HEALTH: Your Nails can Offer Clues About Your Health

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By Dr. Lydia

Your fingernails can give you information about your health. Do you know what to look for? Any change in your finger or toenails warrants further attention, as it can be a sign of an underlying health problem.

Nails that once were strong and now crack, split or break can be the result of an underlying nutritional deficiency. Ensure that you are getting enough protein and iron, for starters, and consider a multivitamin with silica. Nails grow at 3mm per month, so you will have to be patient to see changes in the quality of your nails.

Hypothyroidism and anemia can also weaken the nails. A simple blood test done with your doctor or naturopath can determine whether this is the underlying cause of your brittle nails. Pale nails with a white nail bed can also be a sign of iron deficiency anemia. Low blood iron levels can cause the nails to spoon, meaning that the outside edges of the nail start lifting off of the nail bed.

In my practice I commonly see toenails that are yellow, thick and crumbling. These types of unsightly toenails are usually caused by a fungal infection. Keeping your feet cooped up in sweaty socks and shoes can worsen this condition. Look for a product called Onypen from your local health food store to treat mild cases of nail fungus. Tea tree oil is naturally antifungal, but needs to be applied daily as the diseased nail grows out. There is some anecdotal evidence that Vicks VapoRub and vinegar soaks can also disinfect an infected toenail. If the condition persists your doctor can prescribe an antifungal polish.

White marks in the nails are usually the result of trauma to the nail bed. It can take up to six weeks for the injured nail to grow out. By the time it finally grows out, you might have forgotten about slamming your finger in the cupboard door. This is not a cause for concern, nor is it a sign of nutrient deficiency.

If nails are looking blue this can be a sign of low hemoglobin and poor circulation. A condition calls Reynaud’s disease causes circulation to be temporarily restricted to the fingertips in cold weather causing nails to temporarily appear blue. Nails that are bulbous at the fingertips are referred to as clubbed nails. Clubbing can occur with serious heart and lung problems and definitely warrants a thorough check-up.

Strong, smooth nails are best maintained with a healthy, nutrient rich diet. Don’t cover up funky nails with polish or hide them away in gloves and shoes. Speak to your health care provider if you notice a change in your finger or toenails.

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