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What can your nails reveal about your health?

Nails may reveal a great deal about your health. Changes or abnormalities in the nails are often the result of nutritional insufficiencies or underlying conditions. These changes may indicate illness even before the rest of the body does.

Looking after your nails and nail markings...

Your nails protect the nerve rich fingertips and the tips of the toes from injury. Nails are a substructure of the epidermis (the outer layer of the skin) and are composed mainly of keratin, a type of protein. The nail bed is the skin on top of which nails grow. If a nail is lost, it takes about seven months to grow out fully, as nails grow from 0.5 to 1.2 millimetres a week.

Healthy nails appear pink, indicating a rich blood supply. Changes or abnormalities in the nails are often the result of nutritional insufficiencies or underlying conditions. In fact, the nails may reveal a great deal about the body's health.

A number of important nutrients are needed for proper nail growth...

A good source of first class proteins. This can be taken in a food source of meat or alternatively a free form amino acid supplement. Amino acids are the body's building blocks for new nail growth.

MSM, a highly bioavailable source of sulphur. Sulphur is essential for all protein growth, including keratin and collagen. This can be taken in supplement form.

Silica, an element that is used for the production of all connective tissues, including healthy nails , skin, hair and for calcium absorption. You can get silica from beets, alfalfa and the herb horsetail. Small amounts are found in whole grains.

Insufficient intake of vitamin B12 leads to excessive dryness, very rounded and curved nail ends and darkened nails. Taking a B complex is important, rather than a single B vitamin.

Vitamin A, essential for the proper utilisation of protein, needed for connective tissue formation.

Other considerations include a lack of hydrochloric acid, which contributes to splitting nails; a lack of friendly bacteria (lactobacillus) can make you more susceptible to fungal infections in the nails.

These foods have been found to be beneficial for nail health:

  • Ground flaxseed (sprinkle over cereal)
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Oatmeal
  • Nuts
  • Eggs
  • Organic/biodynamic yoghurts
  • Fish and seaweeds
  • Brewer's yeast
  • Horsetail, Oat straw and Nettle infusions
  • Parsley
  • Evening primrose oil

Disorders that show up in the nails...

Nail changes may signify a number of disorders elsewhere in the body. These changes may indicate illness before any other symptoms do. Here are some of the most common problems with nails and their association with health ailments.

Pale nails can indicate a liver or kidney condition or be the result of anaemia.

Deep blue nail beds could show a respiratory obstructive disorder, such as asthma or emphysema.

If the white moon area of the nail turns red, it may indicate heart problems.

Thin split nails may indicate the body is low in vitamin A and /or zinc.

Brittle nails signify possible iron deficiency and thyroid problems, impaired kidney function and circulation problems.

White flecks usually reflect a zinc deficiency (although in pregnant women, this can signify a calcium deficiency). White spots can also be the result of a direct knock to the nail.

Nails that broaden toward the tip and curve downward can indicate respiratory problems.

Flaking, split or chipped nails can result from a shortage of unsaturated fats, protein, calcium or silica in the diet. May also be a result of rough treatment, lengthy immersion in water or an immune related condition.

Deformed concave spoon shaped nails are a sign of iron and/or vitamin B12 deficiency or anaemia.

Flattened nails denote Raynaud's disease.

Isolated dark-blue band in the nail bed, especially in light-skinned people can be a sign of skin cancer.

Bumps on the surface of the nail may be the result of rheumatoid arthritis.

Opaque white bands across dry, brittle or thin nails are likely caused by a deficiency of complete proteins and/or vitamin A and calcium.

Missing moons at the base of the nails with brittle, soft and shiny nails may indicate an overactive thyroid.

Slate blue moons can point to either heavy metal poisoning or lung trouble.

Thickened nails may indicate that the blood is not circulating properly. Sometimes this can also be a sign of thyroid disease.

Ridges - Vertical ridges are usually the result from a calcium or zinc shortage (although can simply be a result of aging or injury to the nail). Very pronounced ridges may be caused by a fungal infection. Both vertical and horizontal ridges on fragile nails can indicate a lack of B vitamins (which predisposes the nails to fungal infection) and also low iron. It can also show kidney problems. Ridges can also indicate a tendency to develop arthritis.

White, soft and crumbly nails that are red at the base indicate fungal infection.

Loose nails Nail hardeners containing formaldehyde can cause nails to separate from the skin underneath if used frequently. This allows germs to enter. Sometimes separated nails can signify a thyroid disorder.

Recurring hangnails (peeling skin alongside the nail) often occurs if hands are immersed in water frequently. An inadequate intake of vitamin C and folic acid also makes one susceptible to hangnails.

Nail biting This habit can stem from tension, anxiety or insecurity, although some practitioners believe an underlying lack of silica can create the urge to bite.

Yellow nails can indicate internal disorders long before other symptoms appear. Some of these include problems with the lymphatic system, respiratory disorders, diabetes and liver problems. Other causes can be from smoking, chlorine from swimming pools and dyes in nail polish can discolour or stain nails. If the discolouration has occurred naturally, it is an indication of poor general health.

Pink nails indicate good circulation.

Looking after your nails...

For fifteen minutes daily, soak your nails in warmed olive oil (or try olive oil infused with chamomile or rosemary). Continue to do this until your nails have strengthened, while also paying attention to your diet.

A mixture of equal parts of honey, avocado oil and egg yolk plus a pinch of salt rubbed over nails will help restore colour and texture to brittle and yellowish nails.

Cut nails after a warm bath, when they have become soft and pliable.

Use a good quality emery board if you are filing your nails and file in one direction, as a sawing motion weakens the layers of the nails.

Rubbing the two sets of fingernails against one another for a minute or so helps to create frictional heat, which in turn improves the flow of blood to the nail bed.

At Ideal health we stock a number of supplements that can help to strengthen your nails. These include:

Super Calcium Complete
Mineral Power
Silica Complex
Skin, Nails and Hair

Come in and talk to one of our team about your health concerns. We would be happy to advise you on the best product for your specific health needs.

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The Naturopathic Team
Ideal Health

Disclaimer: The health information presented here has been written for the New Zealand health consumer. It is of a general nature and is only intended to provide a summary of the subjects covered and is intended to be used for educational and general information purposes only. It is not intended as medical advice or as a means to diagnose, treat, cure or prescribe for any particular condition or disease. You assume all responsibility for the treatment which may be undertaken as a result of the information on this site, or treatment recommended by any other party. While all care has been taken to ensure the accuracy of the information, no responsibility or liability is accepted, and no person should act in reliance on any statement contained in the information provided. All health ailments should be treated by a qualified health professional.

If you need help or advice, please email our naturopathic team with your health question.  Please allow 48 hours for a response.

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