Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, MD, FFARCSI

You may not be knowing it, but all of us have access to some important information regarding our health available right at our fingertips. Your fingernails can be a great window to your health and what condition your body is in right at this moment. From lung conditions to anemia, your fingernails can really tell you all you need to know about your health. In fact, the health of your fingernails is directly related to how your body is functioning. Your crooked, blackened, or chipped nails are some important indicators about your health. So what are the top fingernail signs and what do they indicate about your health? Read on to find out more about these critical signs.

What Do Your Nails Indicate?

The way your fingernails look is closely related to how well your body is functioning. Generally, nail health is a good indicator of whether you have a poor nutritional intake or if you suffer from poor digestion. Brittle and peeling nails are often some of the most common types of indicators your fingernails may be displaying. These symptoms are caused usually due to a poor diet, rather than having any underlying systemic disease.

It is important to note, though, that it is not necessary that all your fingernails will be indicative of any major health concerns. Usually, only one or two nails show signs of any nail abnormality.

Healthy nails should be having no discoloration and should be smooth to the touch. If there is something wrong with your health, then the texture and the color of your nails will change.

What Does a Change in Nail Texture Indicate About Your Health?

Brittle Nails

Having brittle nails is a common problem with many people. This can happen because of a dietary problem or if your hands are exposed to certain types of chemicals on a regular basis. The foundation of nails begins in the nail matrix. Nails form in the nail matrix, which is known to be the root of the nail. If your body starts to lack certain types of nutrients or if you are malnourished, then your body does not receive the correct 'material' for making good and healthy nails. This is why people who suffer from eating disorders have problems with their nails.

Brittle nails are also an indication of thyroid diseases or a sign of iron-deficiency anemia.

One of the common misconceptions that people have is that calcium has a role to play in maintaining the health of nails. However, to clarify, nails are actually made up of keratin, which is a protein. Therefore, if you want to solve the issue of brittle bones, increase your consumption of protein-rich foods.

Exposure to harsh chemicals also has a role to play in wreaking havoc on your nails and making them brittle. Even if you are eating all the right nutrients, continued exposure to chemicals removes and strip away the layer that holds the nails together. Even too much use of nail polish remover or detergent water can cause your nails to become brittle.

To solve the problem of brittle nails, ensure that you are eating a well-balanced diet that is high in protein. You should also avoid using too many harsh chemicals on your nails or exposing your nails to such harsh chemicals. You may think that using an acetone-free nail polish remover is a better option, but even this, with regular use, can make your nails brittle.

Soft or Weak Nails

Having soft or weak nails mean that they will break easily, or that they will bend before being snapped off. Soft nails can be a result of overexposure to chemicals such as cleaning fluids, detergents, nail treatments, and even nail polish remover. Even overexposure to too much moisture can soften and weaken nails.

The best remedy for this is to avoid getting such toxic and harsh chemicals on your nails. If you feel your nails have become weak, then give them a chance to recover by going without any nail polish. Weak nails can also be due to a deficiency of vitamin B, iron, fatty acids, or calcium. However, instead of starting an iron supplement without consulting a doctor, it is a better idea to begin a multivitamin that also includes the B vitamins and calcium.

Peeling of the Nails

This is generally a sign that there has been an external trauma caused to the nail itself. It can also be from pressing on the nail too firmly, trying to remove acrylic nail polish, and/or using your nail as a tool to either open a box or to do some other work. Nails are also known to start peeling if you have soaked your hands for too long in soapy water.

In order to figure out whether your nails are peeling due to an internal factor or an external factor, then take a look at your toenails. If your toenails are also peeling, the cause is likely to be internal, such as iron deficiency. If your toenails are not peeling and in good health, then it is likely that the reason is external and most likely can be chalked up to an injury.

If peeling happens due to internal reasons, then adding some extra iron to your diet by including baked potato skins, fortified cereals, red meat, and/or lentils, can solve the problem. You can also take a biotin supplement.

If the cause of peeling is external, then try to ensure your nails are moisturized. You can do so by applying lotion after any water-related activity. This will prevent your nails from drying out. Wearing protective gloves while cleaning or washing the dishes, will also help.

Ridges on Nails

As you get older, vertical ridges become more common in most people. It can be said that these are like the 'wrinkles' in the nail as you age. If you notice vertical ridges, then avoid filing the ridges smooth or buffing the nail to get rid of these ridges. This will only succeed in thinning out the nail.

However, if you notice horizontal ridges or depressions, known as Beau's lines, then this should be a cause of concern. These horizontal lines indicate that something has happened to the nail that caused it to stop growing temporarily.

These triggers may include chemotherapy, high fever, major surgery, car accident, a major stress to your system, or even a serious or prolonged illness. Even if you experience several back-to-back episodes of stress, you may still observe that your nails start showing Beau's lines.

If you are unable to think of what the cause for these deep horizontal ridges could be, then you could consult your doctor to find out more.

However, if you see vertical ridges on your nails, then these are typically just signs of aging and you can use a simple ridge filler to cover them up, instead of buffing.

Discoloration of Nails

If your nails change color, then it may be signs of some deeper problem. Let's see what different colored nails signify.

Yellow. Yellow nails are actually quite common and are caused either by an infection or due to a reaction from some cosmetic product that you have been using, for example, a new nail polish or nail polish remover. There is nothing to panic if you notice yellow nails as when new nails grow in, they become clear once again. There are also many natural treatments you can use for treating any infections, such as tea tree oil or vitamin E oil. You can also start a multivitamin to get rid of the yellow color.

However, if the color seems to persist even after you have tried all these remedies, then you should consult a doctor to rule out any serious underlying condition.

White Spots. This is also a very common problem. Having scattered white spots on your nails signifies that you have a zinc deficiency. These white spots generally start to appear around puberty. Some other causes of white spots on your nails could include:

  • Fungal infection
  • Allergic reaction
  • Injury to the nail

You can try taking around 30 milligrams of zinc every day for three months to help get rid of these white spots.

Conclusion

Some of the most common conditions that affect your nails are pitted nails caused by psoriasis, or weak and brittle nails, caused by hypothyroidism. However, if you notice any type of growth at the base of your nail or any other concerning changes, then you should consult your doctor at the earliest. Some of the more serious signs of nail disease may include:

  • Ridging
  • Pitting
  • Grooving - both longitudinal and transverse
  • Changes in nail surface texture and nail thickness
  • Discoloration

Eating a well-balanced diet will go a long way in ensuring that you have healthy nails. You can also start taking a multivitamin or a keratin supplement if you are concerned about your nails. Generally, minor issues with your nails are not a cause for concern and resolve by themselves within a week or two.

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD,FFARCSI

Pain Assist Inc.

Last Modified On: September 19, 2018

This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer

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