Keratin is a protein, whose main function is to protect epithelial cells, and is also a fundamental element in the formation of the outermost layer of the skin. It is also a basic component of the hair and nails, as well as other parts of the body such as the tongue or the palate, which gives them strength and resistance.
In nature, only one other biological material is known that can resemble keratin in terms of hardness, chitin.
There are two types of keratin according to their different structures and components. Thus, alpha keratin has in its composition cysteine residues that constitute disulfide bridges. It is these bridges that give it toughness. This type of keratin is common in the horns of animals and on their nails.
On the contrary, among the components of beta keratin, cysteine is not found and therefore there are no disulfide bridges. Also, unlike the previous type, this keratin is inextensible. Beta keratin is the essential component of spider webs.
How to increase keratin production
The simplest way to increase the production of keratin is by consuming foods that are high in this protein or that help in its manufacture. This is the case of citrus fruits, since their high content of vitamin C makes it easier for the body to assimilate plant-based proteins, which are essential in the formation of keratin.
Similarly, vegetables such as onion or cauliflower also have a very positive impact on the production of this protein because they contain vitamin B7, which plays a very important role in the metabolism of keratin. Finally, there are foods such as chicken or lean meats that due to their high protein content directly influence the increase in keratin in the body.
Low quality keratin
In the same way that there are certain elements that help to produce more keratin, the opposite can also occur with factors that negatively influence the quality of keratin, which is evidenced in finer hair and less resistant nails.
Within this group of negative elements for keratin production, stress, hormones or an excessively unbalanced diet stand out. Due to this last point, vegetarians are recommended to take certain supplements if necessary, such as spirulina or brewer's yeast.
Photos: iStock - Marko Skrbic / Ben-Schonewille