Nails are hard little shields that protect your fingers and toes from injury and infection. But did you know, that your nails are also a reflection of your health?
Hormonal: While changes in nail appearance such as brittle nails can occur for a variety of reasons, the most likely cause for women of menopausal age is hormone fluctuation, particularly estrogen. One of the fundamental causes of weak or brittle nails is dehydration. Estrogen plays a key role in body water regulation and water retention. When a woman’s body contains higher levels of estrogen, her overall body water levels will be higher. But when estrogen levels are lower, this can lead to dehydration which manifests itself in such signs as dry, cracked, brittle nails. You may think you drink enough water, but if you’re experiencing brittle nails, you may be dehydrated.
Low Thyroid: (Hypothyroidism) Brittle nails are sometimes a sign of a more serious illness. One of the most common causes of brittle and breaking nails is low thyroid, also called hypothyroidism. In hypothyroidism, your body does not produce enough of the thyroid hormone, leading to symptoms such as brittle nails. People with under-active thyroid often notice soft nail beds, nail ridges, and a lightening or disappearance of the white, crescent-shaped area of the nail base.
Inadequate Protein Intake: Your nails are made up of a fibrous protein called keratin and if you’re not consuming enough protein, you’re more likely to experience breaking nails. Load up on beans, lentils, fish, poultry, eggs, lean meats, quinoa, legumes, chickpeas, tempeh, tofu, edamame, leafy greens, hemp, chia seeds and nuts.
Acid Body pH: For the body to function at its best, your pH needs to stay in the alkaline range. A diet filled with processed carbohydrates, grains and sugars, as well as a high alcohol and soda intake can all contribute to a high acid pH. When your body pH is highly acidic, it can lead to serious health problems ranging from gastritis to weak, brittle nails and more.
Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies: If your nails are brittle, dry, dull and weak, this is a sign that essential vitamins and minerals may be missing from your diet. Because our health is reflected from the inside out, a balanced diet that focuses on nutrients that enrich the nails is an important key in preventing and repairing dry, brittle nails. Nails are composed of keratin, the same protein found in the hair and skin. Nails require not only this protein, but key vitamins such as the B-complex (especially biotin), C, A, E (alpha tocopherol) and D. Healthy nails also require important minerals such as calcium, zinc, iodine, silicon, copper, selenium and iron.
Helpful Tips for Healthy Nails:
If you are experiencing dry, brittle nails that seem to break or chip easily, eliminate processed foods from your diet and load up on lots of nutrient-rich vegetables and fruit, whole grains, protein-rich lean meats, beans, and legumes.
Insufficient amounts of zinc can have a noticeable impact on nails and cause them to become brittle. Eating foods rich in zinc, such as seafood (oysters and crabs in particular) will not only help brittle nails regain their health, but will also act as a boost for your whole immune system. Zinc can also be found in mushrooms, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, beans, yogurt, meat, poultry, brazil nuts, cashews and almonds.
Iron is necessary in order for your body to produce red blood cells. With over half of your body’s iron supply being found in the blood, a deficiency of iron can cause many health problems, like the development of concave-shaped and brittle nails. Iron deficiency can be combated by increasing its absorption through a range of natural sources. Try eating dried fruits, such as raisins, beans, cooked lentils, lima beans, chickpeas, navy beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, black-eyed peas, and dark leafy vegetables. Green vegetables, including spinach, collard and turnip greens should be part of a healthy diet to maintain your nails. You can also find iron in red meat, turkey, oysters, molasses, prune juice, tofu and egg yolks.
Vitamin C is a well known vitamin, and one that cannot be produced by your body; it must be found through food. Vitamin C deficiency can result in brittle nails and slow the growth of both your hair and fingernails. Vitamin C is essential to the production of collagen, a substance that the body uses to make hair and fingernails. Since the body cannot produce vitamin C, in order to avoid a deficiency, it is important you consume foods that contain it, like berries, kiwi, tomatoes, peppers, citrus fruits, and green vegetables such as spinach and asparagus.
Biotin, part of the vitamin B family, is essential for maintaining fingernail health. The chance of developing a vitamin B deficiency increases as you age, and it can lead to dry, brittle nails. Biotin helps the rest of the B-complex vitamins work together to maintain strong, shiny fingernails. One of the best ways to avoid a vitamin B deficiency is to consume nuts, whole grains, legumes, avocado, organic organ meats and eggs.
Using natural oils on your nails can help nourish them from the outside.
Coconut oil is one of the healthiest oils on the planet. It is loaded with antioxidants that fight free radicals and prevent premature aging. Massage some coconut oil onto your nails and let the nutrients sink in.
To moisturize, protect, and strengthen your nails, argan oil is another option. Mix equal parts argan oil and fresh-squeezed lemon juice and soak for 15 minutes.
Pure vitamin E oil can help rejuvenate breaking nails. For best results, buy a bottle of pure vitamin E capsules, prick the gelatin capsule with a pin, and rub the oil directly on your nails.
If you already follow a healthy, varied diet, stay well hydrated, use natural oils and still experience nail issues, consult your doctor. Sometimes nail problems can be a symptom of a more serious underlying disease.