Keratin: A Comprehensive Overview

Keratins are a group of proteins that are key to the support, strength, and protection of your body. Made by epithelial cells, these proteins are key in the growth of hair and nails, the elasticity of your skin and organs, and the healing of any wounds.

Key takeaways:

Proteins: The body’s building blocks

The basic building block for the body are proteins — large, complex molecules, your body makes based on your DNA. Proteins are used in every part of your body. From the enzymes that drive chemical reactions in your body to the hair on your head, your body is built of proteins.

While your body makes the proteins you need, you need to have a source for the building blocks for those proteins. Known as amino acids, these protein-building blocks are either made from scratch in your body or taken out of the food you eat. Proteins are a macronutrient in your diet since you need a large amount of them.

Keratin overview

Once thought of as a simple protein, scientists have discovered there are 54 different types of keratin. Created in the epithelial cells that line the outside and inside surfaces of the body, keratin proteins provide strength and support to our bodies.

Keratins are very strong proteins. Only certain chemicals will dissolve them. This character provides structure and strength to your organs, skin, hair, and nails.

It also provides elasticity to your organs and skin. Keratin filaments help protect your epithelial cells from the mechanical stresses of everyday life: the pressure of your wrists against a computer desk, bumping your shin against the corner of a table, or even just the pull on your skin as you roll over in bed.

Since keratin helps with the structure, protection, and elasticity of epithelial cells, they also play an important role in the healing of wounds. Because of this, there is ongoing investigation on using keratin infused dressing to aid in wound healing.

When most people think of keratins, they think of the nails and hair. Keratin proteins are most obviously seen in the growth of fingernails, toenails, and the hair on all areas of the body.

These keratin proteins, and the ones throughout your body as well, have distinct colors. Melanin is the pigment that gives people their coloring. There are two forms of melanin. Pheomelanin provides the pink and red tones. Eumelanin gives you the darker shades for your body.

Keratin problems

Two major problems can cause keratin malfunction: disorders of keratin production and keratin deficiency.

Disorders of keratin production are mostly caused by genetic mutations.

  • Monilethrix. Genetic disorder that shows up in the first few months of life. It causes the hair on the body, especially the hair on the head, to be brittle and break easily.
  • Epidermolysis bullosa (EB). Genetic disorder that causes the skin to be very fragile and damage easily.
  • Ichthyosis hystrix. Genetic disorder that causes skin fragility. This disorder causes lesions of the skin.
  • Keratosis pilaris (KP). Disease that forms small bumps all over your skin. An excess of keratin protein blocks the pores to cause these bumps.

Keratin deficiency is found when the body does not have enough of the amino acids to build proteins. Just like with any other protein deficiency, a deficiency in keratin causes certain effects on your body.

  • Slow growth of hair and nails
  • Poor wound healing
  • Brittle hair and nails
  • Flaky skin
  • Premature aging of the skin
  • Fatigue

Diet for boosting keratin production

Treatment of the disorders of keratin protein will depend on what kind of disorder it is. You should seek medical attention to make a plan on what medications are needed.

Keratin deficiencies can often be treated at home. The number one way is to consume enough protein to provide your body with the amino acids needed for keratin protein production.

Foods rich in protein include:

  • Legumes. Kidney beans, lima beans, and lentils.
  • Fruits and vegetables. Broccoli, artichokes, brussels sprouts.
  • Whole grains. Quinoa, oats, buckwheat.
  • Nuts and seeds. Walnuts, hemp seeds, almonds, chia seas, pecans.
  • Meats. Fish, beef, chicken, pork.
  • Dairy. Eggs, cheese, yogurt.

Tips to help your body maintain keratin proteins healthy

Hair, skin, and nails can also be treated from the outside. Keratin hair treatments done at a salon can be helpful. Some of the other chemicals in the treatments might cause irritation to your skin. Hair cannot actually be healed, just protected. You can heal the hair that will grow next by improving your diet.

Nails already created also cannot be healed. You can help your body create healthier nails. While you wait for healthier nails to grow, you can protect your current nails.

  • Avoid alcohol products. Avoid anything containing alcohol, which can dry your nails.
  • Moisturize. Use a moisturizer nightly that contains lanolin.
  • Protect cuticles. Protect your cuticles by keeping them moist and not cutting them.
  • Limit manicures. Limit manicures to only a few times a year.
  • Stay trimmed. Keep nails short and cover with a clear coat of formaldehyde-free nail polish.

Skin is made up of living cells. The best way to treat skin for keratin deficiency is to increase the amount of protein in your diet. Protecting your skin while you are working to improve a keratin deficiency is a good thing.

  • Pick good products. Treat your skin gently by avoiding products that cause drying or abrasives that can damage the skin.
  • Use lotion. Use lotions that contain collagen, another protein that helps maintain the skin.
  • Protect from the sun. Use sunscreen or avoid direct sunlight if at all possible.
  • Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of non-caffeinated and non-alcoholic beverages to keep the skin well hydrated.

Keratin is a group of proteins that are produced by your epithelial cells. They are used to provide protection, strength, and support. Certain genetic mutations cause keratin production to be disrupted and cause damage to skin, hair, and nails. Too little keratin in the body from not consuming enough protein through your diet causes similar problems.

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