7 Nail Conditions That Are Linked to Serious Health Issues (and what to do about them)
If our eyes are the windows to our souls, our nails are the screen doors to our bodies. More than just cosmetic annoyances, brittle, ridged, or yellow fingernails and toenails can indicate nutrient deficiencies and health problems ranging from anemia to thyroid disease. “Nails suffer the most when we don’t treat our bodies well,” says Lisa Petty, a holistic nutritionist in Canada and author of Living Beauty (Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 2005). “When nutrients go into our bodies, the skin, hair, and nails get them last. So a nail problem can signal a problem in our bodies.”
Made of keratin protein, fingernails and toenails protect the ultra-sensitive skin at the end of our fingers and toes, known as the nail bed. Our nails are formed by nail matrices, which are collections of nerves, lymph vessels, and blood vessels protected by cuticles. Nails can grow in a variety of shapes based on individual genetics, but healthy nails share similar characteristics: They are smooth, not easily breakable, and translucent (the pink color comes from the network of tiny blood vessels underneath the nail plate). But if our nail matrices don’t get enough nutrients, the actual nail can become damaged, discolored, or just plain unsightly.
Fortunately, you can fix most nail problems with diet changes, vitamins, supplements, and simple maintenance. Here’s how to combat common nail woes and make your tattered talons healthy and strong.
Problem: Brittle or split nails
Causes: Lack of moisture or not enough of the B vitamin biotin
Solutions: Take 2,000 mcg of biotin daily, says Richard Eisen, MD, a dermatologist at South Shore Skin Center in Massachusetts, or nosh on biotin-rich cauliflower, lentils, and peanuts. Moisturize nails from the inside with 1,000 mg of fish oil per day that contains eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Keep them hydrated on the outside with twice-daily applications of a natural oil, like almond, and wear gloves when washing dishes to keep nails from drying out.