How to tell if your body is starving for nutrients

When I meet someone for the first time, even non-patients, I notice his or her hair, skin, and nails. I may even look in their ears...I just can't help myself! Because visible on these "hot spots," as plain as day, are clues that tell me how nutritionally healthy someone is.

But as easy as it is for me to spot these problem areas, they're often even easier to correct. To get back on track, you often only need to make small adjustments to your nutritional plan...

Dry skin is much easier to correct than you think

The health of your skin can tell me a lot about the foods you eat. If your skin is excessively dry, even in the summer months, I would suspect that you're missing one important element from your diet: Essential fatty acids (EFAs). Because even the best moisturizing creams in the world won't get rid of dry skin if you're deficient in EFAs. (Low EFA intake can also cause excessive earwax. See, I told you I look in the ears too!)

There are two classes of essential fatty acids: omega-3s and omega-6s. Most Americans get plenty of (or too many) omega-6s through the vegetable oils found in snack foods. But they're severely lacking in omega-3s.

One way to get more omega-3s (such as DHA and EPA) into your system is to take a daily fish oil supplement. If you take a fish oil supplement, you have to remember to add all-natural mixed tocopherol vitamin E and selenium. Fish oil is a tonic for the skin, but it can also generate extra free radicals. These free radicals cause damage to the cells in your body. So we take vitamin E and selenium to neutralize the free radicals.

You should also strive to get the omega-3 called ALA into your diet. ALA is a different kind of omega-3 that converts into DHA and EPA in the body. Although it's not as well known as DHA and EPA, ALA is just as important to your skin and overall health.

Walnuts and flaxseed contain small amounts of ALA. So does NorthStar Nutritionals BenVia Gold, a whole-grain super-food that gram-to-gram contains eight times more omega-3s than salmon. Plus, you can sprinkle it onto your morning cereal or yogurt. And best of all, BenVia Gold is loaded with antioxidants that fight free radical damage. So, unlike fish oil, you don't have to worry about supplementing with vitamin E.

Both types of omega-3s are great for your skin. They also play a role in managing your blood sugar, supporting your heart's health, and keeping your mood up too.

But that's not all your skin can tell me...

White patches of skin, called vitiligo, may indicate stomach problems

If you've got a condition called vitiligo, or patches of white skin that lack pigment, it may signal that you've got low stomach acid. For years, the heralded doctor and pioneer of alternative medicine Jonathan Wright, M.D. has suggested a connection between vitiligo and low stomach acid.

A stomach issue showing in your skin? Well you see, if you've got low stomach acid, you don't digest your food properly. As a result, undigested macromolecules can enter your bloodstream. Your body recognizes these invaders and produces a widespread antibody response.

But since there's no real enemy, just the rogue macromolecules from your food, your immune system misfires. It begins to attack and destroy healthy cells, such as the cells called melanocytes, which are responsible for adding pigment to your skin. In fact, this is why many consider vitiligo to be an autoimmune disease.

To stop the de-pigmentation of your skin, Dr. Wright suggests you focus on correcting your digestion problem. (You can take a test to measure your stomach acid. But it is costly and most often not necessary, as most adults over 40 do suffer from low acid).

To boost stomach acid production, Dr. Wright suggests adding digestive enzymes as well as betaine hydrochloride to your regimen. Some companies package these two ingredients together to make it simpler. Look for a tablet that contains 500-600 mg of betaine hydrochloride.

To start, take two tablets midway (or towards the end) of your meals. If that doesn't seem to cause any reflux or heartburn, you may want to consider adding another tablet. Gradually, these nutrients will help train your stomach to produce more stomach acid on its own. And over time, you'll be able to wean yourself off the betaine and see if your body has become trained to maintain the positive results. (As a side note, brittle hair and nails can also signal low stomach acid, so you may notice improvements in both of those areas as well).

But that's not all...

Did you know your fingernails tell me whether you eat enough protein?

If you've got very pale patches of white beneath your fingernails, it may be a sign that you need more zinc in your diet. Zinc is a mineral found in many protein-rich foods. In fact, that's why I see so many vegetarians with white patches under their nails. They're not getting enough zinc and protein!

The best food sources for zinc include organic beef, turkey, and chicken as well as wild salmon and other fish. You should also get about 25 mg of zinc in a good multivitamin.


If you take a good multivitamin, eat plenty of protein, and still have white patches under your nails, you may want to consider taking a zinc supplement, which usually come in 30 mg tablets. Just make sure to add 2 mg of copper as well, as zinc depletes your stores of copper.

Lastly, there's one more major "red flag" that I want to tell you about...

Fix your oily hair in a snap, without expensive shampoo

Yes! In fact, very oily hair nearly always indicates a riboflavin (B2) deficiency. (Thank famed American nutritionist Adelle Davis from the 1950s for this outstanding discovery!)

To fix the problem of oily hair, add a vitamin B complex to your regimen. A good B complex contains all eight B vitamins in one tablet. Some people notice improvements in just days! Plus, it will increase your energy levels, too. If the B complex doesn't fix the problem after several weeks, you can add 100 mg extra of B2. When the hair clears up, I would gradually cut back on the B2 to find your optimum level to do the job.

In closing, remember that your body sends "red flags" when something's missing from your diet. If you have any of the problems discussed above, take a positive step to fill in your nutritional "holes" now. It's better to take care of these smaller problems before they turn into bigger health concerns down the road.

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About the author


Nationally acclaimed as America’s “Nutrition Physician,” Dr. Spreen has been helping people stay healthy and disease-free as a private doctor, published author, and noted researcher.

In addition to his role as a Senior Member of the prestigious Health Sciences Institute Advisory Panel in Baltimore, MD, Dr. Spreen also coaches diving at the international and Olympic levels. NorthStar Nutritionals is proud to have Dr. Spreen as our Chief Research Advisor.

Dr. Spreen also writes the Guide to Good Health


Anonymous's picture

Detox Foot Pads

When I was young I used to get ridges in my fingernails. I thought this was indicative of some type of nutrient deficiency. Don't know what, though. Don't have the problem anymore. Maybe it was stress that caused them. I have lived a pretty high stressed life.

Anonymous's picture


I have ridges in my nails and have no idea way. My father, when he was alive had them badly. Must be inhereited?

Anonymous's picture


I wonder if fingernail ridges are an indicator of inositol deficiency.

Inositol is a carbohydrate implicated in many bodily processes, including the growth of hair and nails. It has been known to deplete during times of stress or poor nutrition and caffeine is purported to kill it.

Anonymous's picture



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