A host of health issues can cause nail problems. Learn what your nails may be saying about you!
Having beautiful, well-kept nails can make us feel well groomed and polished. Conversely, when they’re damaged, splitting, peeling, or surrounded by dry cuticles, our nails can become a nearly compulsive preoccupation. This may be for good reason: the state of our fingernails is a marker of health.
In fact, checking our nails should be part of a total health examination as nails display many internal indications. The state of our nails can be linked to circulatory issues, nutritional deficiencies, and a variety of systemic conditions. For those who want to take matters into their own hands, here’s a guide to reading your nails and naturally maintaining them.
Weak and brittle nails
Splitting, breaking, or peeling results from weak, brittle nails that are vulnerable to trauma. So, what causes this? Mineral deficiencies are often the source of fingernail fragility. Calcium, iron, and magnesium have been specifically linked to nail softness and peeling.
However, a lack of minerals isn’t the only consideration. Soft nails can also be compromised by low levels of vitamins A and D. Either way, if you have splitting fingernails, you may want to have your nutrient levels checked by a health care practitioner.
When examining your body and nails, a health care practitioner may be able to find other conditions. Weak nails have been associated with osteoporosis. Health researchers have also studied how nail assessment can provide a preliminary screening for bone density.
What colour says
Yellowing nails stem from a variety of causes—some that are even our own doing. Polishing our nails can make them turn yellow over time. As polish pigments seep into the pores of the nail plate, discoloration sets in. There’s a simple fix: take a break from lacquer and go au naturel!
Yellow nails can also be a sign of deeper problems. Yellowing is seen in pulmonary conditions and is a common finding in those with diabetes. Nonetheless, nutrition can help in nail care. While vitamin E deficiency does not cause yellowing, topical and oral supplementation has been found to be a beneficial treatment.
Pale nails can result from malnutrition or a blood condition such as low blood iron and associated anemia. Because anemia is a condition that results in a low red blood cell count, it’s no wonder that our nail beds show an absence of redness.
Another cause of pale nails is malnutrition, most notably low levels of selenium. While not a cure for the underlying problem, massaging nails daily with a circulation-stimulating oil, such as castor oil, encourages local blood flow and red blood cell perfusion (blood delivery to a capillary bed).
Lines and spots
Finding lines on our nails is not uncommon but can indicate a number of nutritional deficiencies.
Double white lines on the fingernails are called “Muehrcke’s nails.” They’ve been linked to zinc deficiency and hypoalbuminemia, a lack of the protein albumin in the blood.
Horizontal white lines are known as “transverse leukonychia” and can be attributed to a lack of calcium. Deeper grooves that run along the nails in the same direction can be caused by protein deficiency.
So, if your nails are showing obvious lines or ridges, you may want to consult your health care practitioner to explore possible nutritional insufficiencies or absorption problems.
If you find white dots or knicks on your nails, it could be from a wee bit of trauma, the occasional little knock or hit to the nail plate. However, if these marks are chronic and multiple, it could be a sign of zinc deficiency. If you also suffer from psoriasis, white spots could be this condition expressing itself through the nails.
Bumps and pits
Nail texture and deformities are not only an issue of aesthetics but also of possible internal imbalances. Pit marks, like aforementioned white spots, can be caused by psoriasis.
This deformity can be caused by iodine deficiency and its associated hypothyroidism, gastrointestinal problems such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, or cardiovascular and liver diseases. Clubbing occurs when the tip of the finger enlarges and the nail curves around the fingertip.
Biotin (vitamin B7) deficiency is another common cause of misshapen brittle nails. In fact, whether the root cause or not, most nail texture irregularities have been found to be improved by two to three months of biotin supplementation.
A major portion of nail care involves protecting our nails from unnecessary trauma. For instance, excessive buffing can enhance nail fragility, so avoiding this is a protective measure.
Manicure dos and don’ts
While manicures are helpful to maintain clean, well-kept nails, treatments must be done with skin and nail health in mind.
Make sure your manicurist doesn’t cut your cuticles. Cuticle cutting encourages the formation of hangnails, which can be very uncomfortable and/or painful.
Stay away from artificial nails; they’re incredibly damaging to the real nails underneath them.
Only visit spas or nail bars that are vigilant about disinfection. The sanitization of all soaking bowls and tubs is critical to avoid contracting infections.
The at-home mani
1. Soak nails in a bowl of lukewarm water for 2 to 5 minutes. For extra therapy, spike your water with lavender or thyme oil, as they’re both antifungal and have wonderful fragrances.
2. Pat hands dry, then clip nails. Clipping when nails are softened prevents nail splitting.
3. File nails softly and in one direction only to avoid nail breakage.
4. Apply a natural body lotion to nail beds and cuticles. Let this absorb and soften cuticles for 5 minutes before wiping off with a hand towel.
5. With a wood or metal cuticle pusher or stick, push cuticles back with gentle pressure.
6. Slather hands in a natural oil, such as castor or coconut, paying special attention to the nails and surrounding skin.
7. Pat off excess and enjoy nourished, pampered hands!
Did you know?
- It takes six to nine months to completely regrow a nail.
- A fingernail provides a living record of the last six months of an adult’s medical history.