“Nails often reflect our general state of health. Changes in the nail, such as discoloration or thickening, can signal health problems including liver and kidney diseases, heart and lung conditions, anemia, and diabetes.”~ American Academy of Dermatology
Many of us look, trim, and – yes – bite on or chew our nails (please stop!) without giving them much thought. Per the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), nail health – just like skin health – is vital.
Let’s take a step back and ask a question: what are nails, exactly?
Wikipedia provides an excellent definition:
“A nail is a horn-like envelope covering the tips of the fingers and toes in most primates and a few other mammals…Fingernails and toenails are made of a tough protective protein called alpha-keratin.”
Keratin is the same protein products in your skin and hair.
Now that we’ve got the mini-physiology lesson out of the way let’s discuss six things that nails can reveal about your health.
Here’s what your nails say about your health:
1. Dry, Cracked or Brittle Nails
Dry, cracked or brittle nails is indicative of exposing your hands to frequent water submersion. If you’re a dishwasher, diver, fisherman, or swimmer, you’ve likely experienced this symptom on occasion.
It’s also worth mentioning that dry nails may reveal a Vitamin A, B, or C deficiency. Brittle nails may result from frequent use of nail polish remover or chemical exposure (from household cleaning products, for example.)
2. Parallel Ridges
Parallel ridging of the nails, known as ‘Beau’s lines,’ show an abnormality in nail growth. Beau’s lines may be a sign of diabetes, psoriasis, or a zinc deficiency. They can also be the product of nail trauma, or a high fever that sometimes accompanies a severe illness.
3. Puffy nail fold
If skin surrounding the nail cuticles are puffy and red, this is referred to as nail fold inflammation. Infection can cause nail fold inflammation, as can a connective tissue disorder such as lupus.
Clubbing occurs when the fingertips become engorged, and your nails curve downward. It’s common for the nails to appear almost sickly white, which is often representative of a sign of low oxygen in the blood. Clubbing has been associated with heart disease, inflammatory bowel disease, kidney disease, and lung disease.
Yellowing of nails is most commonly caused by a fungal infection. Per WebMD: “As the infection worsens, the nail bed may retract, and nails may thicken and crumble.” Rarely, yellow nails may indicate a more severe condition such as diabetes, lung disease, psoriasis, or thyroid disease.
6. Bluish nails
Nails – and sometimes, fingertips – that appear blue can be a serious sign; namely, that the body is not getting enough oxygen. Per WebMD, bluish nails may indicate a lung problem, such as emphysema, or some type of heart problem.
Caring for your nails
AAD gives the following seven recommendations for keeping nails healthy:
– Keep your nails clean and dry. This prevents bacteria from accumulating below the nail’s surface.
– Cut your nails correctly– straight across and rounded slightly in the center. Proper cutting will help keep the nail healthy and prevent ingrown nails.
– Soak your feet in warm salt water for 5 to 10 minutes. This will make the nails easier to properly trim (see above).
– Shoes should fit properly – not too snug or too loose. It helps to consult with an expert in determining proper fit, such as a podiatrist.
– Don’t bite your nails, as this can transfer infectious bacteria between your fingers and mouth. Nail biting can also damage the skin around your fingers, allowing infections to enter.
– Apply a moisturizer, especially after removing nail polish or any other product containing chemicals.
If you experience recurring nail problems, it is advisable to seek advice from a medical specialist. Dermatologists specialize in diagnosis and treatment of skin, nails, and hair disorders.