What Your Nails Reveal About Your Health
Do You Have a Nail Problem That Just Won't Go Away?
Nails are fascinating appendages of the skin. Most of the time, however, we take them for granted and use them as a painting canvas and a way to accessorise an outfit.
If you regularly check the state of your nails, really paying attention to how they look (do you notice spots, vertical ridges, discolorations?) you might get clear clues about what's going on inside your body. Sounds too weird to be true? Read the rest of this article to increase your nail-reading skills and reveal a great deal about your inner health.
7 Fascinating Facts About Nails
Bet you didn't know that....
1. Your nails grow about 3 millimeters (1/8 inch) each month.
2. It takes between 4 and 6 months for a fingernail to fully regrow.
3. Nails grow faster during pregnancy.
4. Nails stop growing after death.
5. Nails on your writing hand grow quicker than those on your other hand, because writing stimulates blood flow to the nail.
6. Nails grow faster in warm climates than in cold ones.
7. Men have faster growing finger nails than women.
Sign 1: Vertical Ridges
SUPERFICIAL VERTICAL RIDGES
If you've always had superficial vertical ridges on your nails, there's probably nothing to worry about. In general, vertical ridges are a harmless condition. Most people get them as they grow older; they are a natural sign of ageing.
In some cases, however, lack of moisture may be the cause of these ridges.
Drink more water, at least 1.5 liters a day. When properly hydrated, the nail plate (the hard part of your finger nail) will become smoother. You can also use nail polish and a special file to make your nails look smoother and shinier.
DEEP VERTICAL RIDGES
When the vertical ridges are deeper, this could indicate harmless damage to the root of your nail or health problems like arthritis or psoriasis. There could also be decreased blood flow to the base of the nail.
When doing chores, protect your nails by wearing gloves. Rub cream on your nails on a regular basis. If the ridges don't disappear, see your doctor for advice.
Sign 2: White Spots
White spots on the nails are very common. It is a myth that these spots indicate calcium deficiency or zinc deficiency.
Most of the time, white spots are a sign of injury to the matrix (=base) of your nails. By the time you notice the white spots (usually later than 5 weeks after the injury) you've probably forgotten about knocking your fingers.
In other cases, white spots on the fingernails are due to minor trauma during a manicure, when excessive pressure is put on the base of the nails.
White spots also can be a sign of an allergic reaction to nail products such as polish or nail hardeners.
The white spots will eventually grow out. Be patient because it can take up to 7 months for the spots to disappear.
Going for a manicure? Rub some olive oil on your nails so they can better withstand pressure.
Sign 3: Discolorations
Nails that turn completely white, can be indicative of liver disease, but in that case you'd probably have more symptoms than just white fingernails.
Do you have yellowy-white, thickened nails? If so, you could have a fungal infection which is spreading from the tip or side of the nail backwards. To diagnose this problem, nail clippings are sent to the laboratory to confirm the fungal infection. Your doctor may prescribe you medications to resolve the infection.
A nail that turns brown may be associated with a melanoma (skin cancer). If this happens, call a dermatologist immediately
A black nail (subungual haematoma) is very common. It occurs due to acute trauma, most commonly after jamming a finger in a door or when banging the hammer on a fingernail instead of on a metal one. A bruise forms under the nail, turning it black. In time, the bruise will disappear. In some cases, the nail will come off and gradually grow back.
When the pressure under the nail is painful, making a small hole in the nail can help. A doctor or chiropodist can do this.
Nicotine also stains the nails. To remove nicotine stains, soak your nails in half a cup of water mixed with lemon juice for 15 minutes.
Do You Want Healthy, Strong Nails?
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Sign 4: Concave Nails
If you have 'spoon'-shaped concave nails, your diet could be lacking in iron. This condition is called koilonychia and refers to abnormally thin nails which have lost their convexity.
It is a sign of iron-deficiency anemia.
Your doctor will perform a haemoglobin blood test to confirm this condition.
To give you an indication: women need 14mg of iron a day and men 8.7mg. Good sources are offal and red meat.
To see what a concave nail looks like, click here.
Sign 5: Brittle Nails
Brittle fingernails are very common, occurring in about 1 in 5 people. Nails usually break or peel off in horizontal layers.
Brittleness may be caused by:
- repeatedly wetting and drying the nails
- repeated exposure to harsh detergents
- exposure to harsh solvents, for instance those in nail polish remover.
It may be worth wearing protective gloves when washing dishes and doing other chores. Massage your nails once a day with olive oil. And with regard to nail polish remover, choose a gentle brand that is kind to your nails.
In more serious cases, nail brittleness may be caused by an underlying medical condition, such as hypothyroidism (low thyroid), Raynaud's disease or even lung conditions. Other possible conditions associated with brittle nails are psoriasis, lichen planus, endocrine disorders, tuberculosis, Sjogren's syndrome, and malnutrition.
Selenium overdose can also cause brittle nails.
"In a controlled trial, using 2.5 mg of biotin (vitamin B7) per day increased nail thickness by 25%."
Sign 6: Deep Horizontal Ridges
Horizontal ridges that run across the width of your nails are usually caused by a temporary disturbance in growth.
There are various external factors that influence the formation and growth of a new nail, including the weather, pregnancy, age, stress and illness. Nails grow faster when we are young, pregnant or during warmer weather. Illness tends to slow growth, and affects the laying down of new nail so that you are left with a temporary deformity that moves up the nail as it grows.
Infections of the digestive tract, as well as influenza and measles can also cause horizontal ridges on the nails. Rarely, such ridges indicate jaundice or toxic poisoning.
If deep horizontal ridges don't disappear, make an appointment with an internist.
Sign 7: Clubbing (=Painless Swelling Around The End Of The Nails)
When there is an unnatural angle between your nail and its cuticle, you have what is called "clubbing". In some people, clubbing is normal. However, if it gradually appears, it may point to a serious underlying disease such as cirrhosis of the liver or lung cancer.
A simple way to check for clubbing is to hold your finger in front of you, horizontally, and look at the side of the nail. It should rise slightly as it leaves the cuticle and heads towards the fingertip. Click here to see a picture of clubbed nails.
5 Nail Care Tips
Follow these simple guidelines to help your nails look their best:
1. Don't bite or pick at your nails or cuticles. Even a small cut alongside the nail can cause an infection.
2. When spending a lot of time in water (with or without detergent), protect your fingernails with cotton-lined rubber gloves.
3. Trim your fingernails and clean under the nails regularly.
4. Never tear off hangnails, as doing so can result in ripping living tissue. Instead clip hangnails off while leaving a slight angle outward.
5. Moisturize your nails frequently. Rub some lotion into your nails when moisturizing your hands. Also make sure to apply moisturizer after removing fingernail polish.
What Kind of Nail File Is Best?
Glass, Emery Board or Metal Nail File?
To shape the edges of your nails, you can choose from three types of nail files:
1.Emery board nail files. Emery board is made of cardboard covered with emery, a very hard mineral. Emery boards are pretty cheap and disposable. You'll often find three or four to a pack in different surfaces. Use the roughest ones to do heavy filing and smooth surfaces for only minor adjustments
2. Metal files. Metal files are also coated with a very hard mineral. They will last longer than emery boards but can be too hard on your nails.
3.Glass files. Glass files are the most expensive ones. They are used by manucurists and have a finer surface than metal or emery board files. Their surface is much finer than that of an emery board or a metal nail file and they will better prevent your nails from splitting and peeling.