The appearance of your nails can be an indicator of underlying health issues. Nail markings and deformities can be signs of bigger problems, such as nutritional deficiencies.
A healthy diet and some food supplements may help to improve general health issues that are displayed by the nails.
What should healthy nails look like?
Healthy nails should be white in colour, with a smooth surface. The nail beds (the skin underneath the nail) should be pink. Discolouration or marks on the nails can be caused by a range of factors.
Deformities and markings
Pitted nails (small depressions in the nails)
A rippled or pitted surface on the nails could be an early sign of psoriasis or inflammatory arthritis. It may also be a pointer to a lack of protein, or deficiencies in vitamin C or folic acid.
Steps to take: Try adding more fruit and vegetables to your diet. Broccoli, peppers, and citrus fruits are all good sources of vitamin C. Folic acid can be found in leafy green vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, and asparagus. Folic acid supplements can also be taken to boost levels.
Nails that are soft and appear to be scooped are known as spoon nails. The depression in the nail is normally big enough to hold a drop of liquid. This can be a sign of iron deficiency anaemia, while a vitamin B2 deficiency can also cause spoon nails.
Steps to take: Increase iron intake. Iron can be found in liver, meat, and beans, as well as in nutritional iron supplements. Milk, rice, and eggs provide a source of vitamin B2.
Cracked or peeling nails
Cracked nails caused by dryness and brittleness have been connected to thyroid problems, and may also be caused by insufficient stomach acid. If the cracking is accompanied by a yellow colour, it is more likely to be caused by a fungal infection. Deficiencies in vitamin A and calcium can also contribute to cracking and splitting of the nails.
Steps to take: The best food source of calcium is dairy products, though people who are dairy intolerant or watching their dairy intake may wish to take a supplement in order to get their recommended level. Leafy green vegetables also provide calcium. Cheese, yoghurt, and eggs provide levels of vitamin A, but can often be quite fattening. A cod liver oil supplement also provides excellent levels of vitamin A.
Horizontal ridges that run the width of the nail may be caused by injury, or by thyroid problems. Severe stress may also be a cause, while a deficiency in B vitamins may be responsible.Vertical ridges (running the length of the nail) can be an indication that the body is not absorbing nutrients properly, or that you may be suffering from a kidney problem. An iron deficiency may also cause vertical ridges.
Steps to take: Eating from all of the food groups should provide the body with all of the B vitamins, but B vitamin deficiency is common in the UK. Supplementing with Vitamin B Complex can help to overcome this.
White marks on the nails may be caused by an injury such as a bang to the nail. White marks may also be an indication that you are deficient in zinc, an important mineral for immunity and skin, or calcium, which is vital for bone health.
Steps to take: Zinc can be found in meat, shellfish, and dairy products. However, some diets do not provide enough, so a zinc supplement can help to top up levels that are deficient.
Bitten or gnawed nails
Though it may be nothing more than habit, nail biting can be a sign of anxiety and stress. It has also been linked to obsessive compulsive disorder. If you are unable to stop biting, it may be beneficial to see your doctor.
What are your nails telling you about your health?