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When was the last time you took a close look at your fingernails? Did you know that nail health is actually a really good indicator of overall health? Nails are primarily comprised of an important protein called alpha-keratin which helps to establish the first protective barrier of the body.
Changes in the appearance of your nails can tell you a lot about what is happening internally and there are some abnormalities, such as discolouration, which are particularly important to look out for.
The colouring of your nails can indicate some health concerns, with discoloured nails sometimes being a sign of certain imbalances within the body. Not all nail irregularities have serious causes though and many are often harmless.
Ideally, you will find that your nails are white. However, a lack of oxygen to your fingers can sometimes show itself by giving you blue or pale fingertips, which may be caused by anaemia (low iron or low haemoglobin in the blood) or by poor circulation and decreased blood flow.
Studies have shown that nail health can also indicate some heart and lung problems which are sometimes associated with bluish nails.1 While having blue nails is certainly something you should seek an opinion on from a doctor, they are typically only a cause for concern if the condition is permanent. In cold weather in particular, it is perfectly normal for hands to sometimes turn blue but the colour should return to normal once your hands have warmed up.
A protein or zinc deficiency can sometimes show itself through horizontal white lines across your nail beds; also known of as Muehrcke’s lines. A zinc deficiency may also give you scattered white spots over the fingernails. Nails can show these changes and not necessarily be any cause for alarm, as other possible causes include allergic reaction, fungal infection, or simply an injury or trauma to the nail.
Studies have shown that certain internal conditions can sometimes affect your nail health, presenting as large, white half-moon discoloration. If the nail is white with a reddish-pink to brown part, further studies suggest that this can indicate diabetes or an issue with the kidneys.2
Yellowish nails are relatively common and are usually caused by an infection or a reaction from a product such as nail polish1 or from exposure to a product such as nicotine. Sometimes, a fungal infection3 can also give you yellow fingernails.
It is not just the colour of your nails, but also the texture of your nails that can be an indicator of your health. Your fingernails and your health are closely linked, and changes in the texture of your nails can also reveal a lot.
Rough, vertical ridges, or splitting nails and ridges, are usually nothing to worry about and are simply signs of aging. In some situations though, studies have shown that rippled nails or ripples in the nail beds may occur as a result of psoriasis or even arthritis.3 If you spot any of these clues, it is worth getting them checked out by a professional.
It’s quite common to have brittle, weak or easily cracked nails. The condition of nails is often a result of everyday living and is common in people who wash their hands frequently, such as nurses, or in people who lift heavy tools and materials, such as tradesmen. Certain hobbies, like gardening, or going to a nail salon frequently can also make your nails quite weak. It can give you split cuticles and skin peeling around the nails, as well as dry out your hands and skin. If your nails are regularly overly brittle though or if they are cracking or splitting combined with a yellowish hue, then studies suggest that this could be a sign of an imbalance in thyroid function or a fungal infection.3
It’s just as important to keep your fingernails healthy as it is all of your other bodily systems. Following a healthy diet with proper nutrition, practicing the right nail care and avoiding things that are not good for nail health, such as exposure to strong chemicals, are all great ways to improve your chances of having healthy nails.
It should never be forgotten that a healthy and balanced diet is important to strengthen the nails and keep them healthy. Studies have shown that regular consumption of zinc, vitamin C4 and biotin5 are important for maintaining healthy nails so try to include colourful fruits, eggs, lean red meat and poultry in your diet.
A lack of biotin in particular can present itself through abnormalities in your fingernails, so if you feel that the condition of your nails is not quite right, speak to your doctor so that they can recommend an additional supply of biotin if necessary.6
Proper care is also important for healthy nails and a good nailcare routine is easy to follow. Wherever possible, keep your fingernails dry and clean but moisturize your hands and nails regularly. Do not use your nails as a tool to open or pick at anything that could damage them, avoid biting your fingernails or removing the cuticles and, where possible, give your nails a break from nail polish.
There are some products that contain ingredients which can be harmful to the nails, such as nail polish and nail polish remover with acetone.7 It’s also best to avoid using gel or acrylic nails which can leave them brittle, and to be careful with drying products like hand sanitizer, which can overly dehydrate your hands and nails. Cleaning products often contain harsh chemicals so wearing rubber gloves can help to avoid contact with these.
It’s important to remember that not every change on the nail is necessarily indicative of a bad cause or a health concern and many changes in appearance to the fingernails are harmless and are rarely the sign of something serious. If you are concerned about the appearance of your nails though, it is recommended to see a doctor or a dermatologist to check everything out and put your mind at ease.
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