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Skin Care

Common Nail Problems

Typically, we don't give our finger and toe nails much thought unless there's an obvious problem or they need to be trimmed.  We tend to take them for granted, not realizing their purpose and ability to reveal information about our health.  I've been asked by several members what certain things like white spots on nails mean, and having had them myself, decided to look into nail problems and what they represent.

Nails play an important role in protecting our nerve-rich fingertips and toe tips from injury and sensitivity.  They are made of a type protein called keratin, whose structure makes nails very hard and tough, much like animal claws.  The nail bed is the skin on top of the finger and toe that's located under the nail, and is where the nail grows out from.  The nail bed should be nice and pink because of its rich blood supply.  Nails normally grow up to 1/20 inch or 1.2 millimeters a week.  Under typical conditions, it takes a nail approximately seven months to re-grow if it is damaged and comes off.  Wake up... I can hear you snoring!

Okay, now that we know the basics of nails and their purpose, let's talk about nail abnormalities.  Changes in nail appearance and condition often indicates there's some sort of problem or issue with our health; unless there's been an injury to the nail.  Assuming the nail has not experienced any trauma, like being slammed in a car door or hit with a hammer, imperfections can be telling of what's going on inside us.  Although there are no guarantees our interpretations are correct, there's enough science behind nail analysis that it's worth paying attention to what nutritionists and wellness practitioners have to say.

Here's a list of the most common nail abnormalities and what they "supposedly" mean. Keep in mind there's controversy to their interpretations, but I feel my information sources are pretty reliable.

  • White spots are due to a zinc deficiency.  Zinc is an essential mineral needed for proper immune function, wound healing, acne control, and collagen formation to name a few.  Oh, yeah, I almost forgot... and it's necessary for two very important male issues: prostate health and reproductive organ growth.  Organ growth?!  I trust we will all be purchasing zinc in the near future!  Seriously, zinc is a vital nutrient we need whether we see white spots or not.
  • White bands across the nails indicate a protein deficiency.  Low protein intake, along with low vitamin C, and the B vitamin, folic acid, also often result in hangnails.  Hangnails are small pieces of skin that have separated from the cuticle, which is the skin surrounding the nail.  Although hangnails are usually blamed on dry cuticles, according to many nutritionists, the above reasons are believed to be the true underlying cause.
  • Horizontal or vertical ridges can be caused from a low level of B vitamins, which are often accompanied with fragile, weak nails.
  • Vitamins A and D, and calcium are necessary to keep nails from drying out and becoming brittle.
  • Darkened nails whose tips are very rounded or curved need vitamin B12.  These nails are typically extremely dry and brittle, also.  Low B12 intake can especially be a problem with vegetarians and vegans, but can occur with anyone whose diet is lacking.
  • Nails that "spoon" and have a concave shape like a spoon, need iron.  Vertical ridges can also mean there's a need for iron – something most men don't think about, since we're told it's only a women's issue because of their monthly menstrual blood loss.  However, new evidence says men should make sure they get enough iron, too, especially if he's an athlete; particularly a runner.  I mentioned men and iron in an earlier article, and said not to take iron supplements unless you know there's a need (based on the accuracy of a blood test), since too much iron can cause serious health problems.  Assuming you don't need iron supplementation, I recommend your diet includes iron rich foods, which should give most of us what we need.
  • Insufficient hydrochloric acid (HCl) or stomach acid can cause nail splitting.  Usually the splits are vertical; however, splits that seem to separate the nail tips into different layers can be a sign of low stomach acid, also.  If you suffer from low hydrochloric acid, you'll usually have symptoms of indigestion.  In the states, indigestion is blamed on too much stomach acid, so antacids are recommended.  Newer schools of thought suggest we don't have enough stomach acid, and as a result can't digest our food, which causes indigestion.  Symptoms for either are the same, so try different remedies and see which gives relief.  However, if your nails split, you might want to consider low HCl as the problem.
  • Healthy bacteria, or probiotics, are needed for optimal health, including nail health.  Often, nail fungus is due to low levels of these very important and life sustaining bacteria.  If you have nail fungus on either your fingers or toes, you'll need to treat it with an antifungal in order to get rid of it.  In addition to an antifungal, take probiotics, or eat lots of fermented foods like kefir, yogurt and sauerkraut to give your body the bacteria it needs.


There are many more nail disorders that can indicate illness and disease.  I've listed the most common issues that are based on nutritional deficiencies, which can be easily corrected by improving your diet and/or taking supplements, including supplements for nails.  Yes, there are such supplements that are marketed for nails.  If you have other nail problems and can't seem to find the cause, get in touch and I'll try to find the answer.

Keeping your nails healthy, as well as groomed, is imperative to both our health an image.  What are your nails saying about you?

by Aaron Marino

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