Every part of our body constitutes the bigger picture of our health condition. Most often than not, our nails go unnoticed – except perhaps to those who have regular nail sessions. Apart from their decorative purposes, they actually signal underlying nutritional and health issues. With that said, let’s find out what our body is trying to communicate through our fingernails.
Nailing the Nail Anatomy
Our finger and toenails are made of the protein alpha-keratin which is also present in other animals’ hooves and horns. The protein is formed the way it is by living skin cells. Their primary function is to protect the soft tissues and the distal phalanx and many other purposes. To be on the same page throughout our discussion, let’s be familiar with what the human nail is comprised of:
- The nail plate: the outer covering of the nail, which is about 0.5 mm thick.
- The proximal nail fold: this is the skin fold that is often incorrectly called the cuticle. It prevents germs and bacteria from entering the matrix.
- Nail matrix: this is where the new nail is formed.
- Nail bed: this gives a pinkish color to the nail plate. It’s like the nail plate is attached to it.
From the color to the texture of the nails, each communicates a possible health problem, minor nourishment deficiencies, or harmless traumas incurred when we get a bit clumsy.
Before You Freak Out: Nutritional Deficiencies
Certain changes in the appearance of nails don’t immediately pose a threat to our physical well-being. They only indicate vitamin and mineral deficiencies that can be easily addressed by taking in the lacking nutrients.
Dermatologist Dr. Chris Adigun told Rodale’s Organic Life that these pesky spots don’t translate to calcium deficiency as previously believed to be. She said they’re just manifestations of a nail trauma that damaged the matrix. When that happens, spots begin to appear. Another culprit is prolonged polish wear that breaks down the surface of the nail plate.
On the other hand, many experts attribute white spots to zinc deficiency. In this case, if spots come out of nowhere without you recalling any traumatic nail incident, then perhaps it’s better to consume more zinc-rich foods.
Dry and Brittle Nails
Nail brittleness is medically known as onyschoschizia. In terms of nutritional deficiency, the nail plate becomes weak and dry because a person lacks calcium and Vitamin A.
This type of nails may also be a result of frequent use of nail polish remover and frequent exposure to chemicals, says Dr. Debra Jaliman of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai to Rodale’s Organic Life. Dr. Adigun adds that the weather might’ve also contributed to the dryness, brought about by exposure to dry air.
Cracking and Breaking Nails
Minor cases of cracking and breaking nails tell us that we’re not taking in enough protein and iron. It could also be due to certain bad habits like using old or low-quality nail polish, old nail removers or frequently cutting the cuticle.
Just like white spots, white lines could’ve been due to our momentary clumsiness. They appear random and does not grow longer nor appear on other nails. If not trauma, then might as well zinc and protein deficiency. Vertical lines also come with aging, like wrinkles to the face.
Brown to Reddish Spots
Discolorations have a wide range of causes and indications. However, small brown to reddish spots may just be due to the lack of Vitamin B12 and C, folic acid, protein.
When It’s Time to Visit the Doctor: Underlying Health Issues
Fungal infections could lead to the cracking and breaking of the nails, as well as apparent discolorations. Dr. Tamara Lior told WebMD, “Just like the eyes are the windows to the soul, so are the nails.” Discolored nails could be signs of a more serious condition in the lungs, liver or heart.
White Powdery Spots
As mentioned above, random spots are caused by minor traumas. However, when the spots seem to have spread to other nails and have a powdery consistency, a fungal infection might be to blame.
This could be due to the frequent use of nail polish, so minor remedies can remove the discoloration. However, when it persists it could be a symptom of diabetes and respiratory diseases.
The Yellow Nail Syndrome is another alarming case, as this is characterized by yellow nails and the absence of the cuticle. Ailments like jaundice and lung diseases may be the underlying cause of the yellowish color.
It simply tells us that the body is not getting enough oxygen. Culprits include pulmonary ailments like pneumonia and COPD and cardiovascular problems.
Commonly known as lifting nails, this condition could’ve been due to excessive water exposure, thus the irritation is manifested through what seems like the nails are detaching from the nail bed. A word of caution, though: constantly check for any discoloration. There must’ve been an infection going on or a more serious condition like thyroid diseases or psoriasis.
This abnormality is associated with cardio and pulmonary disorders. Also termed as the Lovibond angle, it’s the bending of the proximal nail fold and nail plate. According to Medscape, other conditions linked to nail clubbing are neoplastic, infectious, hepatobiliary, mediastinal, endocrinal, and gastrointestinal diseases.
Otherwise known as spooned nails, this condition is caused by certain factors, oftentimes due to iron deficiency or anemia. On the other hand, if this deformation is just one of the many strange occurrences in your body, better submit yourself to a medical examination because you might have diabetes mellitus or lupus erythematosus.
These dents on the surface of the nails are noticeable among people with psoriasis. Eczema, reactive arthritis, and alopecia areata could also be the cause. While the major condition is being treated, vitamin A and C or steroid creams can be used to alleviate this condition.
Although this doesn’t tell the degree of the severity, this nail condition is almost consistent in 20%-50% of renal disease patients. This is common on the fingernails than the toenails. The nail bed appears white and the distal portion could be red, pink, or brown.
We’re often busy to even notice these changes on our nails, but ignoring such could lead to an even worse scenario. Being mindful even of these tiny details of our body encompass proper hygiene and care, as they send us messages that a serious condition is brewing inside of us. Hence, let’s not take any unpleasantry just another bad nail day.