HRT or not, paying careful attention to diet and lifestyle is important. For example, including phytoestrogens (plant-based estrogens) can be helpful in boosting collagen. Encouragingly, studies have also demonstrated an improvement in moisture retention, collagen quantity, and structure within the skin when taking oral collagen supplementation, even in post-menopausal women.
A brief description of the ways in which the added nutrients support the skin, hair, and nails:
Vitamin C and bioflavonoids: It is well established that Vitamin C is an essential nutrient in connective tissue integrity, so ensuring enough of this nutrient, as well as bioflavonoids
Biotin: Also known as Vitamin B7, often declining after menopause
Vitamin E: Antioxidant and protective against UV radiation
Zinc: As well as an important co-factor in numerous biochemical processes, zinc is also required for collagen production
Selenium: Anti-oxidant, helping to reduce aging free radicals
Silica: Required for optimum collagen synthesis.
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