What your nails can tell about your health

Have you ever wondered what your nails can tell you about your health? We can learn a great deal about our current state of health simply by looking at our fingernails – a fact that has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. In this article, we discuss what you can learn about your health simply by looking at your nails, and any changes in their appearance that may occur over time.

So what should we be looking for when we examine our nails? Color, vertical and/or horizontal ridges, the appearance of small dents, the extent of the half moon at the bottom of your nail, white spots, and general brittleness are good starting points. Healthy fingernails should be smooth in texture without pits or grooves in the nailbed, and free from discoloration. Let’s look at some specific signs of trouble that your nails can tell you about your health:

Brittle Nails

Brittle nails can be a sign of anemia in which case you may wish to eat foods higher in iron, such as dark leafy greens or grass-raised meat. Ensuring you get plenty of sleep and perhaps cutting back on heavy exercise regimens can help. They can also be warning signs for anorexia and bulimia.

White Nails

If your nails appear white, and you cannot distinguish the half moon (lunula) usually observed at the base of the nail from the rest of your nail, this could be a sign of a serious underlying condition. When your nails appear like this (sometimes referred to as Terry's nails), you might be suffering from liver, kidney, or heart disease. However, this may also simply be due to aging.  You should see a family doctor if you suspect something is wrong.

White Spots on Nails

White spots on nails may simply be a result of an injury to your nail or an allergic reaction to a nail product onset of a fungal infection, but may also be a sign of a magnesium or zinc deficiency.

Yellow Nails

There are several potential reasons why your nails may appear yellow. Are you a smoker? Tobacco can cause this yellow discoloration. Another common reason is a fungal infection.  The most common is onychomycosis, and associated symptoms may include a thickening of the nail and separation from the nail bed. The condition is more likely to be observed in old people, and this increased prevalence can be related to peripheral vascular disease, lung disease, thyroid disease, immunologic disorders, and diabetes.

Bluish Nails

If only one of your nails appears blue, this is likely the result of an injury and blood accumulation underneath the nail. However, if all your nails appear to have a blue tint to them, this is an indication that your body is not getting enough oxygen. This is a good sign of an underlying lung or heart disease, or of blood cell and vessel abnormalities.

Vertical Ridges on the Nails

Slight vertical ridges in fingernails are commonly observed in older adults and are postulated to be a result of the slowing of cell turnover that occurs with age. However, other conditions such as anemia, vascular disease, and rheumatoid arthritis may also lead to vertical ridges. They may also be a sign of insufficient folic acid intake

Horizontal Ridges on the Nails

Horizontal ridges in the nails are generally a little more concerning than vertical ridges. They are frequently referred to as Beau’s lines. Horizontal ridges are a result of the nails periodically ceasing growth, then beginning again. If Beau’s lines are on just one finger, causes may be related to an infection, picking at the cuticle, or even something as innocent as getting a manicure. However, if Beau’s lines appear on more than one finger, this is likely the result of something more serious. Acute kidney disease, mumps, thyroid disease, syphilis, a zinc deficiency, or a side effect from chemotherapy treatments have been associated with the presence of Beau’s lines.

Pitted Nails

If it looks like you have tiny dents in your nails, this is commonly referred to as nail pitting. These can be a result of psoriasis, different forms of arthritis, and eczema. It may also be connected with an autoimmune disorder such as alopecia areata which can result in hair loss.

Clubbed Nails

Clubbed nail is the term used when you observe a downward curving and thickening of your nails. Though this may be a simple inherited genetic condition, it can also signify low oxygen content in the blood which may be a result of an underlying lung disease. Other underlying causes can be inflammatory bowel disease, AIDS, and cardiovascular or liver diseases.

Spoon Nails

Spoon nails appear exactly as the name sounds when your nails take on a spoon-like shape and can hold a drop of water or two. This is another sign that should not be ignored.  They are frequently an indicator of iron deficiency, anemia, or a liver condition where your body absorbs too much iron from the food you eat. They can also be associated with heart disease and hypothyroidism.

Takeaway Message about what your nails can tell you about your health

Your nails can tell you a great deal about your health and act as warning signs for serious underlying medical conditions. But by no means should you use them to self-diagnose. Go see your family doctor if you have concerns, but also remember that many of the nail conditions listed above can also be harmless, quite normal with age or just an inherited genetic trait. Proper nutrition is the first step in combatting many of these conditions.

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