What Your Nails Are Telling You About Your Health - Do You Have Healthy Nails?
Updated: Jun 23, 2019
Whilst I never use one method to determine a problem I have found over the last 18 years that checking out your nail health, their appearance, shape and their quality/strength can highlight some interesting information that you might not have otherwise considered.
For instance vertical ridges or white spots on your nails are usually harmless
If your nails curve upward with a spoon-like appearance it may be due to iron-deficiency anemia, hemochromatosis (excess iron absorption), heart disease, or hypothyroidism
Black streaks in your nails may be due to melanoma skin cancer.
Your nails may yellow with age or due to the use of acrylic nails or nail polish. Smoking can also stain nails a yellowish hue.
If your nails are thick, crumbly, and yellow, a fungal infection could be to blame.
Less often, yellow nails may be related to thyroid disease, diabetes, psoriasis, or respiratory disease (such as chronic bronchitis).
Dry, cracked or brittle nails may be the result of lifestyle factors such as over washing or over exposure to water (washing dishes, swimming, etc.), use nail polish remover frequently, exposure to chemicals (such as cleaning products) often, or living in a region with low humidity.
Cracking and splitting can also be caused by a fungal infection or thyroid disease, particularly hypothyroidism.
Brittle nails may also be due to a deficiency in vitamins A and C or the B vitamin biotin.
Clubbing of the nails occurs when your fingertips become enlarged and the nail becomes curved downward. It can be a sign of low oxygen in your blood and is associated with lung disease. Clubbing can also be related to liver or kidney disease, heart disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and AIDS.
Small white spots on nails
Small white spots on your nails are usually the result of nail trauma. They're not cause for concern and will fade or grow out on their own. Less commonly, white spots that do not go away could be due to a fungal infection.
Horizontal ridges on nails
Horizontal ridges may also be due to trauma or a serious illness with a high fever (such as from scarlet fever or pneumonia). John Anthony, M.D., a dermatologist at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, explained the nail’s response this way:
"This (nail changes), is typically the result of direct trauma to the nail or a more serious illness, in which case you'll see it on more than one nail at a time … Your body is literally saying, 'I've got better things to do than make nails' and pauses their growth."
Horizontal ridges, also known as Beau's lines, may also be due to psoriasis, uncontrolled diabetes, circulatory disease, or severe zinc deficiency. Another type of horizontal line is known as Mees' lines, which are horizontal discolorations that may be due to arsenic poisoning, Hodgkin's disease, malaria, leprosy, or carbon monoxide poisoning.
Vertical ridges on nails
Vertical ridges are typically a normal sign of aging and are not a cause for concern. They may become more prominent as you get older. In some cases, nail ridges may be due to nutrient deficiencies such as vitamin B12 and magnesium.
Nails that curve upwards at the edges
Nails that curve upward at the edges, taking on a spoon-like appearance, may be a sign of iron-deficiency anemia, hemochromatosis (excess iron absorption), heart disease, or hypothyroidism.
Nails with pits and dents
If your nails have multiple pits or dents, it's often a sign of psoriasis. Nail pitting may also be due to connective tissue disorders (including Reiter's syndrome) or alopecia areata, an autoimmune disease that causes hair loss.
Black streaks on nails
Black streaks or painful growths on your nail warrant an immediate trip to your physician, as they may be due to melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.
If your nails are mostly white with a narrow pink strip at the top, known as Terry's nails, it could be a sign of liver disease, congestive heart failure, kidney failure, or diabetes. Sometimes Terry's nails may also be due to aging.
If you eat a balanced, whole-food diet like the one described in my nutrition plan, you're probably giving your body more-than-adequate amounts of the vitamins and minerals it needs to function. If not (and this applies to the majority of the U.S. population), there's a good chance your body is lacking in important nutrients. Not only can this lead to chronic diseases, but your nail (and hair and skin) health will also suffer.
Foods for healthy nails
Healthy sources of protein, like free-range eggs, and grass-fed meat, are important. (Grass-fed beef is also a good source of zinc, which is necessary for making proteins like those found in your nails). Antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals found in leafy greens, berries, and other whole foods will also benefit your nail health. Biotin, vitamin B7, is one example.
Biotin for your hair and nails
Your body needs biotin for metabolizing fats, carbohydrates, and amino acids, but it's most well known for its role in strengthening your hair and nails. Biotin may play a role in building keratin, which makes up your nails. Egg yolks from organic, free-range eggs are one of the best sources of biotin. Animal-based omega-3 fats are also important. Most western cultures eat too many inflammatory omega-6 fats (think vegetables oils) and too few anti-inflammatory omega-3s, setting the stage for health problems like depression, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and diabetes, just to name a few. Inflammation may also interfere with nail development.
How much omega-3 and omega-6 fats do I need?
The ideal ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats is 1:1, but the typical Western diet is between 1:20 and 1:50. Brittle or soft nails are a common signs that your omega-3 to omega-6 ratio may be out of balance. Try cutting back on vegetable oils and eating more animal-based omega-3s from krill oil, sardines, or anchovies.
Check out this list below to see what your nails might be saying about your health and then consider in your diet where you can make changes to improve your nails, skin and overall health.
https://www.prevention.com/health/a20468991/nail-health-signs/ viewed June 2019
Rao, Sudhakar et al. “Study of nail changes and nail disorders in the elderly.” Indian journal of dermatology vol. 56,5 (2011): 603-6. doi:10.4103/0019-5154.87174
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/11/071109194053.htm viewed June 2019
Stamatis Gregoriou, MD, et al, 2008. “Nail disorders and systemic disease: What the nails tell us”, The Journal of Family Practice. Vol 57, Number 8 August 2008