What are your nails trying to tell you? Good nutrition benefits every part of the body and deficiencies can lead to changes in the skin, hair and nails. The nails are particularly interesting to observe, and can give a Nutritional Therapist valuable clues to consider when creating a treatment plan. Changes in the nails which do not respond to dietary correction may be linked to underlying health conditions such as diabetes, circulatory diseases and hypothyroidism - these would need further investigation by a GP.
Nail structure and growth
Healthy individuals can expect their nails to grow about 3-4mm each month, although this may be reduced by poor nutrition, medications, aging and chronic disease.
Nails are made from the protein keratin, and eating adequate amounts of good quality protein is essential for healthy nail growth. The highest quality proteins come from foods which contain all the essential amino acids in good proportions, such eggs, meat and fish. Vegetable sources are generally of lower quality than animal sources; however, if combined in the right way a high quality protein meal can be created – for example by eating beans together with rice.
Biotin helps to ‘build’ keratin so it is important to have good levels of this vitamin, which is found widely in foods such as nuts, seeds, legumes, egg yolks and root vegetables. A common cause of weak nails is a low-fat diet, because essential fatty acids keep the nails supple and so less likely to break. Good sources of essential fats include oily fish, pumpkin seeds, avocado and hemp oil. Deficiencies of other nutrients such as iron, calcium, and vitamins A and C can also make nails brittle and easily split, meaning they never reach their full potential.
Observing colour, shape and texture
The following observations of the nails may indicate nutritional deficiencies. It is important to remember that a Nutritional Therapist will never make an assessment based on one factor alone – these observations will be taken into account alongside other symptoms to determine a suitable treatment plan.
- Grey/brown discolouration: Vitamin B12
- Pale nail beds: Iron deficiency anaemia
- Pink/red nails: General malnutrition
- White flecks: Zinc or Vitamin B6
- Excessively dry nails: Vitamin B12
- Spoon shaped nails (Koilonychias): Iron or protein (but can also indicate hypothyroidism)
- Central groove: Iron
- Central ridge: Iron, folic acid or protein
- Transverse ridges: Zinc
- Vertical ridges: Vitamin B12 or Magnesium (although these ridges are also a sign of aging)
If you notice changes to the colour, shape or texture of your nails with no obvious reason, consider a consultation with a holistic Nutritional Therapist who can help to identify the underlying cause. If you are interested in studying the general principles of good nutrition, a list of available Nutrition Courses can be found here.